When Simmons and Embiid entered the N.B.A. two years apart, they came with different levels of fame. Simmons, the first pick of the 2016 draft, was quieter but in some ways better known. That fall, Showtime released a documentary called “One & Done” that examined Simmons’s lone year at Louisiana State University.
Embiid was drafted third in 2014 out of the University of Kansas. Hailing from Cameroon, he was more of a mystery, having arrived in the United States when he was 16, shortly after playing basketball for the first time. From his own telling, he learned how to shoot by watching videos on YouTube. After missing his first two N.B.A. seasons — because of foot injuries, which also cost Simmons his first post-draft year — Embiid quickly drew attention with his unfiltered, jovial nature. Just a sampling:
There was the time in 2017 when a Lyft driver spotted Embiid casually going for a nighttime jog by himself through the streets of Philadelphia.
In 2018, Embiid asked Rihanna on Twitter if she was single.
Embiid won over the Philadelphia fans, who have not seen a 76ers championship since 1983, by being funny, vicious and brilliant on their behalf. But as the Sixers embarked on a disappointing regular season that left them fighting for the sixth seed in the N.B.A.’s weaker Eastern Conference, there were signs that Embiid’s relationship with the city’s fan base had frayed. In February, Embiid shushed the home crowd after hitting a clutch 3-pointer against the Chicago Bulls, following reports of booing from the unhappy fans. At the end of July, Embiid downplayed that incident on “The Rights To Ricky Sanchez,” a Sixers fan podcast, saying that he loved playing in Philadelphia because of its passionate fans.
“But then again,” Embiid said, “if you dish it, you’ve also got to be able to take it. Just like when I shushed them and they all went crazy. I’m like ‘Well, you were booing me!’”
For now, it appears that the Embiid and Simmons partnership is staying together. On that same podcast, Embiid said that they “can get so much better than we are right now.”
“The potential that we have, I love him, I want to be with him for the rest of my career,” he said.
And despite the team’s struggles this year, Brand recently told reporters that he intended to continue to build around Embiid and Simmons. But if they don’t make a leap soon, there is a decent chance that the city’s love for them — tenuous with even the best athletes — may come to an end.
“We do this thing with Ben and Joel where we call them superstars and then when they fail, we say, ‘Well, they’re just young. You can’t expect a lot out of them,” Spike Eskin, a host of “The Rights To Ricky Sanchez,” said in an interview. “Those two things don’t exist together. Either you are growing and getting better and a future star, or you are a superstar. But you can’t be both.”