Joel Embiid will wear red, white and blue in Paris next summer — not rouge, blanc and bleu.
The NBA’s reigning MVP and scoring champion has told USA Basketball that, after more than a year of deliberating, he has picked the Americans over France as his team for the Paris Olympics.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ star let USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill know his mind was made up and then made the decision public on Thursday. And one of the reasons Embiid cited in what had him pick the U.S.: His son is American.
“I’ve been here for such a long time,” Embiid said in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the 76ers are having training camp — and where Embiid met with Hill this week. “For the past few years, every decision I’ve made has been based on just family. My family, my son, and having the chance to represent a country like the U.S., with my son being born here … I love my home country, but I really wanted to play in the Olympics.”
France had given Embiid an Oct. 10 deadline for deciding on his Olympic plans. Embiid said he appreciated the interest the French showed in him.
“I was trying to take my time as much as possible,” Embiid said. “It was kind of made hard by the deadline. But I’m happy with it.”
USA Basketball does not plan to name its team until the spring of 2024, but if healthy, Embiid would seem certain to have one of the 12 spots on the squad that will be coached by Golden State’s Steve Kerr with assistants Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga.
“It’s exciting for USA Basketball that Joel Embiid wants to represent the United States,” Hill said. “Joel and I have had several conversations about his goals and I’m looking forward to continuing that dialogue knowing that one of those goals is to represent USA Basketball next summer in Paris. As I’ve said before, I’m looking forward to the process of building the 2024 USA Basketball Men’s National Team roster over the next several months.”
No player has been officially named to the team at this point.
“The stronger the team, the better,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the Americans at the 2019 World Cup and then to gold at the Tokyo Games, said Thursday when told of Embiid’s decision. “International competition is tough. … That’s great for us.”
The U.S. will try for a fifth consecutive gold medal at Paris next summer. Embiid joins a long list of top NBA players who are hoping or planning to play for the U.S. next summer, including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker and many more.
“You want to play with great players,” Embiid said. “But I didn’t think about that at all.”
Adebayo had a simple reaction when he heard the Embiid news: “We’re looking stacked,” he said at Miami’s training camp in Boca Raton, Florida.
James was succinct when he heard the news at Los Angeles Lakers’ camp: “Great. Big time,” he said, grinning when told by reporters there.
Embiid became a U.S. citizen last year and could have also chosen to play for France — or even Cameroon, his homeland, if it qualified for the Paris Games. Cameroon will be among 24 teams playing for the final four spots in the 12-nation Olympic field next summer; the U.S., France, World Cup champion Germany, Serbia, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Sudan have already qualified for Paris.
Embiid said again Thursday that it was difficult to choose between his three options.
“I wouldn’t have made this decision if I wasn’t ready,” said Embiid, who said he now wants to focus on Philadelphia’s season and not continually hear questions about his Olympic plans.
It is a massive recruiting win for the Americans. Embiid was a rarity, an international basketball free agent — since he had never been part of a senior national team and holds multiple passports, which meant he had multiple options.
France — the reigning Olympic silver medalists, after losing to the U.S. in the final at the Tokyo Games played in 2021 — had pitched Embiid on the prospects of joining a frontcourt that will likely include Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama next summer, and until Embiid revealed a year ago that he had obtained U.S. citizenship it was widely expected that he would play for the host nation at the Paris Games.
“I guess we’ll see him in Paris,” Gobert said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, after his Minnesota Timberwolves played a preseason game there against the Dallas Mavericks. “I’m happy for him. As long as he does what makes him happy and he follows his heart, that’s what matters. I think it’s definitely something that they needed. They needed a dominant big man. So, they’re definitely going to have a good roster next summer.”
Embiid was born in Cameroon and has held French citizenship. He has spent essentially his entire basketball life in the U.S.; he went to high school in Florida, played college basketball at Kansas and has been with the 76ers for the entirety of his NBA career.
The six-time NBA All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection has averaged 27.2 points in his career, winning his first scoring title by averaging a then-career-best 30.6 points in 2021-22 and winning his second straight scoring crown by averaging 33.1 points this past season. He won the MVP vote by a sizable margin, getting 73 of the 100 first-place votes to claim the crown over Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Fort Collins, Colorado contributed.
AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games