By Annie Ross
The Sixers square off with the Celtics tonight in London — 3 pm Philly time — and many Philly faves don’t feel at all like foreigners.
Four of the Sixers had roots overseas, with Joel Embiid being from Cameroon, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot from France, Dario Saric from Croatia, and Ben Simmons from Australia.
A fifth Sixer, Furkan Korkmaz, is also an NBA import. The Turkish swing man is currently back stateside rehabbing his lisfranc foot injury, and subsequently didn’t accompany the club on its trip to the United Kingdom.
“There’s a dynamic that you can’t fully explain,” said Sixers coach Brown. “I extract it, I love it, I manipulate it.”
Now, five seasons into his stint in Philly, Brown has played a role in cultivating and nurturing a similar type of dynamic inside the Sixers’ locker room.
“We talk about government, politics, favorite foods, exports, bordering countries, and different words that might mean different things,” Brown said in London this week. “Because I lived overseas for so long…I’m interested in that.”
“It’s pretty cool watching where the conversation flows,” he said.
“I can’t [entirely] say it’s like I’m not alone, but it’s kind of like that,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “I know I have my European guy, African guy, Australian guy.”
Luwawu-Cabarrot and his “African guy,” Embiid, happen to share the same native tongue. The two talk French to each other frequently, as was the case Tuesday, when Luwawu-Cabarrot told Embiid about his surprise meeting with French soccer superstar Thierry Henry.
“It’s always nice to have that,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Dario Saric (above) is another Sixer multilinguist. He speaks Croatian, and some Serbian, Bosnian, and Slovenian. The 23-year old then joked his English is only “so-so” by comparison.
“I think that’s very important for every player to have somebody [who is] international, [or] from Europe,” Saric said Wednesday, explaining that he felt more at ease as a rookie last year with foreign-born veterans like Sergio Rodriguez and Ersan Ilyasova on the Sixers. “That was a very big experience for me. It’s a lot easier when you have someone [else of foreign descent].”
Along those lines, Saric has taken it upon himself this season to be a ringleader of sorts for the 2017-2018 crop of international Sixers.
“I try to support Furkan, Timmy if they need me,” he said. “I got a little more experience than them.”
When the Sixers play in the NBA London Game 2018 this Thursday at O2 Arena, they won’t be alone in having extensive ties abroad.
Counting Kyrie Irving’s preference to be listed as an Australian, the Celtics also have a sizable international presence, between Aron Baynes (Australia), Al Horford (Dominican Republic), Abdel Nader (Egypt), Daniel Theis (Germany), and Guerschon Yabusele (France).
“I think it’s a big part of the sport,” Brett Brown said of the game’s global growth, “and the sport is not going to be going backwards in that regard. We’re going to continue to have more, and more, and more foreign players.”
Right now, Embiid is one of the most recognizable stars to fall under that umbrella.
During this week’s journey to the British capital, the big man has talked on multiple occasions about feeling a sense of obligation to not only do Africa proud, but also promote his home country as a budding hotbed for hoops talent.
“It’s an opportunity, trying to grow the game of basketball overseas,” said Embiid. “Especially me, being out of the States, I think it’s always good, and I feel like people feel more connected to that, because I’m international.”
Regardless of how many countries members of the Sixers hail from, or the different languages they speak, one universal objective unites the entire team.
“We just want to win,” said Simmons, “so everybody has that same mentality.”