NBA Joel Embiid on Madrid, Mandela, and giving back to Africa

JOHANNESBURG -- Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is a famously committed Real Madrid fan, to the point of engaging in heated Twitter debates with NBA stars, and he feels "the best team in the world" will have no problem replacing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cameroon's Embiid, who is in South Africa for the NBA Africa game and Basketball without Borders camp, says he had a feeling CR7 was out the door to Juventus so "wasn't actually surprised" at the news, and feels Real will be more than fine this coming season.

"Real Madrid is the best team in the world for a reason," he opined to assembled media on Wednesday. "There's talent in every position.

"But obviously losing a guy like Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the best players in the world, can be tough. There are a lot of guys that can fill in. There's a lot of options."

He also hinted that Chelsea's Eden Hazard would soon be making his way to Spain, accurate or not, and confidently added that Brazil's Neymar would almost certainly be joining the Galacticos in the near future.

On a more serious note, the basketballer, who was discovered at a Basketball without Borders camp in Africa in 2011, paid homage to South African icon Nelson Mandela, whose legacy, 100 years after his birth, is being celebrated this week by the NBA.

'Madiba,' as the former president was known, was a strong advocate for the power of sport to change lives, and Embiid said that he felt it was his duty to give back in memory of Mandela, and to use his fame and wealth to help those who need it, either through the game itself, or through other charitable efforts.

Embiid said of Mandela: "He did a lot of great things, which I appreciate a lot.

"Sports, his vision was always about -- not always, but part of it was also about sports. Now me being in that position, I'm in a position where I'm able to give back.

"I have to give back because of the people that paved the way for us."

Embiid was a visible and enthusiastic presence on Wednesday, chatting and laughing with fellow players and the camp attendees, and was clearly having a great time, dunking on Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo, and joking around with the kids.

As for his own enjoyment of the week in Johannesburg, the 7-foot player recalled his own excitement at being allowed near NBA players when he was a 'camper' in 2011, and he's happy to give youngsters today that same fulfillment.

When asked if this week made him feel nostalgic for his own camp days, he said: "Yeah, it's fun for me. I think as long as God allows me, as long as my schedule allows me, that's something I want to do every year, just come back and give back.

"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.

"I feel like me now being in this situation, I feel they also feel that way. I feel that's a way for me to kind of give back and show them how it's done.

"At the same time, it's also a way for me to grow the game of basketball in Africa. I feel like we have a lot of talent, undiscovered talent, that can have a chance just like I did. They just need an opportunity.

"It's really fun for me being among the kids, being able to walk out with all the other NBA guys."

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