Joel Embiid Is Carving a Path Into the Heart of Philadelphia

But even if the Sixers don’t advance, Embiid’s play has earned him a deep well of affection within his city. The Sixers were shrouded in drama this season as a result of the trade demand from Ben Simmons, who was supposed to help Embiid in the championship quest but never took the court before he was traded to the Nets for Harden in February. Instead of letting the season get derailed, Embiid mostly stayed quiet about Simmons and kept his focus on the court, where he averaged 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

Philadelphia has long been known as a difficult city in which to earn longstanding affection from fans. Only a few athletes have been able to attain that — and often not without significant bumps along the way: players like Julius Erving and Charles Barkley, and in other sports, the Eagles’ Brian Dawkins.

Other stars (ahem: Simmons) are often run out of town.

“A big part of my job is recruiting free agents directly or even indirectly in trade,” said Daryl Morey, the Sixers’ president of basketball operations. “And I think there’s a respect of the Philadelphia fan base that the players have that they’re like, ‘Will they accept me or not?’

“Because if they don’t accept you, it gets ugly fast for everybody.”

Marc Zumoff, who was the Sixers’ play-by-play broadcaster for almost three decades before retiring last year, said in an email that, “Philadelphia fans like to know they are part of the process.

“Whether they’re cheering, booing, or chanting in unison, they want to elicit reactions from the players, coaches, officials or whoever is their target,” he said. “In Joel’s case, his expressions, gyrations or especially when he holds his arms out in exaltation, he feeds the frenzy.”

He added, “Sometimes he reacts to the fans; other times, they react to him.”

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