Julius Erving has seen this characteristic before.
Carry the team.
Perform whether sick, or hurt, or exhausted.
Call for the ball, make a play, bully the opposition, then tell them about it.
And never compromise.
Yes, Moses Malone would love The Process.
“They’re totally different players, style-wise, but I think (Moses) would like watching him play,” Erving said. “Joel is an expanded version of Moses. He’s a beast underneath. He’s fearless. And he’s hungry.”
The hunger, he said, differentiates the great ones. The hunger is a big reason why Embiid was playing in his second straight All Star Game on Sunday.
“I think you have to have it," Erving said. “The difference between people in the league and out of the league is just that gene.”
"The gene that says, ‘I really want this,’ " he explained. “You’re going to go through a lot punishment. You’re going to have mental agony. You’re going to have frustration: Mental, physically, emotionally. If you don’t have that gene, you know, you’re going to back away and find something else to do.”
Embiid has The Gene.
He forced his way into returning early from injury two years ago, in his first full season, and did so again in the playoffs last year. He has played the past few weeks with a sore back and played two games last week while ill.
Like Moses, who bragged to teammates about his performances against all foes -- even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- Embiid claims dominance over several NBA big men.
Like Moses, who predicted the Sixers would execute a series of “Fo-Fo-Fo” sweeps in the 1983 playoffs (it went 4-5-4), Embiid can be outrageous: “The referees bleeping suck,” he said after the Sixers lost to the Celtics last week.
Certainly, even Moses needed help. When the Sixers traded for him in the 1982 offseason, they already had Erving, fellow Hall of Famer Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones.
This edition of the Sixers saw Ben Simmons join Embiid at the NBA All Star Game. Jimmy Butler has gone four times. New teammate Tobias Harris is having an all-star caliber season.
But it revolves around Embiid; uncannily agile and wondrously versatile at 7-foot-2 and 280 pounds; a player unlike any the NBA has ever known. There was no player anything like him in Erving’s era.
“He’s expanded the role, because the game is evolved. Big men go outside more. When Moses stepped outside, it was probably because he was tired," Erving said, chuckling. “But he was almost never tired. And you wouldn’t see him shooting any three-point shots, regardless.”
Embiid isn’t exactly a three-point prodigy, but then, that’s not exactly his job. His job is to anchor the defense, to rule the boards and to be the focal point of the offense -- just like Moses.
Doc spoke about Embiid at the unveiling of Moses’ statue at the Sixers’ practice facility. It was the day after the trade deadline, and first-year general manager Elton Brand had just remade the Sixers’ roster in a flurry of trades. Tobias Harris was the centerpiece of the facelift. He joined a starting lineup that Butler had enhanced via trade in November.
“We love this team. It’s a great team,” Erving said. “Elton’s earning his money.”
Doc doesn’t expect Tobias Harris to have the impact of Moses Malone. In fact, it’s possible that the influx of deadline additions -- Harris, giant backup center Boban Marjanovic and perimeter reserves Mike Scott, James Ennis, and Jonathon Simmons -- won’t even make the Sixers better than the Raptors, the Celtics, or even the Bucks.
But Brand had to try. If he hadn’t, he would have been wasting a year of Embiid’s prime. The Sixers were good before they got Harris, but Erving said they clearly needed more.
“I thought we needed another frontcourt player, who could score and defend. With some size,” Erving said. “They were able to go out and get that.”
That’s Harris, a 6-foot-9 professional scorer.
“Now,” said Erving, “it’s just a matter of gelling and playing selflessly.”
That has begun. The Sixers are 3-1 since the deadline. That night they beat the visiting Nuggets, the No. 2 team in the Western Conference. The loss hurt -- the Celtics, in Philadelphia, without Kyrie Irving -- but Harris went 0-for-6 on three-pointers, his worst three-point shooting display since he went 0-for-6 on Jan, 13, 2018, as a Piston.
Embiid was just as bad. He said as much:
“I was sleepwalking for three quarters.”
Because Embiid knew, no matter matter who else takes the court, it’s all about him.
Accessorize him however you want.