Joel Embiid has long espoused respect for LeBron James. He even tried to publicly recruit him to join the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency in 2018. But some of that goodwill appears to have been lost on Wednesday in a chippy game between the 76ers and LeBron's Los Angeles Lakers.
In the third quarter, Embiid caught an entry pass and took a dribble before going up for what appeared to be an uncontested dunk attempt. But James rotated over and committed a hard foul on Embiid, pushing him to the ground while he was in the air. He was assessed a flagrant-1 foul for the play.
But Embiid thinks that the officials should've gone further than that. He thinks that James should've been ejected for the foul.
"Well, first of all, I mean you look at it, that's a very dangerous play," Embiid told reporters after the game. "I guarantee you that if it was me, I would have probably been ejected from the game, which has happened in the past with me getting flagrant fouls really for nothing."
The NBA defines a flagrant-2 foul as "unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent." Whether James met that criteria is debatable, but pushes like this when a player is in the air are both rare and dangerous. Embiid seemed to be in a fair amount of pain after he came down.
Shortly afterward, Embiid was called for a flagrant-1 foul after elbowing Anthony Davis on offense. The play appeared tamer than LeBron's foul.
Embiid felt that the flagrant standard was not applied equally. He didn't think that he committed a flagrant, but felt that James should have been ejected.
"When you compare that to the one that I got, which I thought I didn't really hit him, I didn't elbow him," said Embiid, who had 28 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in 38 minutes. "I might have touched him. But I don't think it deserved the flagrant, if you're gonna compare those two.
"Those are tough plays and I just thought, you know, it should've been a flagrant 2."
Flagrant-2 ejections are rare in general, and stars of LeBron's caliber typically get the benefit of the doubt. The two sides cooled down and the game, a thriller won by a Tobias Harris jumper with only seconds remaining, concluded without further incident. But the Lakers and 76ers will meet again later in the season, and with both near the top of the standings, a possible Finals matchup is possible. This Embiid-James beef would only make a possible postseason series that much dramatic.