The Road to Greatness is not Always Great
Joel Embiid, forget the haters.
When Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard hit the jumper heard all around the world in game seven of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, the finality of everything hit Embiid like a brick.
The charismatic center from the Philadelphia 76ers broke down in tears on live television, finding solace from Raptors center Marc Gasol, but also finding ridicule from Internet trolls.
But like everyone destined for greatness finds out at some point in time, the road to success is paved with potholes, detours and dirt roads.
And Embiid, and others seeking greatness, have to realize, no shortcuts exist on the path to greatness and it takes patience, practice and pain to achieve one’s dream in life.
He, like all people, should use adversity to fuel his accomplishments and come back bigger and better than ever next season and beyond.
Although he is obviously a wealthy celebrity, his story of pain and loss is something that all people will experience at one time or another.
Last week, Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt returned to University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis. to deliver the commencement address at his beloved alma mater.
The former Badger great knows a little bit about greatness.
However, Watt knows a lot of about setbacks and being overlooked on his path to the top.
But only the greats like Watt use the setbacks of being under-recruited coming out of high school and debilitating injuries to make them that much more determined to reach their goals.
Watt did not sugar coat his message for the Spring 2019 graduates at University of Wisconsin.
The former NFL Defensive MVP told the graduates that success would eventually come.
Unfortunately, achieving success would not be easy according to Watt.
“When you figure your dream out, remember it will not be a straight path,” Watt told the graduates. “Stay committed. Never lose sight of what it is you want to accomplish. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way, and don’t be afraid to help others along their path.”
Embiid, and people like him with immense talent, have to realize that talent is not enough to reach one’s goals.
One has to work harder than everyone else to be better than everyone else in a given field.
It does not come easy.
There are no secrets to success.
There are no shortcuts to success.
There is simply hard work.
There is heartbreak.
And eventually, if one perseveres, there are breakthroughs.
The word on the street about Embiid is that he does not take the craft of basketball seriously enough to truly maximize his potential.
Many of his critics say that he does not do enough to keep himself in peak physical condition.
Furthermore, many of his critics say that his diet does not even allow for him to maximize his physical tools because he does not eat enough healthy foods.
Additionally, many of Embiid’s critics say that he scoffs at instruction.
When 76ers head coach Brent Brown brought NBA champion Bruce Bowen into the locker room to teach the young Sixers what it takes to become a champion, Embiid rebuffed much of what Bowen had to say.
Others observing the Sixers this past season criticize Embiid’s playful nature, with many believing he cares about fame more than he cares about championship rings.
All of the criticism about Embiid is fair and it all might be true.
If Embiid wants to truly achieve greatness, he needs to take all of the tears that he displayed after the Sixers devastating loss on May 12 and use it as his fuel in the offseason.
When he does not want to work out and/or get in shape, he needs to replay Leonard’s buzzer-beating shot.
And when Embiid wants to play video games instead of pickup basketball in the offseason, he needs to think about all of the people who laughed at his tears.
Many sports fans compare Embiid to Hakeem Olajuwon.
But the difference between Embiid and Olajuwon, thus far, is that Olajuwon came back every season better than what he was the previous season.
Every season, Olajuwon added to his game.
Olajuwon knew heartbreak on the basketball court as well.
Who can forget the way Phi Slama Jama (University of Houston) lost to North Carolina State in the 1983 NCAA championship game?
Who can forget how close the Houston Rockets were to becoming the NBA’s team of the future after their loss to the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals?
Although it took until 1994 for Olajuwon to achieve his goals, he did not stop improving until he reached his goal of becoming a champion.
And after that first championship came in 1994, along with the NBA MVP trophy that same year, the blessings came all at once.
Olajuwon won a second title in 1995 and an Olympic gold medal in 1996.
Embiid should also look at Olajuwon’s career as motivation and a reality check that greatness does not come easily.
More importantly, Embiid should ignore the haters who do not have what it takes to become great in the first place.
Those who criticize his tears might not have ever dreamed of greatness before.
Many more might have never put in the work required to even get close to achieving their dreams.
Many of Embiid’s critics might be stuck in mediocrity and are offended by his potential for greatness.
Some of them will probably never know what it feels like to be a star.
Therefore, Embiid cannot allow them to dim his light.
But he cannot totally ignore the critics.
Embiid needs to differentiate the haters from the true critics.
Those who critique his game and work ethic are not necessarily jealous people.
Sometimes, those that criticize you the most see the most in you and they just do not want you to squander your potential greatness and your chance at immortality.