(Reuters) – National Basketball Association (NBA) MVP Joel Embiid hopes to be a role model of perseverance after overcoming extraordinary odds, the Philadelphia 76ers center said on Wednesday.
The Cameroonian All-Star is only the second African to earn MVP honors, after Nigerian-American Hakeem Olajuwon from the Houston Rockets won for the 1993-1994 season, and said he never predicted a future in the NBA when he began playing.
“The probability of someone like me you know, started playing basketball at 15, to get the chance to be the MVP of the league is, I’d say, negative-zero,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of opportunities back in Africa in general to get to this point.
“But, you know, improbable doesn’t mean impossible.”
The seven-foot titan led the Sixers to their third straight Eastern Conference semi-final this year, where they led the Boston Celtics 1-0 ahead of Wednesday’s Game 2.
But his career almost never got off the ground. He nearly quit the sport months after going third overall in the 2014 draft, when his younger brother died in a car accident.
“I felt like it was kind of my fault because I left Cameroon, I left, you know, my family. I felt like I should have been there to do something,” said Embiid, who missed the first two seasons of his career with a broken foot.
“I’m just glad that I pushed through it and I’m here sitting in front of you guys having accomplished something that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to.”
Embiid, who came second in MVP voting to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in the last two seasons, produced an undeniable MVP campaign this time around, averaging a career-high 33.1 points per game, with 10.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)