Joel Embiid with the Blues: six questions for an intriguing naturalization

A file that drags on, then finally the blast of a bomb. Monday evening, French basketball went to bed with dreams and questions in its head. RMC Sport had just announced that Joel Embiid had started the administrative procedures to obtain French nationality, reopening the door to participation in the next major competitions (World Cup 2023, Olympics 2024) with the French team. The hypothesis had already made its way in 2018, before falling like a soufflé.

But this time, the intentions of the pivot of the Philadelphia 76ers, currently in the middle of the play-offs, seem much more concrete, as confirmed by the manager of the Blues Boris Diaw. The fantasy of having one of the best players in the world with the tricolor tunic could therefore see the light of day, if the procedures are successful, and if the contacts between the player and the management of the selection remain positive. A lot of ifs, and at least as many questions about what could take the Olympic vice-champions to another dimension.


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Can Joel Embiid one day play with the France team?

Yes, in any case nothing prevents it legally speaking. If the Cameroonian pivot obtains French nationality, Embiid would be available to play with the tricolor selection. The interior has never evolved with a national team. His native country, Cameroon, has been flirting with him for several years and hoped to make him a gondola head for his selection, and more broadly for African basketball. The player himself said in 2018, the date of the first rumors about his national team choice, “i want to play for my country“.”If I have a choice to make, it will be Cameroon first, if there is a good framework, because that is where I come from.“he claimed to BasketUSA. The possibility of joining Team USA also existed, he who could benefit from a passport for having lived in the territory for several years.

The International Basketball Federation authorizes each selection to field a naturalized player in official competition.

What are the links between Joel Embiid and France?

To this day, they remain rather thin. The native of Yaoundé has never played in France, either professionally or during his training. INSEP could have welcomed Embiid in his youth, but the player had finally taken the direction of the United States at the age of 16. The pivot speaks French and has family in France. “He loves France“assured the president of the French Basketball Federation, Jean-Pierre Siutat, in 2018. Proof of this is that the first discussions between the FFBB and the Phily All-Star date back to 2016, said Patrick Beesley, the former DTN of the French basketball.

Why this naturalization is debated?

The very question of players evolving with passports obtained during their career has been the subject of discussion for many years in European basketball. Many selections have taken advantage of the regulations to field players who, for some, had never set foot in the country in question before wearing the colors. Leader Bo McCalebb had taken Macedonia to the semi-finals of Euro 2011, when the selection had never done better than the main round of the competition. Slovenia clinched the 2017 title to everyone’s surprise with American Anthony Randolph in their ranks. The ex-NBA player had obtained his passport just weeks before the competition “to get more exposure in a major tournament” he explained to The Undefeated.

The France team had also long regretted falling on Spain supplemented by the Congolese interior Serge Ibaka, then by Nikola Mirotic, of Montenegrin origin, in the 2010s.

Serge Ibaka with the Spanish selection, against the French team of Florent Pietrus, here during a friendly match on July 10, 2012

Credit: Getty Images

What do the players of the France team think?

If he were to complete the workforce of Vincent Collet, the first challenge that would present itself to Joel Embiid would be that of his integration. His case is far from unanimous in the ranks of double world bronze medalists. Already in 2018, reluctance had already been widely heard. Anthology:

For me, playing for a country you have no ties with is disturbing. It bothers me when the other selections do it, so it’s valid for the Blues.” Evan Fournier

In the federations, we work hard to make young people work, for example, and I find that it lacks a bit of authenticity when you do stuff like that. In the national team, you should play with the players of the country, who grew up there.” Tony Parker, at the Team

I am against naturalized people.“Nicholas Batum

Four years later, tongues are just as loose. If Evan Fournier, never stingy with his opinions, asked for a little patience to get his opinion on his return from vacation, other players followed suit with skepticism.

Guest of the First Team, the leader Andrew Albicy did not hide his opinion. “I speak on my behalf but I think there are many people in the team who think the same: we would not like Embiid to come to the team because he does not represent France, “our France “. He was not trained in France, he has nothing French except the family and the fact that he speaks French. […] We can go really far with this team without having to go and get an American, a Cameroonian or someone else to win the world title.

As a good captain, Nicolas Batum is more measured. The Los Angeles Clippers player weighs the pros and cons in the columns of L’Equipe. “I can understand that it’s ethically disturbing, but from a basketball point of view… I put myself on both sides: player-captain, but also fan! And an Embiid-Gobert racquet, damn it! So here it is, ethically, I understand, but “basketball”…“While adding a sine qua non:”The group must be ok.“This, while one of the players present during the last campaigns like Guerschon Yabusele or Amath M’Baye could have to leave their place, and Rudy Gobert see his role diminished. “Respect for Rudy, where is it? And the others who make sacrifices every summer for the France team? questioned (insurgent?) Evan Fournier in 2018.

What could Joel Embiid bring to Les Bleus?

Without wanting to deny the glorious history of the orange-blue-white-red ball, the hypothesis of seeing Joel Embiid in the tricolor jersey is enough to make your mouth water as the player’s talent is enormous. Never have the Blues counted a player of such a level in their ranks, of an NBA MVP caliber and top scorer of the season (30.6 points per game).

In a team in which the mark is mainly fueled by its back lines, with Evan Fournier at the forefront, the contribution of Embiid near the circle would offer offensive options that any selection would dream of. Technique, shooting quality, power, game intelligence… The 28-year-old player is a rare specimen.

If he were to evolve for the France team, his use would nevertheless become more difficult than it seems. Embiid evolves in the same position as Rudy Gobert, keystone of the selection for several years and his most beautiful individual business card. If the two players have a very different style, having them cohabit could pose problems of space on the floor, as well as mobility in a basketball that tends more and more towards smaller fives.

Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz) and Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), future Blues teammates?

Credit: Getty Images

Could this be a first for the France team?

With the Embiid case, some refuse to proceed with the same stratagems which many other nations have taken advantage of in recent years. It is also a little quickly to forget that the situation of the pivot of the Sixers is far from new. The France team has regularly relied on naturalized players since the 1970s and changes in the law regarding nationalities, but also international basketball regulations.

From the Togolese pioneer Firmin Onissah in 1973 to Joakim Noah (who had participated in Euro 2011), the Blues have also benefited from these double passports. And some names like Appolo Faye or Sydney 2000 silver medalist Crawford Palmer have found a real place in the history of the French selection. Recently, the trial and error of the Joel Embiid file had prompted the FFBB to dig the Youssoupha Fall track, which was ultimately aborted because the current ASVEL giant had evolved with the young selections of Senegal.

The French women’s team also benefits from naturalization, from Americans Bria Hartley or Gabby Williams, Americans with French roots, or from Beninese Isabelle Yacoubou. Without the subject dividing so much. This is also the Joel Embiid effect.


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