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Joel Embiid on Being a Troll and How He Still Hasn’t Figured Out the NBA

The center joined ‘The J.J. Redick Podcast’ for a wide-ranging discussion

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On the first episode of The J.J. Redick Podcast, J.J. talks with his teammate, Sixers center Joel Embiid, about his wacky social media presence and his recent breakout performance against the Lakers.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Social Media Presence

J.J. Redick: A lot of people want to hear from you. You've been one of the more entertaining players to follow. Not just on the court, but in social media. In fact, you were probably a social media star before being an NBA star. I want to ask you about the locations [you’ve tagged on Instagram], and where you come up with this stuff. Because I did a little bit of research, and there was a picture last year of a fan with a sign talking about the Process. The Process location happened to be a random gym in Columbus, Ohio. Then there was a picture of Hassan Whiteside from last year. The location was BBQ Chicken, which was literally a place called BBQ Chicken in Fort Lee, New Jersey. And then of course there's the shithole, which was Milwaukee. And most recently, you did one when we beat the Lakers and you had 46 and you did Lavar, Fars, Iran. What goes through your head when you're coming up with this?

Joel Embiid: I mean, it depends. Going into my matchup, usually I just want to go out there, have fun, play basketball, dominate. But guys usually have a tendency to have something against me. So they would be extra physical or they would … talk trash to me, so ... that just elevates my game. It makes me want to dominate them. It makes me want to kick their ass so I can go on social media later and just basically talk shit. So that's what I did.

I mean, going back to the Whiteside stuff, it's all fun. To me it's all fun. I'm just trying to have fun. But these guys, I guess they get their feelings hurt. And there's nothing you can do about it. But at the end of the day, it's all fun. And if you want to take it off the court and keep beefing, that's your problem. But going back to the Whiteside stuff, that was in preseason and we started a game … he was extra—too extra-physical. And then he just started talking and then I was like “Dude, it's preseason and we're just playing basketball. We're just over here trying to get ready for the season and get better.” And I think he ended up fouling me three times in the first two or three minutes of the game … he was going to foul out in five minutes because I was actually going to foul him out in five minutes, and he was going to look ridiculous.

So that was on them, and then after the game—like literally right after the game—I got told that Whiteside said something about me on Twitter, so I go and look … I think I mentioned his plus/minus or whatever. And—

Redick: You said he was too worried about stats.

Embiid: Yeah, he was too worried about stats instead of winning, and then I mentioned his plus/minus like, “Dude, you don't help your team win. At the end of the day, it's all about winning. It's not about stats.” So that was the thing with him. And what was the next one? LaVar?

Redick: The Iran location.

Embiid: The Iran one? It's actually funny. When I, like, go to one location I want to put on my pictures, it's just—I mean, the LaVar one, obviously I dropped 46, and I don't have any problems with the Ball family. I actually love what they're doing, especially off the court with like having their own brand and stuff. I'm a big fan. And like I said, it's all fun. And back during the summer, he said something about me … So that other game was kind of marked on my calendar to just play against his son. And I don't have anything against his son either … I think he's going to be really good, and I'm a big fan. I think he's going to be a really good point guard in the league, but I mean, that game was marked on my calendar. I couldn't wait to play just to show the Lakers fans and LaVar Ball that I can actually play. And … I'm sure he saw that I could actually play, so I just had to, like, take a shot at him after the game and basically not call him out but just have fun. LaVar. I was actually surprised—I actually—they had a location that said Lavar … on Instagram.

On Being a Troll

Redick: It sounds to me like you almost keep like a mental log of people that have either said things about you or that have maybe tried you a little bit. I know the other one that was kind of recent was you made a joke after a game about your conditioning level. I don’t know if it was a joke; maybe you were being serious, and you said your conditioning level was at 69 percent. Jalen Rose comes out, and he says you were being unprofessional and your response was, “Well now my conditioning level is up to 81 percent. Shout-out Jalen Rose,” in reference to Kobe dropping 81. So there’s really no limit to who you will go after.

Embiid: Oh, no. Man, if you come after me, I mean, I haven’t done anything to anybody. I’m just trying to have fun. I went through a lot of stuff my first two years—the two years that I missed. So to me, when I came back it was just about just coming back and having fun. Dominating and having fun. So the thing with Jalen was—I mean I made a comment. Random number. I was at 69 percent. I didn’t know what else they were talking about. What else they were thinking. I’m from Africa. I’m new—basically still new in the States, so I don’t know what’s going on here. And I don’t know why people were making fun of that number. I actually had no idea. And I saw—and the main thing with me is that I see everything. Literally. I see everything. The funny part is that when I go on social media, like, I just go to like Instagram, I go to post a pic, and then I'm out.

Redick: You don’t read the comments.

Embiid: I don’t read the comments. Never. I can't—

Redick: But you are on House of Highlights. You, like, look at House of Highlights. You'll look at your feed, right?

Embiid: Yeah, House of—like, sometimes I’ll do it like, I’ll look at like House of Highlights, Bleacher Report. I look at stuff like that. But like, me, especially on my pics and stuff, I can’t look at the comments. Literally I get like a thousand comments per pic. I think about going through all that all the time. That’s going to take me hours and days, and I can’t—I just can’t do it. So I just go on there, like post a pic and I’m out. And then sometimes I look at pages like House of Highlights or like, girls and stuff. So—

Redick: Do you know—have you ever heard the phrase “social media troll?” You know what that is?

Embiid: Yeah.

Redick: Would you say—because it sounds to me like you’re trolling people on social media. Like social media in and of itself is like one big troll. But you’re like, you’re intentionally trolling. Would you admit that?

Embiid: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, fans do it to us. So why not?

On Learning How to Score and His Recent 46-Point Performance Against the Lakers

Embiid: I think my first game I played like 24 minutes. Mind you, in college, I wasn't a scorer. I was just rebounding the ball, blocking shots, pretty good defensively, offensively I had a regular hook shot. Typical big man. And, my first game, I think I scored 20 points in 24 minutes. And then, that's when I figured out that, it's easy. It's not easy to thrive in the league or score in the league, but I was like—and I was playing against Steven Adams, a big dude and really good defensively. And then I'm like, “20 in 24 minutes? I'm starting to figure it out.”

Redick: It wasn't until your first NBA game of your third season where you were like, “Ah, I'm good. I can do this.”

Embiid: It wasn't even at that point. I think I still haven't figured out yet. I think I'm still going through a lot when I've gone through the “Oh damn! I'm really good!” but I [haven’t had] the moment where I'm like, “Oh, this is the moment that I feel like I made it. I'm really fucking good.” Like, a top-five player in the league or something like that. I don't think that moment has come yet. But there are some moments where I do this type of move and I'm like, “Did I just do this?” Like the Dream Shake. I don't know. Sometimes I just start doing Kareem hook shots. I don't work on that ’cause I know that I'm just trying to focus on certain areas of my game, but me doing it in a game, I'm like, “Damn I have the potential to do that?” And it just shows me that I have so much to work on and so much more to show. I would say the first game, but I don't think the one moment has come yet

Redick: The 46 against the Lakers wasn't the right moment either. ’Cause I think for you—I've been around you for a few months now, and I've talked to a lot of people about you and Coach Brown and I have talked about you. And the thing that strikes me about you is how competitive you are. And, for me, to hear you talk about this, maybe that moment isn't until you're a champion—you're a world champion. Is that the ultimate driving force?

Embiid: Oh yeah, I definitely want to win. I think that everybody around me knows that I'm competitive. I’ll play while I’m hurt. I’ll play while I’m sick. I’ll push myself just because I want to help the team win. The 46-point game—I wouldn’t consider that a big moment because it wasn’t; I didn’t feel like I was hot. I didn’t feel like I was making shots all over the place. I was just playing basketball. I was getting iso, making regular moves, you guys are setting me up, you guys are opening the floor for me. I was just playing basketball. It wasn’t like I was coming up like, “Oh, I just made one shot. Next one.” It wasn’t like I was Klay Thompson or Steph Curry. I was like, “Heat check, heat check, just keep making shots.” It was a great game, but I don’t really consider that game as the big moment.