With COVID-19 keeping most fans out of the stands for the 2020-2021 NBA season, it seemed it would be tough for a player like Sixers center Joel Embiid to find the energy and motivation to dominate on a nightly basis.
In the past, Embiid always made it known that he feeds off of the crowd's energy when he's playing at the Wells Fargo Center. This year, he doesn't have that. Fortunately for him, that hasn't been a problem.
Embiid is off to having a career year so far. In 24 games, he's averaging career highs in shooting by putting up 30 points-per-game while knocking down 54-percent of his shots from the field and 40-percent of his threes.
On Friday night against the Chicago Bulls, Embiid hit another milestone. In 35 minutes of playing time, the Sixers center scored a career-high of 50 points against the Chicago Bulls. When he tied his previous career-high on Friday, the big man went to center court and pumped up an empty crowd as if 20,000 fans were in attendance.
After the game, Embiid explained that while there might not be fans in the stands physically, they are always there for him in spirit. "Fans are always there for me when I play," Embiid explained after the victory over Chicago.
"You know, playing in Philly, I have a lot of pride," he continued. "I play for the fans, and I play for the city. All my goals when it comes to basketball, I relate it to the city of Philadelphia. So, I always feel like they are here with us even though they are not. I always feel their presence."
Sometime soon, the Sixers hope to have at least a few thousand fans back in the seats at the Wells Fargo Center, and Embiid is excited for that day. For the time being, though, he'll have to continue dominating with the idea that there are fans in attendance and not their actual presence.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_