BOSTON — Joel Embiid reached the peak of his career this season and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player on Tuesday.
The 76ers star became the first Philly player to win the award since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson in 2001 and just the fifth MVP in franchise history. Embiid won easily with 915 points and 73 first-place votes from the media. Two-time defensive MVP and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic finished second with 674 points and 15 first-place votes. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks power forward, finished third with 606 points and 12 first-place votes.
» ALSO READ: Joel Embiid Named Eastern Conference Player of the Year for 2022-23 Season
“I don’t even know where to start,” Embiid told TNT host Ernie Johnson Jr. after being announced as the winner. NBA tip program. “You know, this has been a long time coming. You know, a lot of hard work. I’ve been through a lot.
“I’m not just talking about basketball. I talk about everything in life, you know my story. You know where I come from, how I got here, and what I needed to get here. So that’s great. I don’t know what to say. It’s amazing.”
A native of Cameroon, Embiid came to America at age 16 to play basketball.
When he arrived in the NBA, Embiid sat out his first two seasons due to two foot surgeries. He then underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee during the 2016–17 campaign. Embiid has suffered from various injuries. And he was sidelined early in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics with a sprained right knee.
But Embiid has been able to overcome injuries and make his 2022-23 season even better.
He won his second straight scoring title by averaging 33.1 points and was eighth in rebounds (10.2) and seventh in blocks (1.7). He was also named the Eastern Conference Player of the Year three times.
“He’s the best player in the league!” PJ Tucker said, before repeating it for emphasis. “I think it’s always a debate [on who should have won]But I don’t think there was a debate all year.
“Absolute dominance all year round.”
The honor comes after Embiid finished as the MVP runner-up in 2021 and 2022.
The Sixers believed he should have won last season. That’s when Embiid (30.6 points in 2021-22) not only became the first center since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal (29.7 in 1999-2000) to win the scoring title, but also the first center to average more than 30 points. From Moses Malone (31.1 in 1981-82).
But Jokic became the first player in league history to record 2,000 points (2,004), 1,000 rebounds (1,019), and 500 assists (584) in a single season.
It was hard to argue against the Nuggets getting a center endorsement on Embiid in 2021 because of the games played. Jokic has been reduced to 72 contests in every game of the season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Embiid missed 21.
But now, Embiid is over the hump, joining Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Malone and Iverson as the only Sixers to win the award. It’s a testament to how far Doc Rivers has come since the Sixers hired him as coach on October 3, 2020.
Before that, Embiid was an elite player who often lost form. But having coached several Hall of Famers — including Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady — Rivers knows that achieving greatness requires work ethic and leadership skills.
So the reverse embite was elusive, insisting on changes in approach to solitude. He asked Embiid to become a better player and teammate. The coach found ways to make Embiid have more of an impact on the court, positioning him at the free-throw line and facing the basket, where it’s difficult for teams to double-team him.
» Read more: Sixers’ Joel Embiid, dominant on both ends of the court, should dethrone Nikola Jokic as MVP
“I think it started last year with his conditioning and understanding how serious you have to be in this game,” Rivers said. “How serious, the little things you do that affect not only as a player, but your whole team.
“This year, I think he’s been working better with his teammates and taking the lead. He’s still young, he’s still growing before our eyes. It’s a really cool thing.”
In the process, the 29-year-old became the sixth foreign player to win the award, joining Jokic (Serbia), Antetokounmpo (Greece), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Steve Nash (Canada) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria). He is the third consecutive overseas MVP winner. Antetokounmpo won the award in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
Not surprisingly, Embiid stopped Jokic from becoming the fourth player to win three straight MVP awards.
“Nobody can guard him all year,” Tucker said of Embiid. “He destroys teams’ doubles and triples no matter what they throw at him. Nobody can stop him, and still having a successful season and finishing third in the East, I don’t know what else to say.”
“To get those double and triple teams and score 50s and 30s and 40s every night is pretty incredible.”
Embiid finished with 59 points and seven blocks against the Utah Jazz in November. He would add 53- and 52-point games on the season. Embiid hit 31 times in the 30s and 10 times in the 40s.
“It’s not about the score for me,” Paul Reed said. “It’s about the defensive end. I saw him make some big defensive plays that weren’t normal. Like Jayson Tatum and DeMar DeRozan going to the rim and competing, those guys are aggressive. [while] Attacks comrades.
“A guy like me, I’m big. I respect that kind of stuff.”
» Read more: Sixers overcome absence of Joel Embiid, 119-115 in Game 1, behind James Harden’s 45 points
But will people value Embiid’s MVP award when he’s sidelined during the playoffs?
The seventh-year veteran, who has a long injury history, sprained his lateral collateral ligament in his right knee on April 20 in Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
“There’s no way you’re going to win the MVP,” Rivers said, announcing the award while Embiid was injured. “[It is] An amazing feat. Obviously, you’ll see him do it and play, but they picked the date to give him the award and we didn’t.