How Many of Joel Embiid’s Feuds are Legit?

We recount each of Joel Embiid’s many run-ins and rivalries over the years and share our verdict on whether the beef is legitimate or not.

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Joel Embiid might be the most universally beloved player in the NBA today, and that’s largely because of his proclivity for beef. Whether he’s chirping on social media, in an interview, or on the court, the Cameroonian big man never seems to hold back. If he thinks you’re trash, he won’t hesitate to let you know it.

The Process is a savage.

Despite his wide appeal, his tendencies to speak his mind and to showboat have sparked numerous run-ins with others around the NBA. His recent spat with DeAndre Ayton got us thinking: how many real rivals does Joel Embiid actually have? Do he and Russell Westbrook genuinely dislike each other? What about Embiid and “man bun” Aron Baynes—do they have bad blood?

Embiid wrote a Players’ Tribune piece this summer about how his life is “a movie.” And what good is a movie without an antagonist or two?

Below, we’ve recounted each of Embiid’s run-ins over the years. After presenting the context of each situation, we share our verdict on whether the beef is legitimate or not.

Deandre Ayton

Mark J. Rebilas

In June, while the NBA Draft was airing, analysts kept comparing No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton to Embiid. It made sense given that both 7-footers are physically mature, protect the rim, run the floor smoothly, and have an inside-out offensive game. But Embiid didn’t like the comparison.

The recklessness of the tweet surprised even NBA trash-talking king Draymond Green.

Two months later, Ayton responded. At a promotional event in New York, Ayton had an opportunity to sketch on his Panini American rookie card—and drew himself posterizing Embiid. It didn’t take long for JoJo to respond.

The next month, Embiid said Ayton is “about to get his ass kicked this year.” But he also said some flattering things about the Suns rookie.

“He’s going to be good,” Embiid said. “But when you talk about, ‘He looks like Joel Embiid,’ I play on both sides of the court. I think I’m a good offensive player, good defensive player. I do it on both ends of the floor. I watched him play and he’s got a lot of work to do. But he’s got a lot of potential. He’s going to be really good.”

That quote is way too nice for this to be a real rivalry.

Ayton Verdict: NO BEEF

Russell Westbrook

Bill Streicher

This might be our favorite Embiid beef, and it goes far back—all the way back, in fact, to Embiid’s first career NBA game. A hard-fought Oct. 2016 matchup between the Thunder and Sixers led to an, uhh, overzealous Philly fan flipping off Westbrook with both hands.

The Thunder pulled away late for a 103-97 win. Embiid didn’t face Westbrook again until Dec. 2017—and again, the matchup was intense, going to 3OT. Embiid led the way for Philly, putting up 34 points. Steven Adams fouled out late in the game, and Embiid celebrated by waving him goodbye, delighting the home crowd.

OKC eventually won the game, and as the teams cleared the court, Westbrook waved to Embiid. The drama thrilled even LeBron James.

Westbrook later said Embiid’s wave was “unnecessary” and “now it’s time for him to go home.”

Embiid’s response? “He shot like 10-33. I wish I would’ve shot 33 times.”

The teams played again one month later—and in that game, Embiid dunked on Westbrook and stared him down.  

Weeks later, they played against each other in the All-Star Game. When Embiid got the ball from 26 feet out with Westbrook guarding him, the center drained a three in his face. Westbrook immediately tried to challenge Embiid at the other end, and The Process swatted him.

Embiid said his favorite moment of the game was “blocking Westbrook’s shot. I’m just kidding.”

But he’s not kidding.

Westbrook Verdict: BEEF

Justise Winslow

Bill Streicher

Embiid and Winslow have a brief history. Remember when Embiid had to wear that face mask during last year’s playoffs? He hated that thing.

He hated it, but he also needed it. The Sixers wouldn’t let him play without it.

Knowing that, Winslow tried to destroy it. At one point during Game 3 of the Philly-Miami first-round series, Embiid’s mask fell off. Winslow walked over and stepped on it. When it didn’t break, he picked up the mask and tried to break it with his hands—to no avail.

“Little did he know we have about 50 of them,” Embiid said after the game. “It’s going to take much more than that to get me out of these series. I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.”

The league fined Winslow $15,000, but nothing else came of the situation.

Winslow Verdict: NO BEEF

Aron Baynes

Bill Streicher

Poor Baynes. The Celtics big man has been on the wrong end of far too many posters in his career.

In May, Embiid threw down a monster dunk on Baynes.

Baynes’ Celtics got the better of Embiid’s Sixers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, winning a super-entertaining series in five games. But that didn’t stop Embiid from roasting Baynes while he watched the Eastern Conference Finals. During Game 4, The Process tweeted about Baynes, AKA “man bun.”

Hilarious but harmless.

Baynes Verdict: NO BEEF

LaVar Ball

LaVar Ball

Remember when JoJo and LaVar Ball were exchanging shots in the media? In June 2017, during the height of LaVar’s rise, Embiid tweeted that he wants Ben Simmons to “dunk on (Lonzo) so hard.”

As you’d imagine, LaVar didn’t let that comment slide. During a radio interview, he said the Sixers needed get their “asses off the goddamn tweeter and get in the gym.” Embiid quickly responded with an Instagram video in which he said, “man, f*** LaVar Ball.”

Yep. This really happened.

The league fined Embiid $10,000 for the video. A few months later, Embiid tweeted a photo of himself and LaVar looking friendly.

There’s been no negative buzz between the two since.

Ball Verdict: NO BEEF

Terry Rozier

Bill Streicher

Tensions ran high during that excellent Celtics-Sixers second-round series. In the second quarter of Game 4, with Boston leading the series 3-0, Terry Rozier was called for an offensive foul.

Embiid tried to do that annoying thing defenders do where they immediately snatch the ball out of the offensive player’s hands. Rozier, frustrated by the call, wouldn’t give the ball to Embiid. Then, the 6’1” guard got in Embiid’s face and shoved him.

“I was trying to get the ball to keep the game flowing because I felt we had an advantage,” Embiid said after the game. “We were on a run, so I just wanted to keep it going…He kept the ball away from me.”

Embiid added: “He tried to punch me twice. Too bad he’s so short that he couldn’t get to my face. I didn’t understand why it was a double technical because I was just trying to get the ball. He was the one trying to swing.”

Embiid said “getting into that type of stuff” takes his game up a level. No surprise there.

“To set the record straight, I wake up every morning not worried about nobody,” Rozier said of the incident. “No man on this Earth. We were out there having fun. It’s just part of a basketball game. That’s all it is.”

During this year’s season opener, Rozier snuck up behind an unsuspecting Embiid and swatted a layup attempt. It was an emphatic play from the undersized guard, but the two didn’t exchange words or dirty looks. There didn’t seem to be any animosity between Rozier and Embiid.

Rozier Verdict: NO BEEF

Hassan Whiteside

Bill Streicher

In an Oct. 2017 preseason matchup, Whiteside and Embiid had a physical battle.

The Heat center held Embiid to 5 points on 1-for-7 shooting, and after the game, Whiteside did a little gloating on Twitter.

Embiid, of course, saw the tweet and responded, calling Whiteside a “softy.”

They met again later that season, in March, and the two 7-footers got in a skirmish as they ran down the court.

“He tried to hit me in the back, which is kind of dirty because of the fact that I’ve had back problems,” Embiid explained after the game. “We’re going to see about that. I won’t forget about that…he hits really soft, so I didn’t feel anything. But just the action of him trying to like do that is pretty messed up.”

In the same game, Whiteside dunked on Embiid and tried to sit on him—basically the most humiliating thing you can do to an opponent on the basketball court.

The two matched up in the playoffs, and Embiid was the clear victor. A visibly frustrated Whiteside averaged only 15.4 minutes and 5.2 points per game. It feels like there’s more to come from this rivalry.

Whiteside Verdict: BEEF

Mo Bamba

Bill Streicher

In February, Embiid texted Bamba, who was then playing for Texas, to offer some advice.

“[He] told me to demand the ball more,” Bamba said. “He said he knows how little space you have in college, catching the ball and having everyone sink onto you, so you have to make moves quicker.”

The 24-year-old seemed to embrace a mentor role with Bamba. In April, ahead of the NBA Draft, the two kicked it. The top prospect said Embiid gave him the “cheat codes” for NBA success.

They continued hanging out after the Magic picked Bamba No. 6 overall in June’s draft. While playing against each other, Embiid backed down Bamba and dunked on him, yelling, “welcome to the f***ing league!”

Bamba responded on Twitter, thanking Embiid for the “warm welcome to the NBA.” 

Bamba’s Magic recently played in Philly. Embiid again dunked on the rookie—and the Wells Fargo Center immediately started playing the track “Mo Bamba.”

It was a perfect troll from the Sixers’ onsite crew. This is nothing more than a playful, big-brother/little-brother relationship.

Bamba Verdict: NO BEEF

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