Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid hasn't necessarily been a basketball fan all of his life. Unlike many NBA players, Embiid didn't start his playing career until he was in High School. And when a young Embiid was studying hoops and learning the ins and outs of the game, he paid attention to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.
"Sometimes I’d go to this court by my house where guys would play pickup, and every time I’d shoot the ball, I’d literally yell out, 'KOBE!'" Embiid wrote in a letter for The Players' Tribune. "Imagine it. I’m out there shooting bricks, yelling out Kobe, on a busted hoop in Cameroon. Seven years later, I was playing Kobe. It’s a movie. It’s really a movie.”
A few years following one of Embiid's fondest memories, Bryant passed away suddenly in a tragic helicopter crash with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. As expected, Bryant's passing shocked the world and hit the NBA hard. Like many, Embiid wanted to find a way to honor Bryant after his death.
On January 28th, 2020, Embiid took the floor for a matchup against the Golden State Warriors, donning No. 24 on his jersey instead of his typical No. 21. Obviously, the big man was honoring his idol.
"Kobe meant something different to me than anybody else," Embiid said after the game. "It was tough, but I know, just looking at his career and what he was about, that Mamba Mentality. It was about outworking your opponent, outworking everybody else. I know he would’ve wanted everybody to go out there and compete hard, play the game, and try to win. That’s what he was about. It was tough, but that’s how you honor him."
This year, a day after the one-year anniversary of Bryant passing away, Embiid and the Sixers are set to take on Kobe's former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. While Embiid probably won't revive a No. 24 Sixers jersey to honor his idol once again, the big man did work with Under Armour to create a Kobe and Gianna Bryant-inspired sneaker.
According to The Atheltic's Shams Charania, Embiid will rock the sneakers for Wednesday's matchup as he takes on the Lakers for the first time this season. "After watching [Kobe], I just wanted to be like him," the big man stated last year. "I just wanted to play basketball."
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_