In a time of great emotional and financial strife, Joel Embiid’s unwavering commitment to being a light in the dark is more than the Philadelphia 76ers deserve.
From his generational on-court abilities to his ability to light up a room, commercial, or even social media platform based on presence alone, Embiid put the Sixers on his back from the day he made his on-court debut on a nondescript October day in 2017 and hasn’t let up on his relentless pursuit of bringing a championship back to his adoptive home.
Franchises should be so lucky to have a player of Embiid’s weight at the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
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But basketball alone doesn’t define Embiid’s impact on our fair city. No, with a single tweet, the 7-foot-tall superstar quite helped to define the NBA’s relationship to labor in the post-COVID-19 world.
It all started nondescript enough, with a pair of tweets from the New York Times’ Mark Stein describing a plan from the Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment Group to limit its basketball and hockey front-office employees making $50,000 or more to four days of work a week, with an accompanying pay cut worth up to 20 percent of their salary from mid-April through June.
Unsurprisingly enough, this decision did not go over well across the sports world, especially to fans of the Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment Group’s basketball offering, the Philadelphia 76ers. Would employees really have to choose between surrendering a portion of their pay in these very, very shaky financial times or decline and risk being labeled difficult or worse when things return to normal?
But then again, what’s an employee supposed to do? Strike? Unionize? Talk about a huge ask while dealing with a global pandemic. Even Elton Brand was reportedly willing to return a portion of his pay, a move that can be described as a sign of solidarity, but may have been just as related to his own shaky standings in the organization moving forward.
Fortunately, the Sixers (and NJ Devils) employees found their champion in quite possibly their most powerful coworker – saving their salaries with 33 words.
Okay, sure, technically the Sixers already issued their own statement after news broke that minority owner Michael Rubin was outraged by the decision and Embiid pledged $500,000 to coronavirus relief in addition to financially assisting affected employees. Still, by making his own decidedly unofficial statement, the big man showed leadership beyond his 26-years.
That day, Joel Embiid became the emotional center of the Philadelphia 76ers, as if he wasn’t already.
While the franchise’s decision to ‘do a 180’ and pay their employees in full is obviously a huge boon for the 500-plus individuals they employ in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area, it could have a lasting impact around the league and sports world as a whole.
As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, other owners around the NBA intended to use the reaction to the Sixers’ decision as a barometer for their own potential cash-saving methods, from cutting hours/pay to outright firing employees.
Now that (probably) won’t happen.
There’s a question that often comes up around the concept of sports ownership: Who exactly owns a sports team? Is it the Billionaires who sign the checks? The employees who do the day-to-day work? Or the fans in any given city who fill into the stadiums, watch the games, and can name off every player on the roster? Well, in the face of a global tragedy, it was Joel Embiiid who stood up and used his privilege for good; on that day, Joel Embiid truly took ownership of the Philadelphia 76ers.