Joel Embiid explained on Twitter his reason for representing the United States at the 2024 Olympics:

That’s pretty cool, a classic “American Dream” type of story, isn’t it? It checks most of the boxes. Foreigner comes to the United States with work ethic and tons of potential? Check. Develops a niche skill and hones it? Check. Keeps working, settles in, starts a family? Check.

Then Embiid’s son, Arthur, is born on American soil and Joel gains his citizenship a few years later, more than a decade after first arriving here from Africa. That is, more or less, the general framework for most immigrants who come to the United States looking for opportunity and a better life.

I have to admit that I was initially against the idea of Embiid representing the United States, not because I didn’t want him on the team, but because I thought it would be better for international basketball if he played for Cameroon alongside Pascal Siakam. He was also eligible to represent France after being granted citizenship there. If we’re looking at the growth of the international game, there’s more parity and competition if the NBA’s foreign-born stars play for their home countries, vs. joining an already-stacked USA roster (or other European teams). We certainly don’t need Joel Embiid to win competitions, we just need to send the A team.

France-born Evan Fournier had this thought in mind when he tweeted this a few years ago:

“Let’s stop with the articles on Joel in Edf please it’s becoming ridiculous seriously,” Fournier said.

Tony Parker elaborated on the topic back in 2018, via Eurohoops:

 “I agree with Evan (Fournier) and Edwin (Jackson). I agree with them. I think the national teams should come from the federations that work hard to get young people to play, and I find that it lacks a bit of authenticity when you do things like that. And it’s true that I’m not a big fan of seeing Slovenia or Croatia playing with Americans. I think you have to create a national team with the players who are products of a country, who grew up there, all that. I agree with them. And of course it’s kind of dream, but hey we already have a very, very good pivot, called Rudy Gobert, so here it is. We must not disrespect all the French, who work hard to play in France team. I played for 16 years in the French team, I gave my body to this country and I think it’s important not to forget that. FIBA has its rules, they make their choice, if they want to continue doing that, well they will continue to do that. But you ask me for my opinion and I think we should stay with the national teams as they are”. 

Those are very fair thoughts from Parker, and this discussion comes up all the time in soccer, where international lines are regularly blurred.

One thing I’m reminded of is when Croatia added a couple of naturalized Brazilians to their squad and brought them to Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014. Eduardo da Silva grew up in Rio and was recruited to Dinamo Zagreb by scouts. He spent nine years in Croatia, received citizenship, and represented their national team. Same with a guy named Sammir, who represented Brazil at the U17 and U18 level before going to play for Dinamo, receiving citizenship, and playing for his adopted country at the senior level. On one hand, these guys spent a lot of time in Croatia and nobody broke FIFA rules in obtaining eligibility, but on the other hand it looked ridiculous to peruse the roster of names like Modric, Perisic, Brozovic, and then EDUARDO is right there, sticking out like a sore thumb.

We saw this in the United States when Jurgen Klinsmann recruited German-born players to represent us during his time with the USMNT. Players like Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, and Timothy Chandler. A number of these guys had one parent who was German and one who was American, and/or their fathers were American military members who married German mothers. It would take some guts to say that the sons of servicemen are not “American,” though legitimate arguments against their participation were based on the fact that they did not grow up here and their soccer development was the product of Germany’s system, and not ours. That’s a little different than someone like Joel coming over here as a teenager and progressing the bulk of his game on American soil with American coaches.

Not all international stories are the same, and it’s tough, because when you ask these guys who they would like to represent, it’s not a black and white answer. It’s definitely not linear. A great example is players of Mexican descent growing up in Southern California or Texas. They’ll often tell you that they don’t feel like they are just American or just Mexican. They feel like they’re both at the same time, and that makes the decision on who to represent at the senior level incredibly difficult. A lot of times, it’s a personal decision that requires a lot of time, thought, and introspection. I’m sure Joel went through that same thought process. Ultimately, representing Team USA with his son in mind is really admirable. You have to respect it.