NBA rookie Joel Embiid is already a Twitter god

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If you’re not following Joel Embiid, you’re not an NBA fan.

Joel Embiid’s name is not well known outside of college basketball fans and sports dorks who closely monitor NBA prospects (myself included). He’s a 20-year-old Cameroon-born basketball player who, looming high at seven feet tall, could be one of the league’s next superstars. Embiid was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, but is currently recovering from an intense foot surgery. 

Oh, and he tweets like your teenage, girl-crazy younger brother. 

“Slide into my DMs” is Twitter jargon for welcoming flirtatious behavior. Confident, sure, but Embiid is just a 20-year-old kid with a crush on a powerful, beautiful woman whose sexuality has been made very well known for the better part of a decade. He claimed he was not aware Kardashian is now married to Kanye West, who could very much be a future business partner if all goes well in Embiid’s career. Despite his elevated status as a rising celebrity, Embiid’s tweet reads as a common thought by anyone who has known the feeling of having an Internet crush. It’s like he tried to dunk but missed the hoop entirely, a la Andrea Bargnani. 

Watching Embiid embarrass himself was like watching your pal use a cringeworthy pick-up line on a woman at a bar and get shut down. For an afternoon, we all got to clown on Embiid’s lack of game. Even his mom got in on it:

Embiid’s tweets are full of emoji and slang that I am barely within reach of comprehending. Looking at his timeline is like peering into the universe of the next adult generation, who came of age in the time of Wi-Fi, and who snap, subtweet, and tag their way through a social existence. To me, Embiid’s tweets seem slightly foreign, creating the same type of curiousness that I get while talking to my teenage cousin about her Instagram rituals. But Embiid speaks, behaves, and tweets like an authentic representation of his peers far beyond the NCAA and NBA simply because he is. And that transparency of his personality makes him pretty damn likable. 

Personally, I found Embiid’s livetweeted foot surgery the most amusing undertaking.

Actually, no, it was Embiid’s campaign to recruit LeBron James to the Sixers.

Anyone who followed the LeBron James Decision 2, either by will or by way of media circus, knew James was either going to Cleveland or back to Miami. Embiid knew that too.

It didn’t stop him from trying. More importantly, it showed him in the light of a fan, rather than a player we perceive to be on a path to be LeBron’s peer. 

“Dude. You’ve gotta follow Joel Embiid on Twitter,” said an acquaintance who closely follows the NBA but rarely tweets. He was talking to my friend, someone who uses Twitter a lot. Clearly Embiid is bridging a gap here.

Another pal, who I have never, ever discussed basketball with but is a master of Internet culture, told me Embiid’s feed made him want to root for the Sixers. The Sixers won 19 out of 82 games last season. I can confidently say their efforts on the court did not merit anything more than a half-serious desire to follow the team. But Embiid gives us someone to root for.

Look, we’ve all been told not to meet our heroes. Some of us have ignored this advice, often to discover that persons of celebrity status are just people of the same variety of complexities and flaws as the rest of us plebes. 

Thanks to platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, we may be losing the choice not to meet our heroes.

It’s now standard for celebrities to appear on social media, probably at least by the request of their PR staff. Some celebrities don’t tweet, or they let “their people” take care of it. Others, like Drew Brees, take advantage of the publicity and sponsorship revenue in an obviously calculated manner. A few, however, seem to be using Twitter in particular not as just a carefully crafted way to engage their fanbase, but for the same purpose as the rest of us: as an outlet for the constant pulses of narcissism and boredom. Depending on what is actually said, it can be PR gold or a PR nightmare in an age where the media weighs tweets as heavily as given statements. 

Athletes will always be seen as demigods or better, but an authentic presence on social media might foster a slight return to an understanding of athletes as humans, too.  

Joel Embiid’s tweets walk the line of risky tweetin’. By now we all know it’s better to save to drafts the sentiments that will cause friction with your employer. When your employer is the NBA, it’s best to err on the side of cautious authenticity. So far, his brazen Twitter feed has been nothing but innocuous and entertaining, bringing good publicity to him and the Sixers. 

The NBA, it seems, sees it the way we do:

Photo via Joel Embiid/Twitter