Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player on Tuesday, comfortably winning a ballot ahead of the Denver Nuggets’ two-time award winner Nikola Jokic.
Embiid, who finished runner-up behind Jokic the past two seasons, earned the accolade after a dazzling regular season campaign that saw him average 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 66 games.
Embiid beat out fellow MVP finalists Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in a preferential ballot. Results revealed Tuesday showed Embiid garnered 73 first place votes, with Jokic 15 and Antetokounmpo 12.
“I don’t know really where to start, it’s been a long time coming,” a delighted Embiid told the TNT network on Tuesday after his award.
“A lot of hard work, I’ve been through a lot. And I’m not just talking about basketball, I’m talking about life, my story, how I got here and what it took for me to be here.
“It feels good. I don’t know what to say. Amazing.”
The towering 29-year-old Cameroonian power forward helped the Sixers finish third in the Eastern Conference, but has sat out Philadelphia’s last two playoff games after suffering a knee injury in the game three first round defeat of Brooklyn last week.
Tuesday’s MVP honor cements Embiid’s status as one of the elite players in the NBA, the latest milestone on a journey that began when he was discovered at a basketball camp run by Cameroonian compatriot and former NBA player Luc Mbah a Moute.
After playing a single season of US college basketball, Embiid was chosen by Philadelphia with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
‘Be a leader’
A foot injury meant he missed the entirety of the 2014-2015 season, and further surgery in 2015 ruled him out of the 2015-2016 campaign.
He finally made his regular season debut for the Sixers in October 2016, notching 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in a defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While Embiid’s talent was apparent from the outset of his NBA career, it is under Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, who took over the Sixers in 2020, that he has flourished.
Rivers has built his team and game plan around the 7ft (2.13), 280-pound (127-kilo) big man, and was also instrumental in Embiid’s improved fitness.
Embiid hired a personal chef and works with a nutritionist after being urged to stay in peak physical condition by Rivers.
“He told me that I needed to be a leader,” Embiid said of Rivers’ advice in a 2021 ESPN interview.
“If I came back in shape, it also meant to my teammates, ‘It’s time to go. Joel is ready, he came back, he’s in great shape, that means you guys have no excuse to not be in shape.’
“So that’s what I did. I took it to heart.”
Embiid has repaid Rivers’ faith this season with a series of superb performances during the Sixers journey to the playoffs.
His average of 33.1 points helped him win the NBA’s scoring title for a second straight year, and his performances have included three 50-point games this season.
Last month he became only the second player in NBA history after the legendary Wilt Chamberlain to record 50 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and 80 percent shooting in a game as he inspired Philadelphia to a 103-101 win over the Boston Celtics.