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Dad, White and Blue: Joel Embiid’s son fuels Team USA decision

Joel Embiid is done answering questions about why he decided to play for Team USA in his first Olympics this year.

Yes, he could’ve played for his native Cameroon or France, where he was granted citizenship in 2022. But his only focus is winning a gold medal after donning the red, white and blue during Team USA practices at UNLV this week.

“I’ve known these guys for a long time, so it made it easy to be a part of this special team and this country, which I love and where I’m raising my family and my American son,” Embiid said Monday. “It’s fun to be around so many great players, but everything is serious. We have a goal to accomplish, so it’s all about maximizing the amount of time we have together to get on the same page and try to get better every day.”

The decision

Embiid, 30, declined to say why he picked the United States in October, saying he has addressed the topic already.

He was previously linked to the Cameroon national team, but he did not play a game for the country during the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket tournament. Cameroon ultimately didn’t qualify for the 2024 Olympics in men’s basketball after losing to Latvia on Saturday.

France was also an option after Embiid was granted French citizenship despite never having lived in the country. He became a U.S. citizen in 2022 as well. There was some thought he would join French standouts Rudy Gobert, Victor Wembanyama and Evan Fournier and challenge Team USA’s Olympic dominance.

Embiid’s decision became clear in October. He ultimately wanted to compete for the country where his son Arthur was born.

Embiid arrived in the U.S. when he was 15-years-old and has stayed since. He played at Kansas for a year and has starred for the Philadelphia 76ers since being drafted third overall in 2014.

He has often said his son changed everything in his life. Arthur is now a factor in every choice Embiid makes.

Happy to have him

Embiid’s American teammates welcomed him with open arms.

“Jo is a great friend,” Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said Monday. “We’ve had so many battles in the regular season and playoffs, but that’s the fun part of this. You get to be on the same team as some of these guys you compete and battle and fight against. That’s the unique and cool part of Team USA. Guys you usually need to have an extra edge to play against now coming together to try to do something special.”

Embiid’s next job is finding his role within the team.

He’s a force in the paint and beyond the arc in the NBA, where he’s won two of the last three scoring titles. Coach Steve Kerr may ask Embiid to drift out to the 3-point line less with Team USA.

“He’s a great passer out of the post,” Kerr said. “Very dominant scorer down there, too. I think the difference for Joel will be that we’re going to ask him to be down near the hoop more than he is in the NBA. He spends a lot of time at the foul line area and he’s good there and he’ll get the ball there for us too, but his physicality and ability to score down low here in the FIBA game is going to be really important for us.”

That’s fine with Embiid.

He understands everyone will have a different role on this roster than they do with their NBA team.

“Nothing changes,” he said. “I’ll still be dominant like I always am.”

Feeling good

One of the few things that has held Embiid back in his career is health.

He played just 39 games last season because of a left knee procedure. He said he’s feeling good and is trying to get ready responsibly for Team USA’s first Olympic game July 28.

He didn’t sound worried about his health or any opponent he’ll face. That includes Serbia and three-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic in the Americans’ first game.

“I don’t care about Jokic,” Embiid said. “I’m playing for my national team and we’re focused on ourselves and trying to make sure everyone is on the same page. When we get there, we’re going to know what we have to focus on, but right now, it’s about ways to get better every day.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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