Joel Embiid's Lack of Crowd Interaction in 2020 Prepared him for NBA Bubble
Before the 2019-2020 NBA season, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid was always interacting with the fans while on the floor. Whether it was waving his arms in the air to signal everybody to get louder, channeling his inner Allen Iverson and putting his hand to his ear, or running around imitating an airplane, Embiid was always loose on the floor. Why? Simply because it allowed Embiid to have fun, which helped him play better.
This year, Embiid wasn't the same. Sure, there were times he went back to previous years and got his home crowd riled up, but the Sixers' big man didn't do it nearly as much as he did in past years. Numerous times he explained he wanted to be more professional and mature. Embiid's struggle to balance his idea of maturity and the need he felt to have fun with the crowd sometimes affected the way he played.
Embiid mentioned several times throughout the year that his lack of interaction with the crowd resulted in him having less fun on the floor. And when Embiid wasn't having fun, he had a lack of passion for the game and didn't play up to his own standards. "I didn't [interact with the crowd] as much this year because there was a lot going on," Embiid recently told JJ Redick on 'The Old Man and the Three' podcast. "From last summer going into this season and not being myself -- not dominating as I usually do -- there was just no passion. I just played without [the crowd interactions]."
Changing the way he played the game gave Embiid a hard time throughout the season for sure. In hindsight, though, it has all worked out for the better so far. As the Sixers are currently down in Orlando, Florida, playing in the NBA's bubble, there are no fans to even interact with. Had Embiid not changed his ways this year, he might've had a hard time performing to the best of his ability during the restart. At this point, though, Embiid feels like he can dominate without screaming fans revving him up.
"My experience this year with the fans kind of changed the way I see the game," Embiid explained. "I think I got used to it (playing without relying on the crowd's energy). I still have a lot of love for the fans in Philly. That's just passion. They understand me. Our relationship is different. I love them, and they love me. They know what I'm about. I know what they are about. They just want to win, and they just want a championship. You gotta push yourself and always give it one-hundred percent."
So far, while healthy, Embiid has looked like his old dominant self down in the bubble. Before going out with an undisclosed ankle injury this past Sunday night, the Sixers center was averaging 30 points-per-game along with 13 rebounds-per-game -- all without a crowd to keep him pumped up. It might not have been an ideal scenario back when arenas were open to the public. Still, in the end, Embiid's decision to play the crowd less became preparation for the unique situation in Orlando.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_