Deion Sanders, Joel Embiid and the NBA’s fear of heights
New research at The Finder reveals a twist to the NBA's biggest problem.
Deion Sanders, the hottest name in sports (sorry, Swifties, Taylor doesn’t count), visited the Philadelphia 76ers this week at the team’s off-site training camp in Colorado. And because this is Deion Sanders, Coach Prime’s rah-rah speech in front of the team found its way onto Twitter/X, a fact that bothered former 76er and media star JJ Redick.
I can understand why publicizing private moments like that would rub former NBA players the wrong way but locker room sanctity is not what I found most interesting about the clip. There’s a hidden story here that isn’t about what Pablo Torre calls “Content Brain” or the possibility that a college football coach could motivate James Harden and Joel Embiid to rally for an NBA championship.
The content of Deion’s speech is what drew my attention. The funny thing about Redick’s back-in-my-day response is that Sanders was also pulling the back-in-my-day card. It’s Spider Man meme meets Abe Simpson yelling-at-clouds meme. Coach Prime essentially called out Embiid for skipping the Nikola Jokic game last season, a cardinal sin that Deion claims he and MJ would have never committed. It’s a message that I don’t think could have been scripted any better by the NBA’s marketing department:
“Back when me and MJ came up, MJ wanted that smoke. He wasn’t ducking. Whoever was that dude, he was gon’ get it. That’s the era I came up with.
Now, the main guy don’t guard the main guy. He don’t want it … It’s a little different today. A lot of folks duck that smoke, now. They want to be Tarzan on paper.
Don’t sell me the game, that this is what I’m going to get, but then when I turn on the TV, I don’t get that. I don’t like that. If Embiid’s playing the Joker, I want Embiid vs. the Joker, alright? I want to see that. He knows he’s going to get it. I love it. I love the matchup. But I want to see it.”
He said this DIRECTLY to Embiid, seated just in front of him on camera, using the same “duck that smoke” language that Kendrick Perkins used on ESPN to excoriate Embiid last year. But that’s not what’s most interesting to me.
The hidden story here is that Embiid’s sitting out the showdown in Denver is part of a secret trend. I decided to run my own little study to understand the problem that Sanders described. What I found really surprised me. And it started making me rethink the whole idea of home court advantage. Actually, it was even bigger than that. It made me reconsider what I knew about the playoffs.
So I got on the phone and made some calls around the league to see what insiders thought about this Finding. Here’s what I uncovered.