Joel Embiid hit a dagger three with about 40 seconds left on the clock, put his finger to his lips, and then mouthed “shut the fuck up.”
Who was he talking to last night? Was he telling fans to shush? Was he imitating Al Horford, from one night prior? Was it overblown, a nothing-burger of a gesture? He has been receiving boos over the past two games, along with head coach Brett Brown, since returning home after a 0-4 road trip.
Embiid, after the Chicago win, said he was talking to himself, then was directly asked if his actions were a result of those boos:
Just talking to myself. I have not been playing up to my standards. Even tonight, you look at the night, I didn’t shoot the ball well and I didn’t play well. So, just mad at myself. Just frustrated. Just got to keep trying to get better every single day.
I mean, I don’t care how it looks. I’m just playing basketball. Just getting back to myself, just being a good asshole. Just playing basketball and just trying to dominate. Thank you.
He was responding to the crowd, and it’s fine. It’s all good. Embiid wants to get back to being the personality he was last year and the year prior, the fun-loving, “good asshole” version of himself.
We watched this same thing happen last year with Ben Simmons, who scored nine points in the game one playoff loss to Brooklyn. He was booed twice specifically at the foul line and came out afterward telling fans to “stay on that side” –
— Rob Tornoe (@RobTornoe) April 13, 2019
In game two, Ben went for 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists, spearheading a 145-point effort and 22-point win that was the catalyst for four straight victories to close out the series.
He even put his hand to his ear ala Allen Iverson, doing this in front of the home crowd, who responded not by getting their underwear in a twist, but with a standing ovation instead:
Simmons with the AI ear thing 🗣 pic.twitter.com/4u7615chOt
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) April 16, 2019
Said Ben after the game:
“I was thinking about the boos from last game. But I’ve got a lot of love for this city and the fans here. Every time I step on this floor I try to play as hard as I can. I was just showing that. The hustle I try to give every game isn’t only for my teammates or my family, it’s for the city.”
No harm, no foul. The fans clapped at him, he clapped back, and then ultimately played a lot better. He heard the message and responded.
It seems to be the same thing here with Embiid, who has been up and down this year both on the court and off the court, the target of Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley criticism and fan ire, derided as a “soft” guy who isn’t playing to his capabilities. That ultimately manifested itself in the Wells Fargo Center booing and requisite shushing you saw this weekend.
Booing is not always the solution, but in Ben’s case it was justified and it manifested itself in a positive and beneficial fashion. It was different for Markelle Fultz, who didn’t seem to be able to respond to anything. He needed a clean break and fresh start in Orlando. There are different results for different guys.
I think the key thing to focus on here is that booing doesn’t always come from a position of Dirty 30-styled douchebaggery. It can come from a position of, “listen man, we love you and we know you’re a hell of a player, so let’s see it.” That’s really the only way fans can directly communicate directly with players, booing, and if they’ve got heart and desire they’ll respond positively. If they have thin skin and are mentally weak, they’ll respond negatively. Ben always goes out and plays hard every night, so I’m not surprised that he responded the way he did last year.
Will booing work for Joel Embiid?
We’re gonna find out.