Mike Sielski: The City Council resolution honoring Joel Embiid was silly, but not for the reasons you think

Mike Sielski, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Basketball

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council did a silly thing Thursday, passing a resolution honoring Joel Embiid as the “Most Valuable Philadelphian,” and calling the resolution silly is the best thing you can say about it. Embiid had finished second in the voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award to the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, and the council apparently decided both to thumb its nose at those who voted for Jokic and to pander to Embiid, the 76ers, and the team’s fans. Don’t worry, Joel. We stand with you and all loyal Philadelphians in denouncing the injustice of this result.

Predictably, the resolution has been met with scorn and mockery for its lameness and for the assertion that the council has better, more productive ways to occupy its time than by passing such symbolic measures. That reaction is easy to understand, especially given the general vibe of our society these days. Sixers fans were offended that Embiid didn’t win MVP, which meant that City Council had to be offended on the fans’ behalf, which meant that the council felt compelled to pass this measure expressing this collective offense. It’s indignation all the way down, and it’s only enhanced by Philadelphians’ defensiveness over any real or perceived slight, even one as relatively innocuous as this.

That’s why I’m not particularly worked up about either Embiid’s snub or the council’s empty gesture. When I say that calling the resolution silly is the best thing you can say about it, I mean it. Honorifics reportedly accounted for more than 16% of the council’s legislative activity during a recent 20-year period, and if I had my choice, that figure would be closer to 50%. I’m all for more silliness from our local, regional, and national political leaders. It’s only when they get serious, when they enact and implement substantive policy, that they do real damage.

It was always strange, for instance, to criticize Donald Trump for playing golf as frequently as he did when he was President. He was on the course at least once for nearly 300 days, almost a full year. To which I say: Good! Imagine what might have happened if he hadn’t spent so much time furtively kicking his ball from the rough to the fairway.

Look around you. The murder rate is up. The crime rate is up. The city’s poverty rate is double the national average. Inflation is skyrocketing at a rate not seen since the late 1970s. We inflicted an as-yet-undetermined amount of emotional and mental-health harm on our children by keeping schools closed well after COVID vaccines were available and well after the evidence demonstrated that the young were at far less risk to suffer the virus’ severest effects. In one of the largest and most highly regarded school districts in the city’s suburbs, they’re struggling to keep protesters from disrupting the school day and to determine what works of literature and science are appropriate for students to read. If these are the results when our civic leaders try to help us, I’ll settle for silly every time.


Besides, there isn’t universal agreement around here that Embiid is deserving of either the city’s official recognition or the NBA MVP award. Yes, as the resolution noted, he was the first center to lead the league in scoring since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000, and he “has been a dedicated team member of the Philadelphia 76ers for years, has gained numerous accolades, and led the team through numerous games and tough battles on the way to victory.”

But the resolution also said that “Embiid battled his way through a concussion, an orbital fracture, and a torn ligament in his thumb,” and there are plenty of media members and Sixers followers who don’t consider those injuries to be an excuse for his poor shooting and mopey body language during the team’s losses in Games 5 and 6 against the Miami Heat. For Embiid to be a true leader, the argument goes, he has to perform like a superstar in big moments, regardless of any adverse circumstances.

And as it turned out, there was an even better example of such resiliency than Embiid. Hell, if John Fetterman was tough enough to coast to victory in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary despite having suffered a stroke less than a week before Election Day, you can bet he would have averaged 30 and 10 against Bam Adebayo and, while doing so, carried himself with the requisite aplomb.

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