LeBron James (Bill Moore)

It’s well documented that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid immensely wants to win his first NBA regular season MVP. The 7-foot highly skilled native of Cameroon, who topped the league in scoring this season with a per game average of 33.1 points per game, says any elite player who says it’s not a personal desire or goal is being disingenuous.

“One thing I’ll say is that if people tell you they don’t care about it, they’re lying,” Embiid said recently to journalist Rachel Nichols on the new Showtime series, “Headliners with Rachel Nichols.”

That’s the best award you can get as a basketball player. It means a lot,” said the 29-year-old future Hall of Famer. “But if I were to win it, it would validate all the work that I put in, that’s why I cared about it, because you put in so much work and if you get that recognition, it just validates that you didn’t waste your time. But like I said, if someone tells you that they don’t care, that’s bulls–t.”

What Embiid has in common with the Denver Nuggets reigning back-to-back MVP, center Nikola Jokic, 28, is neither has won the league’s most coveted prize: an NBA championship. Jokic, the engine of the Nuggets, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, are the other leading candidates for this season’s most valuable player. However, the latter’s resume is much more complete. All basically the same age, Antetokounmpo, 28, is a two-time league MVP (2019, 2020), and NBA champion, and a 2021 Finals MVP. The title and Finals award have already cemented his legacy as a winner.

Same for the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lebron James, a four-time champion, four-time Finals MVP, and four-time league MVP;  Stephen Curry, a four-time title winner and last season’s Finals MVP; Kevin Durant, now with the Phoenix Suns, who took home the league MVP as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2014, and won two NBA championships and two Finals MVPs with the Warriors; and the Los Angeles Clippers Kawhi Leonard, who twice captured a Finals MVP—in 2014 with the San Antonio and in 2019 when he carried the Toronto Raptors.

Even with so much hardware, to whom much is given, much is expected, and each of the aforementioned greats will be under intense scrutiny to take their teams deep into what is a wide open postseason.  

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