New York Known for having some of the toughest fans around, Philadelphians are never without their opinions about what’s happening with their beloved professional sports franchises.
Such was the scene on a New York City subway train late Thursday night, as a pack of Philadelphia 76ers fans, donning sport coats over Sixers jerseys, cycled through a wide range of emotions concerning their team’s choice to select former Kansas University center Joel Embiid with the No. 3 pick in this year’s NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I mean, if he doesn’t get injured, he’s the top pick in the draft and we got him at No. 3,” one of the more reasonable members of the bunch said. “If he can get healthy, I’ll take that.”
Another was not so much down on the selection of Embiid, who many analysts believed was the No. 1 pick before a stress fracture in his right foot during the weeks leading up the draft derailed his chances, as he was down on the idea of Philly taking another player who might not play any time soon.
They went through that last season with former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and, although the long-range prospects of a healthy Embiid and Noel playing together excited all of them, their natural and raging skepticism kept them from believing they’ll ever see such a day.
“I’m OK with it because, supposedly, Embiid’s the best center since Olajuwon,” another fan said. “He’s a solid player. But it just seems like we’re staring at another season of constant questions from the local media wondering when or if a high draft pick will play. To me, that’s just kind of like, ‘What are we doing?’”
KU coach Bill Self believes he knows. Speaking with a pack of reporters from Philadelphia following Embiid’s selection on Thursday night in Brooklyn, Self did not hold back his thoughts about Embiid and what he believes awaits the 7-foot Cameroon native in the NBA.
“I’ll be disappointed if he’s not a six- or eight-time all-star,” Self said. “I think that’s fair. For one thing, there’s not as many (dominant) big guys in the league as there has been in the past. But, when he gets healthy, he’ll be one of the better bigs in the league. That may be Year 2, but Joel’s gonna be an all-star. And if he’s an all-star once, he’ll be an all-star many times.”
Speaking from experience, Self also said he thought Embiid would become one of the more well-liked players on his new team’s roster.
“I believe Philadelphia will fall in love with Jo,” Self said. “He’ll be a fan favorite because he’s got more personality than just about anybody. He knows how to make fun of himself and he’s got a smile that would make you melt. I would be very surprised if people don’t really, really take to this guy.”
Of course, the biggest obstacle to that happening in Philadelphia is the expectation of a fan base famous for once having booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game. Still, Self preached patience to the die-hard 76ers fans.
“From what I (understand), they’re building for the future,” Self said. “You’ve got the rookie of the year (point guard Michael Carter-Williams), Nerlens, who will obviously be a good player, and then you’ve got Jo, who is a franchise-type player. The pieces are in place. I’d be excited if I’m a Sixers fan, even though they’re gonna have to exercise a little bit more patience, which I’ve heard the fans are known for there in Philly.”