BOSTON — In between a congratulatory handshake and a hug, Joel Embiid, seated inside the TD Garden visitors’ locker room, said he was blessed.
The 76ers center had a long and trying journey since being selected third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. Unable to play his first two seasons, the now-23-year-old even considered giving up basketball. It’s a great thing for him and the Sixers that he didn’t follow through.
Embiid learned moments before entering the locker room that he was named an Eastern Conference starter for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game.
The starters were announced on TNT an hour before tipoff of the Sixers’ nationally televised game against the Celtics. The all-star reserves, selected by the league’s coaches, will be announced Jan. 25. The game will be on Feb. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Embiid becomes the first Sixer selected to start an All-Star Game since Allen Iverson in 2010. Iverson, however, didn’t participate in the game because his daughter, Messiah, was ill. The last time the Sixers had a player compete in the annual event was Jrue Holiday in 2013.
“I felt like it should have happened last year,” Embiid said of his selection prior to the game. “I’m excited, but I believe in God. I feel like everything happens for a reason. So I’m blessed.”
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry led the 10 starters chosen by the voting of fans, players and a panel of reporters. The fans accounted for 50 percent of the vote total, with the media members and players accounting for 25 percent each.
Curry and James will serve as team captains after finishing as the top vote-getters in their respective conferences.
The captains will select the rosters from the starters and reserves on Thursday. Each captain must pick four players from the 10 starters. Starters from the Eastern Conference are James, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and Embiid.
For the Western Conference, the selected starters are Curry, Houston Rockets guard James Harden, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, and New Orleans Pelicans post players Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
Embiid finished third in the fan voting for Eastern Conference frontcourt players. He was fourth in the player voting and third in media voting.
“I feel people appreciate what I do and my talent,” Embiid said. “I feel like I’ve been working hard for this, and I should have been in this type of position [with] all those guys.”
His career has been hampered by injuries. After missing his first two seasons due to two foot surgeries, his 2016-17 campaign was cut short by surgery on his left knee. He’s missed nine games this season, mostly as a result of not being cleared to play on back-to-back nights.
Embiid, who’s still getting in shape, said he’s playing at 81 percent of where he wants to be. He also has a timeline in mind for being cleared to play on consecutive nights.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 18, 2018
“I just need not to take days off,” Embiid said. “It’s not on me. It’s on the medical staff. But hopefully, back-to-backs by the end of this month, I will be allowed to play.”
Embiid averaged 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and was fifth in the with 1.94 blocks heading into Thursday’s game.
The highlight of Embiid’s season came on Nov. 15 when he finished with a career highs of 46 points, seven assists and seven blocks to go with 15 rebounds in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He became the first player in NBA history with at least 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks and seven assists in a game. It marked the first time a Sixer had scored at least 40 points inn a game since Allen Iverson had 45 on Nov. 27, 2006.
“I’ve said this: If he stays healthy, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” T.J. McConnell said. “Everyone finding out that he’s a starter kind of signifies what we already know, how good he is. But it’s special because of everything that he’s been through.”
Sixers rookie Ben Simmons was also an all-star-starter candidate. The point guard finished third in fan voting for East guards. He was sixth in both the player and media votes.
“I think this is validation not only for me, but for the whole organization especially after what we have been through for the last four years,” said Embiid, whose team lost 253 games the previous four seasons. “So I’m not excited about myself. I’m excited for the whole city of Philadelphia and the fans world wide.”