Philadelphia 76ers seven-footer Joel Embiid has hardly kept it a secret that Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was one of his favorite players growing up, and that he tries to emulate Bryant’s “mentality” when he steps onto the court.
Whether Embiid will ever reach Bryant’s level of greatness obviously remains to be seen. But he certainly produced star-like numbers in the Sixers’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of a national audience on Thursday night, rumbling for 17 points on 7-for-18 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and six assists in the victory.
And producing like a star wasn’t the only way Embiid tried to channel his inner Black Mamba. Late in the game, Embiid saw help coming and decided to fire away anyway, a decision he said was inspired by his favorite player, per Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“That was a double-team,” Embiid explained. “But Kobe is my favorite player, so from watching him he doesn’t pass the ball, so double-team or triple-team, I felt like I had to shoot the ball.”
The narrative that Bryant never passed is slightly overblown, but Embiid isn’t wrong that the future Hall-of-Famers destination on his shoot-or-pass decision tree was far more often the former than the latter.
But unlike so many who always were so quick to criticize one of the greatest scorers in NBA history for not passing quickly enough, Embiid meant his evaluation as a compliment, because he’s trying to be like Bryant:
“He’s one of the best players to ever play, so if the question is what does it feel to feel like one of the best players to ever play, then it feels great to be in that type of position,” Embiid said. “I’m trying to reach that level. Got a long way to go, but I intend to get there.”
Embiid is right that he’s no Kobe yet, but if he keeps shooting over double-teams and trolling Jalen Rose, then he might be the closest thing the NBA has seen since Bryant hung up his Nikes.