After being selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2014 NBA Draft, Joel Embiid spent the first two seasons of his career in their entirety on the sideline nursing a lingering foot injury. During that time, there were plenty who predicted that Embiid would become the next in a long line of big men whose promising careers were derailed by injury issues, and doubted that he would ever even play in a game -- let alone become a dominant two-way star that you can build a consistent contender around.
When Embiid played just 31 games during his rookie season before again before forced to the bench, that time due to a knee injury, the questions only intensified. There's no need to pull the receipts, but they're out there.
There was plenty of pessimism surrounding the big fella's future, especially in Philadelphia. Embiid heard all that chatter, and as a young player he let it get to him. That outside noise, coupled with the death of his brother, Arthur, in 2014, forced Embiid to consider walking away from the game before ever scoring a single point for Philadelphia.
"Going back to Cameroon, I really wanted to stop playing basketball and really retire, because at that point, you just had surgery and everybody's talking about, 'You're not gonna make it, or you're never going to play in the league.' And obviously, the loss of my brother was big. I wanted to give up and I almost did," Embiid recollected last season. "Basically, you miss two years in a row and all these stories coming out every single day: 'Joel is, whatever, 300 pounds,' and the media always talking down on you. It was tough. I had to go through a lot. It was very tough, but, I'm glad I just kept pushing through with the help of everybody around me."
That background makes the milestone Embiid accomplished on Wednesday night all the more impressive. With a bucket early in the first quarter of Philadelphia's 118-112 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Embiid became the to score 10,000 career points, passing Sixers icon Allen Iverson in the process.
It took Embiid just 373 career games to hit the mark, while it took Iverson 378. Then there's Julius Erving (425), Charles Barkley (445) and Billy Cunningham (477). Those are some legendary names on that list, and that should help to put Embiid's production into perspective. No one is more synonymous with scoring the basketball while wearing a Sixers uniform than Iverson, and the fact that Embiid outpaced him to five figures really says something.
Embiid is a generational scorer at a position that has been largely phased out of the game, at least in its traditional form, and when he ultimately hangs up his signature Under Armours, he'll go down as one of the most productive point producers of all time. As it stands, he's currently the NBA's all-time leader in points scored per 36 minutes. Had he not been on a minutes restriction early in his career, he would have reached 10K even quicker, and his point total would be much higher if he didn't miss the first 164 games of his career -- a fact that isn't lost on Embiid.
"I can only think what if I didn't miss all these games, but that's not where the focus is," Embiid said of the milestone. "I'm just focused on what I can do to help the team. Whether it is scoring a lot, passing, defensively- then I'm going to do it."
The big man obviously deserves a ton of credit for persevering through those early injury issues and turning himself into a polished, well-rounded scorer and a perennial MVP candidate. Similarly, the Sixers as an organization also deserve some props for the patience they practiced. They didn't rush Embiid out on the floor, or give up on him. Instead, they allowed him to progress at his own pace and play when he was ready, and they've been reaping the benefits ever since.
Embiid has led the Sixers to four conference semifinals appearances in the past five years, and this year with a retooled roster and bolstered bench, they hope to advance even further. In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with acknowledging how special Embiid's run in Philly has been so far.
"It's impressive, especially at the position that he's playing at because he needs the ball given to him for him to score," Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of Embiid's milestone after the game. "Guards have the ball, they can score the ball whenever they want to. So that just tells you how dominant Joel has been."
Embiid has already established himself as an all-time great for the Sixers, and at just 28 years old, he still has a whole lot of legacy left to author.