Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid’s wave war signals something deeper

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

In the Philadelphia 76ers triple-overtime loss to the Oklahoma Thunder, Joel Embiid waged a war of waves against Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams.

On Friday, December 15th, the Philadelphia 76ers mounted an 11-point fourth quarter comeback that spiraled into a triple-overtime date with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the end, Philly dropped the game 119-117, despite Joel Embiid’s huge outing that totaled 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.

However, moral victories don’t count.

This year, sitting at .500 and in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Sixers realize it’s time to rack up actual victories, in substitute for moral ones.

But, I broke the rules. I found a moral victory Friday night.

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This moral victory had nothing to do with Robert Covington’s seemingly unbreakable confidence, Embiid’s visibly Herculean effort or the Sixers insanely thrilling comeback.

I found a moral victory in a wave. Russell Westbrook waved goodbye to Embiid after the final buzzer Friday. This wave was presumably in response to Embiid waving goodbye to Thunder center Steven Adams when he fouled out earlier in the third overtime. Both were seemingly extra-curricular jabs.

Westbrook is the league’s reigning MVP. He has clearly reached a supreme level of greatness.

When you’re great (like Westbrook) and you see a young talent (like Embiid) enter the league, I believe a three-step complex occurs.

1. The Mentor Stage

At this stage, the great player sees the young player enter the league and wants to help them develop. He may offer advice, whether in public or in private. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is outspoken at this stage.

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According to ESPN article citing a report from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, James was caught sneaking some advice to first-year Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball.

“The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day. It’s white noise to you. That’s all it is.”

Ball, who has looked lost this season at times, is someone who could use any type of knowledge possible. James understandably sees that.

Although everyone could use a little advice now and then, I believe Embiid is out of this stage.

2. The Realization Stage

This is the stage where a great player realizes a young player has the potential to be something special. This is where many of league’s stars were with Embiid last season.

These great players can see and recognize a young player making moves in the league, as they feel no immediate threat is being made to their throne. With Embiid injured for his first two full seasons, many players last season saw unbelievable talent, but would always preface by mentioning his health concerns.

Embiid has been at this stage for most of this season. However, amazingly, Friday night the Cameroonian big man may have broken through into the third stage.

3. The Threatened Stage

In this stage, the established, great player sees the young player as a threat. Great players all respond to threat in different ways.

Some great players internalize the threat and have enough reserve and self-confidence to realize that they aren’t untouchable. Other great players turn their feelings of threat into motivation, taking their game to another level. Then, you have some great players who let the emergence of a young star get into their psyche.

I believe Westbrook has chosen the ladder when it comes to Embiid.

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In my opinion, Friday night was the first time Embiid got into the head of a superstar. As opposed to common jawing after plays (like Embiid with Carmelo Anthony earlier in the contest or even Kevin Durant jokingly referring to Embiid’s social media presence), Westbrook internalized a stunt done by Embiid during the game and couldn’t seem to let it go, even after the final buzzer.

A guy like Westbrook couldn’t stand seeing a young, 7-foot-2 center dominate his Thunder squad, all with a seemingly bad back.

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The wave was just proof.