Jo Jo: Philly’s First True X-Factor Since “The Answer”

On November 1st, 1996, a young brash kid out of Georgetown University played his first NBA game in a 76ers uniform. Childhood friends knew him as “Bubba Chuck,” the kid from Hampton, Virginia who could have gone pro in any sport he wanted to. The NBA would come to know of him as Allen Iverson and later on as “The Answer.” From the first day he stepped foot on the hardwood floors of The Coliseum it was clear that Bubba would become an X-Factor for the 76ers franchise, dropping 30 points and six dimes on the Bucks.

As it would turn out, “The Answer” would end up being a global icon and cultural influence for an entire generation of sports fans. On this day nearly a full 20 years after his first NBA game, Allen Iverson will be immortalized in basketball lore with his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. The journey from Hampton, Virginia to Springfield took many turns — jail as a teenager, Georgetown, the NBA Finals, putting Michael Jordan on skates, stints in Denver, Detroit, Memphis, and Turkey, a practice rant, Larry Brown feuds, and documentaries via several outlets including ESPN and Showtime.

The culmination of this will be an undoubtedly emotional and fantastic acceptance speech into the Hall. Tears will be shed. Allen Ezail Iverson will be authentic, genuine, and emotional as always. We will cry. Tears of reflection, perseverance, and most importantly joy as we all celebrate the man, the journey, and all the wonderful memories. Now that is an X-Factor.

In less than two months, Philadelphia’s anticipation for its next X-Factor will finally come to a climax, as Joel Embiid will make his debut for the team that drafted more than two years ago. Joel Embiid is not Allen Iverson. They share very little in common, and in most aspects they are polar opposites. They do however share two of the traits essential in becoming Philadelphia legends: authenticity and game. Allen was a basketball playground legend his whole youth. Joel Embiid didn’t touch a basketball until he was 17. He was too busy playing soccer and volleyball in Cameroon. Allen is generously listed at 6-0, 165 lbs. Joel is conservatively listed at 7-0, 250 lbs. He’s actually closer to 7-3 and 300 lbs. Allen is a complex study of a child without a father growing up in poverty with drugs and violence surrounding him. Joel is by all accounts a product of a steady home even though his brother recently passed. Allen went to jail. Joel drinks Shirley Temples. Allen released a controversial rap album. Joel posts instagram stories of himself playing video games and nerf hoops.

It’s clear Joel Embiid will never be Allen Iverson. What makes him such an X-Factor is that Philadelphia fans will find out on October 26th against the Thunder which Jo Jo he may become. Will he be a healthy, agile, skilled, and larger version of Hakeem? Or will his body fail to cooperate with his talent? There are only so many short clips we can watch of Jo Jo taking his trainers to school in a non-contact setting. The best case scenario of a gigantic physical force with agile footwork, soft shooting touch, and an ever-growing array of post moves would result in Embiid being a true franchise player, elite superstar, and future Hall of Famer.

The wide array of possible directions Joel’s career can go based on his health and development as a rookie provides a vast range for how quickly the Sixers franchise can turn around and contend and gives more clarity on what to do with their plethora of big men. Embiid can post up or spread the floor, and combined with his defensive potential he would be one of the few big men in the NBA without any glaring holes.

Embiid’s impact on the rest of his teammates can be immense. The term “makes his teammates better” is usually in reference to point guards and ball handlers, but Joel can create space on offense by simply being a threat on the court — and he can be a safety net on defense by clogging the paint.  He is versatile enough to pair with any combination of lineups Brett Brown devises, and seeing him develop with the core of young talent on the roster could transform the Sixers altogether. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are examples of recent big men that not only changed their franchise’s fortunes but the NBA landscape. Jo Jo along with Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns are in an exclusive club of young big men that have the potential to follow suit. For that reason alone Joel’s rookie season will provide himself, the Sixers franchise, and the rest of the NBA more clarity on what the future holds. That makes him not only a franchise X-Factor, but a league-wide X-Factor.

As “The Answer” speaks on behalf of his memorable career today, we will soon have more answers with regards to the beginning of another potentially memorable career. Perhaps it was always meant to be this way.

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