Joel Embiid is a Cameroonian NBA player who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. His journey to the NBA started when he first arrived in America as a teenager to attend Montverde Academy—a prep school in Florida.
He arrived in the U.S. speaking little English and with no experience in basketball. He had a good life in Cameroon, where he played volleyball and soccer growing up. He excelled academically and was a standout midfielder on the soccer field and an imposing presence on the volleyball court.
However, when he decided to play basketball at the age of 16 in the U.S., he became the laughingstock of his teammates but his coach, Kevin Boyle, knew he had landed a treasure. He recalled even telling Embiid’s teammates at Montverde Academy that the Cameroonian was going to be one of the big names in the NBA with a huge fortune.
“Laugh all you want,” he told Embiid’s teammates, according to the Bleacher Report. “But in five years, you’re going to be asking him for a loan, because he’s going to be worth about $50 million.”
“I told them, ‘You have no idea how good that kid is going to be.'”
Three years after the day, Embiid became the starting center for a Kansas team that has won nine straight Big 12 regular-season titles. From there, he reached the NBA, becoming the third Cameroonian-born player in league history.
He signed a five-year contract with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017. According to Forbes, the contract had incentives that could be worth as much as $178 million. He added a four-year, $196 million extension in August 2021.
Aside from his lucrative contract, the five-time All-Star has inked a number of endorsement deals. He signed a five-year footwear and apparel endorsement deal with Under Armour in 2018, getting a signature shoe in 2020.
In May this year, the Cameroonian and Philadelphia 76ers center earned his first National Basketball Association (NBA) MVP trophy, topping two-time winner Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. He reportedly averaged 33.1 points to win his second straight scoring title, averaged 10.2 rebounds, and tied a career-high with 4.2 assists per game.
One of the people Embiid thanked during his speech after receiving the MVP trophy was Luc Mbah a Moute. Moute, who is also from Cameroon, discovered Embiid while Embiid was a teen.
“When I was 16, Luc Mbah a Moute invited me to come to the basketball camp that he puts on every summer in Cameroon, and the only reason was because I was like 6 foot 10,” Embiid wrote for The Players’ Tribune, explaining how Moute had helped him. “I was so nervous that I didn’t even show up the first day. The second day, I showed up, they put me in the game and I dunked on somebody.”
“They could see something in me,” Embiid wrote. “I got a spot at the Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa. Two months later, I was on a plane to Florida to go to high school in America.”
Prior to coming to the U.S., he had never been away from his parents. His first weeks in the U.S. were challenging for him due to the language barrier as he spoke mainly French. However, he psyched his mind that he was in America for a reason and so had to embrace all forms of challenge and try as much as possible to integrate.
Embiid looked up to Nigerian NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon, who was then the toast of the NBA. He was also inspired by Kobe Bryant and the Lakers became his favorite team.
Embid recently decided to play for the USA NBA team, instead of Cameroon. Besides Team USA, the French national basketball team was also keen on having him represent their country at the Olympics. According to him, a few factors influenced his decision, including the opportunity to represent the birth country of his son.
“I’m really proud and excited about this decision,” Embiid tweeted. “It was not easy. I am blessed to call Cameroon, France, and the USA home. After talking to my family, I knew it had to be Team USA.”
“I want to play with my brothers in the league. I want to play for my fans because they’ve been incredible since the day I came here. But most of all, I want to honor my son who was born in the US. I want my boy to know I played my first Olympics for him.”