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NBA star ready for Boston Celtics challenge

OUTSPOKEN: Joel Embiid

JOEL EMBIID can’t wait to get to NBA London – so he can “kick some ass!”

The outspoken Philadelphia 76ers phenomenon is set to face the Boston Celtics at the O2 Arena in an NBA regular-season match-up of two iconic Eastern Conference powerhouses. But for cocky, Cameroon-born centre Embiid it’s just another chance to show a hated rival who’s boss.

Drafted third in 2014, the 23-year-old is making waves this season, averaging almost 24 points and 11 rebounds and talking plenty of trash along the way. Embiid has traded barbs with the likes of Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant and Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond in recent weeks.

And even though his Sixers are way off the pace being set by the Celtics in the East, he cannot wait to get at them in London. Embiid said: “They're a good team, we just have to be really good defensively. I'm excited to play them in London - and I can't wait to kick their ass.

“When I go out there, we want to win, but I want to put on a show too. I've been doing a great job of it, especially with the fans and getting them into the game and stuff. If they're not into the game, that makes me slippy and usually I don't have a good game. When the fans are cheering, we go out there and I'm talking sh*t, it's fun.”

With Boston expecting the sell-crowd to be mostly full of Celtics fans, Embiid is prepared for a mixed reception when he takes the court against his big rivals.

He said: “There is going to be a lot of Celtics fans, but there is going to be a lot of Sixers fans too. Celtics fans will maybe boo us, but the Sixers fans will do the same to them.

“I hope that Celtics fans do boo me so I raise my game – it makes me want to kick other people's asses!”

Embiid has always been like this, and he has needed that toughness because he’s had his knocks along the way. His younger brother Arthur was killed by a reckless driver in their native Cameroon four years ago, and he has had his fair share of injury problems too.

“I’ve been through so much,” he says now. “It’s just about enjoying the moment now.”

Embiid nicknamed himself “The Process” in response to a refrain from a Sixers fans during a barren spell for the franchise to “trust the process.”

That was how former General Manager Sam Hinkie talked about the patient, slow-build planning that went into assembling this team over many, many years. It has been a frustrating process for the fans, who had to wait a long time for Embiid, after he missed the whole of his first season with a broken bone in his foot.

Thing got worse when he missed even more time after re-fracturing the same bone the next season. But all that patience is finally paying off.

And a franchise which hasn’t won a championship since 1983 is finally beginning to show signs of life with Embiid and rookie sensation Ben Simmons turning the excitement levels up a notch.

Embiid said: “We're fun. Dunks, crazy passes, scoring the ball, moving the ball, we play hard defensively. We play together, we're a fun team. It's exciting, I think the fans love it.”

A late bloomer, Embiid has come a long way in a short time and is already being talked about as a potential superstar for a franchise which once boasted the likes of Dr J, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson.

“I don't know if I'm a superstar yet,” he said “But if you say so! It's hard, it takes a lot of work. Especially for somebody like me because I started playing basketball in 2011 and to reach this level so fast, sometimes I see that and I'm like: ‘I didn't know I did it!’

“I'm a hard-working guy and it's hard, but you got to put in the work.”

Embiid also has his heart set on two other things in London – watching Arsenal, and afternoon tea. He said: “My favourite team is Real Madrid, Hala Madrid! In England it's Arsenal, I'm a Gunner. They've been doing good, I'm excited.

“It's a tough league, obviously Manchester City is up there. To make the Champions League is hard too, City, United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool... There are only four spots, Arsenal too? It's hard.

“I love the game. I've played football myself my whole life. Every Saturday I wake up early to watch the games. I was in London this past summer and I just fell in love with it. It’s different, the atmosphere. Just looking at people, at tourists. I just loved it. The afternoon tea, I love that.”

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