Joel Embiid: Will the Cameroonian NBA star change to play for France?
It’s a rumor that’s once again spreading through the basketball world, but for those in the know about the sport, the possibility of Joel Embiid changing his allegiance to France comes as no surprise.
The decision has been mooted twice before, with the Philadelphia 76ers star opening the door to a nationality change in 2016 and 2018.
Earlier this month, the story took on another dimension when France national team general manager Boris Diaw said the 28-year-old Cameroonian had started the process of applying for French citizenship.
His desire to play for France now seems real, but the path that could lead Embiid to the Les Bleus team at the Paris 2024 Olympics is still long – and raises many questions.
Its links with France
Born in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé in 1994, Embiid spent his childhood in the African nation but moved to the United States with his 15-year-old family.
He attended the University of Kansas before joining the Sixers in the 2014 NBA Draft. In theory, therefore, Embiid has no direct relationship with France.
However, the Philadelphia center has always had a special connection with France, where he spent vacations as a child and where he still has relatives.
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 that he wanted to spend more time there.
Embiid also spoke with the French Basketball Federation in 2018, before abandoning the idea of changing nationality to focus on his NBA career.
A big fan of French culture and French rap – with Franco-Senegalese artist Booba one of his favorites – and a man who dreams of watching the Tour de France and tennis at Roland Garros, Embiid seems to have a strong desire to to play for France.
But will his affectionate relationship with the country be enough for a man nicknamed “The Process” to obtain a French passport?
“The (Legal) Process”
To be able to play for France, Embiid must obtain French citizenship – and that involves difficult paperwork that could take some time.
However, the process could be accelerated for a professional basketball player, and one of the best in the NBA, especially since article 21-21 of the French Civil Code – the codification of private law in France – could help the case. of Embiid.
Based on a proposal by the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, it makes it possible to confer naturalization on any French-speaking foreigner who “contributes by his eminent actions to the influence of France and 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 only a first step. We are not thinking about the French basketball team at the moment,” a source close to the player told BBC Sport Africa.
Although there are rumors that the 76ers center could travel to France in the next few months to finalize his candidacy, he would first have to undergo surgery for his right thumb.
Having suffered several injuries since the start of his career, health is currently Embiid’s top priority.
The other components of this story are the world governing body Fiba and the Cameroon 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 entitled to one naturalized player in its squad.
In the current state of things, France does not have a player who meets this criterion.
Fecabasket told BBC Sport Africa he would like Embiid to play for them but that cannot stop him from appearing for France if the regulations allow him to.
However, Fecabasket must sign a release letter proving that Embiid never played for Cameroon as part of the switch – so he could theoretically sabotage 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 has no connection with France and for the moment I have not received any request from the French federation. I am waiting for them to call me so we can discuss this.
“But he is free, no one is kept behind bars in sport.”
How would he integrate into France?
Embiid’s arrival would be a major asset for the France team, who have won bronze at the last two World Cups and silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
With his impressive physique, he is a unique basketball player who can play as a point guard and score three points or damage the opposing defense thanks to his power.
Added to this impressive list of qualities, he has just had his best season in the NBA by becoming the first non-American to finish as the top scorer with an average of 30.6 points.
Embiid also ended the campaign on the MVP podium for the second consecutive year, finally beaten to the first prize by Nikola Jokic.
So how would he complement Utah jazz center Rudy Gobert and the rest of the French squad?
Four years ago, Evan Fournier, now with the New York Knicks, and other French players weren’t happy with the prospect of Embiid’s arrival, but things seem to have changed since then.
BBC Sport Africa understands that several players have been asked to give their thoughts on his addition, and senior team officials appear to be in favour.
Others, like Real Madrid center Vincent Poirier, are more skeptical, however.
“Maybe I’m biased here because we both play the same position, but do we really need him?” Poirier told French newspaper Le Parisien.
“I have nothing against him, he is certainly one of the best players in the world and he is a nice guy, but we are already a successful nation, winning a silver medal at the last Olympics. If we didn’t have any players of his profile, why not, but I think we already have some great men there.”
For now, imagining Embiid with the France team at EuroBasket in September seems impossible.
However, the World Cup in 2023 and the Olympics in 2024, two major events for the Blues, could be played with a big asset, the one who weighs 127 kilograms and measures almost seven feet.