Even if Embiid’s comments were a brick, the good doctor doesn’t deserve your scorn – Trentonian
PHILADELPHIA — A superstar and a gentleman, an MVP and a champion, clutch and entertaining, Julius Erving is high on the list of great sports personalities who have figured out how to navigate the raging rapids of the moods of Philadelphia sports fans.
He was never booed, and there was a reason: he never deserved to be booed. Yet 46 years after his classic Philadelphia introduction by Dave Zinkoff, Erving is under verbal attack from a segment of the population easily moved by sports puppeteers.
His turn, apparently.
So what happened? Did he wear a Celtics jersey to a Sixers game, like Allen Iverson once did? Did he imitate Charles Barkley and spit on a young fan at the edge of the field? Did he resign, like Ben Simmons? Did he campaign to get a coach fired? Has he scammed customers?
Wait: did he forget to pay homage to the mascot? Was that it? That must have been it.
No, an athlete as worthy as there has been in modern Philadelphia history becomes a villain because – duck – he offered an opinion on basketball. That’s it. Just an opinion. But it was enough to demote him to ugly because he was caught on “The Rich Eisen Show” thinking out loud that Nikola Jokic deserved to be the NBA MVP. He thinks the player who won the award last year was just as good this year – better, probably – and should receive a plaque to match.
So what was wrong with a retired basketball player who has a vision of the MVP run, a standard end-of-season issue in any professional sport?
He’s the best forward to ever play for the Sixers in his MVP endorsement of Joel Embiid.
“I hope Embiid wins it because he talks about it and it’s something that’s one of those carrots he’s looking for,” Erving said. “But I think the most deserving guy is Jokic. He didn’t miss a game and night after night he did better than last year. He was MVP last year and when you improve, I don’t think you lose your status, not if it’s a fair fight.
It will be a fair fight, a heavyweight classic. Embiid has been spectacular this season, reliable, available and at the top of his game. He entered the final weekend of the season as the NBA’s leading scorer and had pushed a team that has literally spent a season in roster turmoil in the tournament.
Embiid can mark and protect rims, rebound and pass, shoot from distance and in traffic, defend and entertain. He’s the best player the Sixers have ever employed, the Good Doctor included. No night, to use Erving’s phrase, an observer of Embiid’s impact on the Sixers would deny that he deserves to be the MVP. Give it to him. He was so special.
But that’s just an opinion, the kind that Julius Erving was shouted at for sharing. Still, if he thinks Jokic is a better choice, there are reasons. The Denver center has all of Embiid’s skills and is a better rebounder and passer. Embiid is a hair superior as a defender, but Jokic produces for that end as well. Embiid kept the Sixers playoff-worthy in a turbulent season. Jokic did the same for the Nuggets, themselves plagued by injuries.
If it ends in a dead end, it would work. But since Erving is seen as an ambassador for the Sixers, it’s assumed he’s bound to toe the party line. Technically, he did too…not that the masses lining up to declare him a traitor bothered to consider his entire comment.
“I’m going to vote for Embiid, because he’s my guy,” Erving said. “And (Giannis) Antetokounmpo, who knows how he will end? But Embiid and Antetokounmpo missed several weeks of play. Jokic was there every night.
Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, Embiid played his 68th game, more than enough for an unstarred MVP consideration. So this Erving shot went off the edge. A slightly more accurate shot, however, was that Embiid used the MVP award as a “carrot,” perhaps too preoccupied with a one-on-one pursuit.
But given that he’s not a selfish player, he’s a good teammate, and he’s more honest than obnoxious when he declares his intention to dominate NBA players, Embiid shouldn’t be criticized for campaigning for awards. He believes in himself. That works.
That’s what makes him the player he is, a player who should be the MVP.
As for Las Vegas – which occasionally reveals a grip on what could happen in the sport – they think Jokic will win the prize.
In any case, it will be tight at the level of the recount.
Either way, it’ll be too close for easily led masses to make a villain out of a Sixers legend who deserves better.
Contact Jack McCaffery at [email protected]