The Eastern Conference semifinals took seven full games to decide. With no time remaining on the clock, Kawhi Leonard’s fallaway bounced on the rim four times before finding refuge at the bottom. Just like that, the Philadelphia 76ers’ season was over.
Joel Embiid, who played through a laundry list of injuries, was overcome with emotion. He cried on the court. He cried on the tunnel. He cried in the locker room. He cried in the blubbering fashion of someone who doesn’t give a damn they’re crying for all to see.
And good for him. Good for caring. Good for realizing that there’s no shame in showing emotion in the heat of the moment. Good for realizing that the NBA is a personality-driven league and the humanity of its players is a major factor in its popularity.
This was the furthest Embiid and the Sixers have been since The Process was envisioned. And like so many ascendent teams through sports history, they’ll be back to this point before soaring to higher highs. The painful lumps and losses shape champions. That is just the way of the world.
Embiid will learn from this. It will better him, both on the basketball court and personally. It’s a point his coach Brett Brown drove home postgame.
“As painful as it feels now, it’ll help him,” he said. “It’s hard to be the last man standing. To see him have the emotion he has…it is painful for all of us, but he’ll look at the rear view and remember this.”
It’s not important to the bottom line, but there’s no doubt this will also make Embiid even more popular with Sixers fans. The disconnect between the proletariat fans and athlete royalty is best bridged with common cause, and a passion toward that cause.
It’s easy to see how much basketball and winning mean to Embiid. All fans can ask of the players they root for is to be as invested as they are in the outcome. Those tears said a lot, and will be an essential part of the future winning he’ll do.