Joel Embiid: Will Cameroonian NBA star switch to play for France?

1 month ago 349
Joel Embiid in action for Philadelphia 76ersJoel Embiid missed out on the NBA's MVP award to Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic for the second year running

It is a rumour that has been spreading again in the basketball world, but to the sport's connoisseurs the possibility of Joel Embiid switching allegiance to France does not come as a surprise.

The move has been raised twice before, with the Philadelphia 76ers star having opened the door to a nationality switch in 2016 and 2018.

Earlier this month, the story took on another dimension when the general manager of France's national team, Boris Diaw, said the 28-year-old native Cameroonian had started the process to apply for French citizenship.

His desire to play for France now seems to be genuine, but the path which could take Embiid into the Les Bleus squad at the Paris 2024 Olympics is still long - and brings up many questions.

His bonds with France

Born in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde in 1994, Embiid spent his childhood in the African nation but moved to the United States with his family aged 15.

He attended university in Kansas before joining the Sixers in the 2014 NBA draft so, in theory, Embiid has no direct relationship with France.

Yet the Philadelphia centre has always had a special bond with France, where he spent holidays as a child and where he still has relatives living.

The last time he reportedly visited France was in July 2018 and in an interview with French newspaper L'Equipe earlier that year, the Cameroonian said he was ''a fan of France in general'' and willing to spend more time there.

Embiid also spoke to the French Basketball Federation in 2018, before giving up the idea of switching nationality to focus on his NBA career.

A big fan of French culture and French rap - with the French-Senegalese artist Booba one of his favourites - and a man who dreams of watching the Tour de France and tennis at Roland Garros, Embiid seems to have a strong desire to play for France.

But will his affectionate relationship with the country be enough for a man nicknamed 'The Process' to get a French passport?

'The (Legal) Process'

To be able to play for France, Embiid must get French nationality - and that entails difficult paperwork which could take a while.

However, the process could be accelerated for a professional basketballer, and one of the best in the NBA, especially since Article 21-21 of the French Code Civil - the codification of private law in France - could help Embiid's case.

Based on a proposal by the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, it allows naturalisation to be conferred on any French-speaking alien who "contributes by his eminent deeds to the influence of France and to the prosperity of its international economic relations".

Two years before Paris hosts the Olympics, Embiid would seem to tick a few boxes, even if the player's entourage would like to calm things down.

"Joel's approach is just the first step. We are not thinking about the French basketball team for now," one source close to the player told BBC Sport Africa.

Although some rumours say the 76ers centre could travel to France in the coming months to finalise his application, he is likely to undergo surgery for his right thumb first.

Joel Embiid in action for Philadelphia 76ersEmbiid finished the NBA Eastern Conference play-off semi-finals playing in a mask to protect a facial injury

Having endured several injuries since the start of his career, health is Embiid's top priority at the moment.

The other components to this story are world governing body Fiba and Cameroon's basketball federation (Fecabasket).

Embiid has never played in an official competition for Cameroon, so nothing can prevent him from playing for another country and, according to Fiba, each team is allowed one naturalised player in its squad.

As things stand, France does not have a player that meets this criteria.

Fecabasket has told BBC Sport Africa it would like Embiid to play for them, but it cannot prevent him appearing for France if the regulations allow him to.

However, Fecabasket has to sign a release letter proving Embiid never played for Cameroon as part of the switch - so could theoretically scupper the process by refusing to do so.

"Joel's country is Cameroon," Fecabasket president Samuel Nduku told BBC Sport Africa.

"Our wish is that he plays for us, especially during the Paris Olympics. He doesn't have any bond with France and for now I have not received any demand from the French federation. I am waiting for them to call me so we can discuss this.

"But he's free, nobody's kept behind bars in sports."

Where would he fit in with France?

Embiid's arrival would be a massive asset for the French team, who took bronze at the past two World Cups and silver at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

With his impressive physique, he is a unique basketballer who can play as a point guard and score three points or damage the opponents' defence thanks to his power.

Added to that impressive list of qualities, he has just had his best season in the NBA - becoming the first non-American to finishing as best points scorer with an average of 30.6 points.

Embiid also ended the campaign on the MVP podium for the second year in a row, ultimately beaten to the top prize by Nikola Jokic.

So how would he complement Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert and the rest of the French squad?

France's men's basketball team pose with silver medals from the Tokyo 2020 OlympicsFrance were beaten 87-82 by the USA in the final of the men's basketball at the Tokyo Olympics last August

Four years ago, Evan Fournier, now with the New York Knicks, and other French players were not happy with the prospect of Embiid joining, but things seem to have changed since then.

BBC Sport Africa understands several players have been asked for their thoughts on his addition, and the team's main leaders seem to be in favour.

Others, such as Real Madrid centre Vincent Poirier are more sceptical however.

"Maybe I am biased here because we both play at the same position but do we really need him?" Poirier told French newspaper Le Parisien.

"I've got nothing against him, he is definitely one of the best players in the world and he's a nice guy but we already are a successful nation, winning a silver medal at the last Olympics. If we didn't have any player of his profile, why not, but I reckon we have a few big men there already."

For now, imagining Embiid with the French team at EuroBasket in September seems impossible.

Yet the World Cup in 2023 and the Olympics in 2024, two major events for Les Bleus, could be played with a big trump card, one weighing 127 kilograms and standing almost seven foot tall.

Source Article