AFCON: NBA superstar Joel Embiid opens up about his love for Cameroon

Warning: Nearby people may hear cheers — loud, loud cheers. The fact that these sounds could be coming from one of the best basketball players in the world only adds to the intrigue.
When he’s not playing Most Valuable Player-caliber ball for the Philadelphia 76ers — and his definition of “a bad night” was a nearly triple-double of 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a 105-87 Los Angeles Lakers win on Thursday – five-time NBA All-Star Joel Embid cheers on his nation of Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which happens to be hosted by his home country.

In Saturday’s quarter-finals, the Indomitable Lions take on The Gambia in a game Embiid’s side are expected to win. A win would mean Cameroon are two games away from a sixth AFCON title, with the latest coming in 2017, the center’s rookie year for the 76ers.

Embiid was named Rookie of the Month just three days before beating Egypt 2-1 in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals. a match that, if all goes well, could happen again on Sunday February 6th.

“There was always a lot of excitement,” says Embiid CNNSports Amanda Davies on his love for Cameroon national team since childhood. “The crazy thing is that whenever Cameroon played, every time they scored, everyone just screamed. You could hear the whole country screaming.”
Joel Embiid is playing at MVP level this season.

The love of the lions

While his remarkable journey took Embiid to America at the age of 16 – first through high school and college in Florida and Kansas, and then picked 3rd overall by Philadelphia in the 2014 NBA draft – he was picked a few years after Cameroon’s fairy tale run born to the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Cameroon, the first African nation to advance into the last eight just seven minutes from reaching the last four, eventually lost to England in extra time. Along the way, the Indomitable Lions wowed the world, beginning with the surprise of reigning champions Argentina in the opening game.

“Obviously Roger introduced us to Milla,” Embiid recalled of then-38-year-old striker Milla, who scored four goals at Italia ’90 and rose to further fame for his signature celebration of corner-flag dancing.

“Going back through history and seeing the games and learning through history before I was born and obviously the celebration was a big part of that history… we have a lot of history from Cameroon, and every time I get that chance.” I always enjoy being a part of that.”

Embiid watched all of Cameroon's games at AFCON.

Embiid believes the Class of 2022 can prevail at Africa’s flagship tournament. “We’re playing at home, so every time you get support from your home fans, which usually gives a lot of motivation to keep going and winning every single game,” he notes.

“Playing at home is a huge advantage for us and I think we have a chance to win it all… I look forward to continuing to watch and supporting.”

Cameroon’s success at AFCON notwithstanding, the fate of a football team pales in comparison to the deaths at Yaoundé’s Olembe Stadium last Monday because of a crowd at the stadium. At least eight people were killed and 38 injured in the round of 16 match between Cameroon and Cameroon Comoros.

A somber Embiid says: “I am a man of God so I pray for these families to find peace and also for their loved ones to find peace and be at peace. It’s tragic that it happened and I’m very sorry.” Given the horrific events, what would it mean for Embiid and Cameroon if they lifted the trophy?

“We’ve been through a lot as a country,” he reveals. “We had no competition [held] over there for a long time so finally being able to get it and be able to win it I think is going to be huge for us.”

Embiid tells CNN that his goal is to win the MVP award this season.

AFCON gets more recognition

In the run-up to AFCON 2022, it was discussed in some circles that stars such as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mané (Senegal), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) from Manchester City, Achraf Hakimi (Morocco) from Paris Saint-Germain and Kalidou were there The fact that Koulibaly (Senegal) temporarily left its club sides behind was such a bitter pill for their club sides and supporters that it overshadowed the prestige that comes from representing your country, let alone putting the tournament on the raising the level of other continents.

Embiid follows European football closely, so does he agree that AFCON isn’t getting the recognition it deserves on the global stage?

Substitute goalkeeper Abo Gabal, the hero of the penalty shoot-out as Egypt advance

“It’s screwed up,” Embiid quickly concludes. “When it comes to Africa, I feel like there’s always a kind of double standard. I never hear any complaints when it comes to the European Cup or other trophies.

“[AFCON]It’s a bit different because obviously it’s going on over there during the season and some of the best players if you talk about someone like Mo Salah or Sadio [Mané] They should play for their clubs. But I also appreciate that they just want to go back and represent their country, which is good.

“I think we still deserve our respect… if you look at the success that Africa is having in general, we have a lot of talent. Not only in football, but also in basketball or other sports. Over time we’ll get over this, but it’s getting there slowly.

As for the big man himself, when asked which would mean more to him – Cameroon triumphs at AFCON or Embiid wins MVP – he smiles. “That is hard! I want both – either would be great!

“It would have been a better question if you asked me between winning Cameroon or winning a league!” When asked which he would prefer, Embiid said: “Either would be great, like I said, I’m a competitor – I want to win.”

Embiid will tune in to watch Cameroon's quarterfinals vs Gambia.

After detailing the hard work Cameroon put in from their previous opponents Comoros, as the continental minnows played much of the game with 10 men and the entire game with a fielder in goal, Embiid gives his heart to the team challenges a message waiting.

“Go out there and keep doing what they did. In the end they did great. They have our full support to keep doing this and I really hope they can keep this trophy in our home territory, so I will continue to support them As I said, I will watch the rest of the games.

Will we see another iconic celebration like Embiid’s Twitter video of Max Verstappen’s maiden Formula 1 title as the Indomitable Lions claim their sixth AFCON crown? “I hope the excitement when we reach the final is the same [as the F1 finale]. Maybe we’ll get one!” AFCON: NBA superstar Joel Embiid opens up about his love for Cameroon

Charles Jones

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