As This NBA Star Was Taking Photos With A Lion, The Big Cat Suddenly Made A Lunge For His Arm

Injuries are part and parcel of being a basketball player. But Joel Embiid may be the first NBA star to suffer one because of a wild animal. Here’s a look at how the Philadelphia 76ers center got closer to nature than he intended when he visited a South African animal refuge.

Born in Cameroon in 1994, Joel Embiid initially harbored ambitions of becoming a professional volleyball player but switched to basketball in his mid-teens. He was then taken under the wing of NBA star and fellow Cameroonian Luc Mbah a Moute after impressing with his skills on the court. At the age of 16 Embiid relocated to the U.S. to further pursue his hoop dreams.

Disappointed by his lack of court time at Montverde Academy, Florida, Embiid transferred to The Rock School in nearby Gainesville after 12 months. He excelled, and in his senior year he guided the academy’s team to a state championship. Then, in 2012, he accepted a place at the University of Kansas.

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Embiid received a Naismith College Player of the Year nomination during his single year at the university. He also averaged 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 11.2 points to earn the accolade of Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Despite various injury problems, Embiid was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers as a third overall pick in June 2014.

Being a third-round draft choice made Embiid his homeland’s highest selected NBA player, surpassing both Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje and his mentor Luc Mbah a Moute. However, Embiid had to wait another two years until he actually got on court. A broken bone in his foot forced him to miss all of both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

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Embiid finally got to make his NBA debut in October 2016 as a starting center against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He subsequently earned three Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month awards, achieved career highs in rebounds and points, and was selected for the World Team in the annual Rising Stars Challenge. However, another injury, this time to his left knee, cut his first full season short.

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Injuries notwithstanding, the Philadelphia 76ers soon reconfirmed their belief in Embiid with the offer of a $148 million five-year contract extension. And the star soon justified that faith by becoming the team’s highest points scorer in a single game for 11 years. He also became the first NBA player since Julius Erving in 1982 to achieve 40 points, seven blocked shots and seven assists in the same game.

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Embiid’s impressive form continued into 2018. He was selected to start in the NBA All-Star Game, the first Sixer to do so for nine years. He also became the 76ers’ first player since Andre Iguodola in 2007-08 to rack up 40 20-point games across a single season. After an eye fracture briefly disrupted his golden streak, Embiid made his playoffs debut against the Miami Heat.

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Embiid also had the chance to showcase his skills on the global stage in 2017 when he was selected for Cameroon’s preliminary national team. Mentor Luc Mbah a Moute said Embiid pulling on the national shirt “would be great for our team, our country and Joel.” However, the center decided against competing in the FIBA Afrobasket competition due to it clashing with the regular NBA season.

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But he did return to his home continent in 2018 for the NBA Africa Game, an exhibition in which NBA stars with African connections play against the rest of the world’s best. Embiid notched up 24 points in the game, despite being on the losing side. The game was part of Basketball Without Borders, an NBA initiative intended to promote the sport in Africa.

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Embiid revealed he plans to compete in the NBA Africa Game every year if possible as a way of giving something back to his home continent. Speaking to The Philadelphia Inquirer in August 2018, he said, “When I was in that situation, I felt great being among NBA players. I wanted to learn from them. I wanted to touch them because I was so amazed by them.”

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As well as his skills on the court, Embiid is also renowned for his openness on social media networks and his lively, fun-loving character. And he got the chance to display both following his appearance at the NBA Africa Game when he visited a wildlife refuge. Get ready to say ‘aww.’

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In one of many Instagram stories posted from the refuge, Embiid can be seen petting an adorable lion cub. The cub initially appears to enjoy the attention and starts nuzzling the NBA star’s arm. However, Embiid then screams out in pain when the animal sinks his teeth in.

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Thankfully for Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers and worried fans watching on Instagram, the damage was little more than a love bite. And the NBA center was quick to forgive. He subsequently posted several further Instagram stories showing the unlikely pair playing together.

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Sadly, according to US animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue’s spokeswoman Susan Bass, Embiid’s Instagram story isn’t necessarily as happy or harmless as it initially appears. She told animal news website The Dodo, “When people visit these places, they’re told the whole time that it’s for lion conservation — but it’s not. When the cubs grow up, they’re sold to a canned hunting facility to become someone’s hunting trophy.”

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Bass was keen to point out that she didn’t blame Embiid for visiting the facility. “I’m sure Joel had no idea, but that is the point… breeders will prey on naive or innocent people who don’t know what the facility really is. And then when someone who’s famous posts about it online, it makes everyone else want to visit.”

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However, Bass admits that she was happy to see the lion sink his teeth into Embiid’s arm. She told The Dodo, “I’m glad he gave him a little nip, so the public seeing this video can realize these are dangerous animals. They can scratch, hurt or bite you, even at a very young age.”

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Strangely, this wasn’t the first time that Embiid had hit the headlines because of a lion. In 2014 the Wichita Eagle daily newspaper reported about a team-building session in which the University of Kansas’ basketball players were asked to share their secrets. When it came to Embiid’s turn, the Cameroonian claimed that he’d killed a lion back in his homeland.

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But one-time teammate Niko Roberts didn’t buy the story, telling the Wichita Eagle, “First he told us this big lie about him and his tribe. He had to go through this ‘becoming a man’ process. And he had to kill a lion with his bare hands. Then he tells us it was with a spear. Then the next time he might have shot the lion.”

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Embiid later came clean about the alleged incident in a 2016 interview. He told Yahoo Sports’ web podcast The Vertical, “Americans don’t really have any idea what’s going on in the world, especially us Africans. When they think about Africans, they think about us running around with lions and tigers and all those other animals. When I got to Kansas, I kind of used that to my advantage.”

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