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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

And justice for all

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Basketball justice. We all know what it is. A missed free throw for a foul that wasn’t there—that is justice—unless, of course, the person on the free throw line is terrible at the stripes.

It could be as simple as that. Or as costly as what Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers missed: eliminating the Boston Celtics when they had the chance, and losing the potential series-winning Game 6 and 7 en route to another humiliating exit once again.

I say humiliating because players with pride will not let themselves get massacred in a pivotal game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and lose by 24 points.

And the first to be held accountable is the man at the top of the pecking order.

Philadelphia finished third in the East and third overall. I’ve always believed that the Most Valuable Player award should be given to the best player from the best team.

Shouldn’t it be someone from Milwaukee, which won four more games? Shouldn’t it be someone from Boston, which finished 57-25, still superior to Philly’s 54-28?

Look, if we’re not picking from the top team, then shouldn’t the award go to Nikola Jokic, a back-to-back MVP who finished first in player efficiency rating?

If it’s from Philly, then shouldn’t it be James Harden? He is number in the league in assists (10.7 APG) and his 45 points was the reason Philly took Game 1 in Boston despite Embiid not playing.

But it had to be Embiid, who had 15 points in Philly’s game 2 loss in Boston. He also finished with 26 points in their game 6 loss, tied with teammate Tyrese Maxey who was +1 in rating for that game while Embiid was -4.

Sure, he was number one in regular season scoring, but what about scoring when it matters? In game 7 versus Boston, Embiid, in 38 minutes, all 7 foot, 280-pound of him against a 6-foot-9, 240-pound Al Horford who is older by seven years, put up a laughable, ignominious, cursed, and stinking 15 points on a 5-of-18 shooting that includes 0-4 from three. He was -28 in rating and shot 27.8%.

His four-turnover show is the red lipstick on the lips of those sporting a smirk of derision: MVP? Really?

More and more, it feels like the MVP selection has become a matter of opinion of select men and women, so here’s mine:

Men are fallible, but fate is justice.

Basketball has been robbed. But the real riches went to those who are deserving.

Don’t tell me there is no basketball justice. Don’t tell me it isn’t punishment to give Embiid false hope by having Philly win Game 1 in Boston only for the Celtics to win Game 7 and expose Embiid for his ineptitude, failure in leadership, and total lack of value as the cornerstone of the 76ers offense.

Don’t tell me the humiliation and the agony is not punishment; the gods of basketball can be cruel but it does not mean those punished are undeserving.

There were murmurs of discontent when Embiid won the MVP. You expect a deserving MVP to silence the critics. Embiid only emboldened those who disapprove of his new hardware to speak louder.

There was a time when even those who are not a fan sang paeans to an MVP rightly enthroned. As basketball fans watch how Embiid was all but useful and material to stopping Boston behind the man who put a show expected of a true MVP, you can hear the dirge rising to a crescendo, emerging from the silence that blanketed the stunned Philly fans, to announce not just the death, yet again, of Philly’s championship hopes, but the demise of the value and esteem of the Most Valuable Player award as well.

They say trust the process, but where has it brought Philly? Coaches and teammates came and went, except for Embiid, who was the center of Philly’s third straight conference semifinals ouster and their fifth in the last six seasons.

Maybe Embiid will become a deserving MVP one day, and with him, maybe Philly will win a championship. But right now, Philly returns to the drawing board and Embiid is back to square one.

What can Embiid do right now, as he watches the same four teams that ruled the bubble season fight for the right to qualify for the Finals and waits for the 2023-24 season to commence?

A lot, I think, and let’s start with this:

Return the MVP trophy, and return to humility, if ever he was once in a place without arrogance, which earned him nothing but disdain; he’s earned nothing yet, not even the MVP award people felt belongs to someone else.


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