The endless cycle of stories around the possibility of Joel Embiid playing for France at international level is ignoring the type of player Embiid is. Emmet Ryan on how the physical embodiment of The Process could be a game changer for his homeland long after he hangs up his kicks
It began a few years ago with Nicolas Batum courting Joel Embiid on social media to consider playing for the French national side. Embiid pointed out at the time that he’s not French.
That was largely that until NBA London came around. Embiid, in what reads like a polite answer from a man who was physically really close to France at the time, essentially said why not and then everything kicked off.
There was talk of France pursuing him, a response from Evan Fournier arguing against, another from Tony Parker doing so as well. The story really does seem to be made of embers but amidst the online discussion the raw upside of Embiid sticking with his homeland of Cameroon was missed. Before we get to that…
How can he play for France?
Embiid would have to be naturalised to play for France. FIBA allows nations to do this in order to bring more depth as a whole to the international game. The process, sorry, essentially means a player who would not otherwise be eligible to play for a specific national team (via birth/parentage/certain residency length) can be granted an exemption upon being made a citizen. This is the extremely simplified version of how it works but the important thing to bear in mind that only one such import can be used on a national team roster at one time. Typically this involved countries reaching up, getting players from traditionally stronger basketball nations (read: USA) to play for them in exchange for a passport (which is great for contracts in Europe).
There have been exceptions, such as Nikola Mirotic and Serge Ibaka with Spain although in both cases the duo had spent a considerable part of their development as ballers in Spain already. Several countries eschew this approach entirely. Milos Teodosic is amongst many Serbian players to have stated they never want to see their national team hand out a passport.
Joel Embiid, as already mentioned, isn’t French but could play for France via this route. The same route wouldn’t even be necessary for him to play for the USA, conventional residency will eventually see him entitled to a US passport under normal conditions and he can compete for a spot on the team that almost invariably wins the gold medal like anyone else.
About his health
This really can’t be ignored. Embiid has yet to play a full season in the NBA and the wear and tear of playing international tournaments and qualifiers isn’t exactly going to have the Philadelphia 76ers, the folk who pay his wages, gagging to see him suit up at that level. Everything from here in this piece is going on what is likely if Embiid decides he wants to play internationally.
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The three choices
If Joel Embiid plays for France, then he makes one of the deepest international teams better and a whole lot more fun to watch.
If Joel Embiid plays for the USA, he wins a gold medal.
If Joel Embiid plays for Cameroon, he creates a legacy that neither option can come close to.
Cameroon have played in AfroBasket, the African continental championships, 9 times and have secured 1 medal in that time (silver in 2007). There has never been a team from Cameroon in the Olympics. There has never even been a team from Cameroon in the FIBA World Cup.
The nation is far better known for its football team, winners of the Africa Cup of Nations five times, Olympic gold medal winners in 2000, and its 7 appearances at the FIFA World Cup. The legacy of those teams is the sheer amount of talent that has come through from Cameroon in their wake.
Luc Mbah a Moute, a well travelled NBA veteran, is a countryman of Embiid and helped discover the Sixers big man along with Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors. Mbah a Moute was on that 2007 silver medal winning side at AfroBasket. He’s seen his national team go so far, one win away from a trip to the Olympics, but it’s what that same team can do going forward that makes Embiid such a fascinating prospect.
Think about Embiid
He’s funny, he’s confident, and he’s really good at basketball. Joel Embiid isn’t looking to be the next anything, he’s looking to be the first Joel Embiid. Lots of guys have won gold medals for the USA. Lots of guys have looked dynamite for France at international level. No-one has ever brought Cameroon to the global stage in this sport.
This site’s readers are mostly basketball junkies and tend to be more likely than most to watch the international game. The vast majority of them however likely haven’t watch a minute of AfroBasket live because we’ve really not had that much reason to. We basically just assume Angola is going to win (despite the dominant force in African basketball only winning one of the last four crowns and falling at the quarter finals last time out). There isn’t a reason to engage with the competition.
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Embiid is that, he’s the type of talent that makes you pay attention to what he’s doing wherever he does that. Now if Embiid can do that with people like us, imagine what he can do for youngsters in Cameroon.
Here’s a player who can lead some serious talent at continental level in Mbah a Moute and Siakam and show that the Indomitable Lions aren’t just known for their talents on a soccer pitch, they can do big things on the hardwood too.
The sight of Embiid alongside Rudy Gobert is fun, the sight of him in a Cameroon jersey against Gobert in a French one at the Olympics is inspiring. Against Anthony Davis and the might of a NBA All Star filled roster? Here these young people can see their guy going toe to toe with the best in the world, belonging right there with them, and doing so in a jersey with their nation’s name across it.
That’s why there’s only one logical route, one that fits the way Embiid thinks about the game, if he decides to play internationally. France would be fun, Team USA would mean gold, but Cameroon offers immortality.
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