Inside Joel Embiid’s sneaker free agency

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Philadelphia 76ers franchise center Joel Embiid has signed a five-year deal with Under Armour that is expected to make him the highest-paid player at his position.

But the reason why, Embiid says, goes beyond money or sneakers.

As part of the deal, Embiid and Under Armour will partner not just on branded footwear and apparel, but also on charitable initiatives in and around Philadelphia and in Cameroon. Early on, give-back events and an ongoing series of basketball camps in his current home and his homeland were major priorities for Embiid. It was the access to fellow Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute‘s basketball camp as a 16-year-old that made the NBA a reality in just a few years.

“When I sat down with Under Armour, one of the first things we talked about was how this can be bigger than just shoes, bigger than just basketball,” Embiid wrote. “I want to help change people’s lives like Luc changed my life.”

Embiid holds the trademark for “The Process,” and he’ll kick things off by unveiling a series of collaborative Under Armour T-shirts and hoodies later today during a surprise event for kids in Philadelphia.

Having long circled Embiid as the top sneaker free agent of the year, Kris Stone, Under Armour’s senior director of global sports marketing for basketball, had organized a detailed official pitch meeting for late August in Baltimore, once Embiid had returned from playing in the NBA’s Africa Game exhibition.

Riding in a helicopter first with Embiid’s CAA reps from New York to Philadelphia, the group then stopped to pick up its most oversized passenger, with Stone offering up a lint brush as Embiid hopped aboard. A dubious detail to most, Embiid is known among his closest friends and associates to be constantly looking for a brush to clean off his pants before meetings.

It was just the beginning of a series of small gestures that Stone and Under Armour had researched about Embiid to show their level of seriousness and commitment to signing him. For Stone, who also closed the brand’s breakthrough Stephen Curry signing in 2013, the appeal around Embiid was imm

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