A brief history of the Karl-Anthony Towns-Joel Embiid feud

Let the record show that Karl-Anthony Towns really, really didn't plan on getting into a fight Wednesday night. As most superstars are when they are set to face a comparable player at their own position, Towns was asked about his impending matchup with Joel Embiid Wednesday morning. Towns, fairly quiet by NBA superstar standards, scoffed at the notion. His Minnesota Timberwolves were 3-0, he had played like an MVP candidate, and the 76ers aren't even in his conference. He eventually offered the blandest answer he could muster. 

"I know everyone wants to hype it up," Towns said before the game. "I mean, that's what sells papers, but I ain't in the business of making y'all money, I'm in the business of getting W's." 

While Towns' gross misunderstanding of the modern newspaper business model might be a story in itself, his message was to not expect anything newsworthy to come out of this basketball game. Let's fast-forward a few hours...

Towns was ejected from the game. He did not, in fact, earn his team a W, and in so much as newspapers still exist, he certainly just helped sell a few extras. It seems as though the hype the media wanted to bring to the game was quite warranted. 

The truth, though, is that there was nothing Towns could have done to slow this game's hype train. It had been running for years. These two have been selling newspapers with their rivalry for quite some time. Tonight's fight was just the culmination of a beef that has been simmering for almost two years. The feud began practically the moment the two first stepped on a floor together. 

Nov. 16, 2016

Before the fight, we have the feeling out stages. Though Embiid was drafted a year earlier than Towns, injuries kept him sidelined until after his nemesis had won the 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Award. Their first game proved to be a largely uneventful Timberwolves win. Embiid, at the time still treated with the fragility of a Faberge egg, played only 22 minutes. Only one play seems like the sort that might demand future retribution from Embiid: a pump-fake-turned vicious dunk in which Towns might have hung onto the rim a bit too long. 

For the most part, this game was fairly docile. The idea of one making a fool of the other, though, is one we will return to. 

Jan. 3, 2017

Game No. 1 between the two wasn't close. The sequel proved far more competitive. A furious Minnesota comeback fell short in the fourth quarter as the 76ers won, 93-91. Half of that two-point margin was generated on a free throw by Embiid in the third quarter. That free throw came thanks to a technical foul from Towns that Embiid seemed to agree with. 

Moments like these are fairly common. They come in the flow of a game, and any lingering tension usually dissipates shortly. It was Game No. 3 that produced this feud's finest moment. 

Dec. 13, 2017

Remember when Towns fooled Embiid with a fake? Embiid returned the favor with this eurostep. 

Bad defense is no rarity in the NBA. Plays like this happen. But Embiid wasn't satisfied with two points and a victory. He wanted to poke the bear. Or, well, the KAT. 

Towns didn't take too kindly the needling. He took a dip into the internet cesspool known as the comments section with a response that surely seemed wise at the time. 

"That caption was as trash as your picture quality," Towns declared

"Better quality than your defense," Embiid replied, truthfully. He had just scored 28 points on 50 percent shooting against Towns, after all. He also walked away with that all-important W, a letter he would become all-too-familiar with in the future. 

Jan. 15, 2019

Embiid has not missed the playoffs since that fateful encounter in 2017. Towns made it that season, but missed out a year later largely because his team no longer had Jimmy Butler. Butler wanted a trade due at least in part to frustrations he had with Minnesota's young players, Towns included. He landed, of all places, with Embiid's 76ers. 

By this point, the two teams were intertwined in a number of ways. Butler was a 76er. Robert Covington and Dario Saric, previously Embiid's teammates, were Timberwolves. So was Andrew Wiggins, who played with Embiid at Kansas during the 2013-14 college season. If Towns had any lingering enmity, it would likely be directed toward Butler. Embiid, meanwhile, would likely be more focused on reuniting with his own former teammates. In that spirit, there were no particularly notable individual moments between the two. 

There didn't need to be. The 76ers won by 42. With Embiid and Ben Simmons entrenched, the 76ers appeared destined for years of contention. With Butler gone and Wiggins consistently disappointing, Towns' Timberwolves were headed in the opposite direction. They'd fired their head coach only nine days earlier. The team had no leader of basketball operations. Butler had even chosen Embiid over Towns, at least for the time being. If rock-bottom exists within the context of this feud, this is where Towns hits it. And if the Towns well was ever further poisoned for Embiid, Butler seems a reasonable culprit. 

Oct. 30, 2019

The fight itself wasn't exactly presaged by much. Towns fouled Embiid twice in the game. The first was a fairly typical foul. 

The second was even softer, though it may have come with a slightly late whistle. 

But of course, eruptions aren't born in moments. They take years to develop. The Towns-Embiid feud has been percolating since the two first met on an NBA court. So when Embiid aggressively double-teamed Towns and forced this turnover...

It was just the final push these two needed for this to happen:

The Timberwolves and 76ers don't play again until March. By then, suspensions will have been served, emotions will have passed, and these teams will likely be too embroiled in playoff races to risk any more discipline this season. 

But that doesn't mean the beef is cooked. If anything, Embiid just further ignited the fire on Instagram

Towns responded in kind with an Instagram story entitled "All Bark & No Bite" featuring unflattering pictures of Embiid, culminating in a shot of him crying after Game 7 of last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals.

And so, this history is likely incomplete. Towns is 23 years old. Embiid is 25. Both have plenty of time left in the NBA. Odds are, Towns eventually finds himself on another contender and he and Embiid will get to play in games that matter. When that happens, the final chapters of this feud will be written. 

Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio

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