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I Spent All Day Thinking About Joel Embiid’s Injury

Joel Embiid lies on the court, clearly injured. Robin Lopez looks back at him.

How long does an MRI take?

This is a question I asked myself earlier today, for reasons that had nothing to do with my own (physical) health. I was interested enough in the topic to both search online (20 minutes for a knee MRI, per a radiologist chain) and ask a doctor (about 45 minutes on average, he said). In the real world, he said, you’ll get your MRI results the next day. But while Sixers owner Josh Harris funded the company that closed a local hospital that mostly treated the poor, Philadelphia still has plenty of health care for rich people. The Sixers have an official team doctor, and a radiologist should be able to read it right away. So I thought: No news is bad news.

Or maybe Joel Embiid is in a waiting room at the Rothman Institute at 9th and Chestnut, flipping through an old copy of Sports Illustrated and eating a soft pretzel from a cart. You never know.

Most of Philadelphia has been doing what I’ve been doing today, which is, literally and/or virtually pacing while I wait for news about Embiid’s knee injury. The Sixers big man hurt his right knee—not the knee where he suffered a meniscus tear four years ago—while driving to the basket in the first quarter of the Sixers’ 122-115 loss to the Wizards last night. Robin Lopez blocked his shot; Embiid landed awkwardly.

At first, it seemed like Embiid landed on his hip and ass, and that the only real damage was done to his ego in being rejected by a 33-year-old Robin Lopez. Embiid stayed in the game; he even made a driving layup. But he left the game near the end of the first quarter and didn’t return; the Sixers led by a point at intermission but dug a big third-quarter hole they could not quite escape. Regardless of Embiid’s status, the Sixers are playing a team that went 34-38 in the regular season. They are probably going to beat the Wizards tomorrow and move on to the second round of the playoffs.

But they are just not title contenders without Joel Embiid. If this injury is serious, and keeps him out of the playoffs, their title hopes are over. And so I spent most of this morning thinking about when we will learn if Embiid’s knee is OK. I checked into the typical length for an MRI. I watched the clip of Embiid’s injury approximately twenty times, seeing if I could glean anything from it. (I couldn’t.) I even—and I apologize to my editors for the ethical lapse—checked in on the Twitter feed from that doctor who diagnoses athletes’ injuries from TV footage. I looked at when Sixers season ticket holders needed to tell the team if they wanted second-round tickets: Yep, tomorrow morning. When I’m searching for ticket-sale info to try to glean whether a player is injured, I know I’ve gone over the edge. It’s putting me in such a bad mood that I’m inserting unrelated hospital-closure info my stories. I can see all this, but am powerless to do much about it.

There is no actual reason why the delayed announcement of an athlete’s MRI results to the public is cause for immediate concern. Pat Gallen of CBS 3 reported that the Sixers plane broke down last night, which meant the team had to take a bus back to Philly. Maybe that delayed Embiid’s MRI. Scott O’Neil, CEO of the Sixers’ parent company, said on the radio the team was “optimistic.” The Fanatic radio host Anthony Gargano—“The Cuz,” they call him—reported that “from the information I am receiving, he is fine.” Last week, Gargano celebrated a SIxers win by opening his show with a long scream. I think I can trust him.

Gargano’s ebullience after the Sixers’ Game 2 win reflected how I felt all last week. My dad and I attended that game, and I left about as excited for the Sixers’ NBA title chances as I’d ever been. Sure, they had just beaten the eighth-seeded Wizards. But seeing them win a playoff game, in person, when they didn’t even have to play the starters in the fourth quarter? I got caught up in it almost immediately. In Game 3, the Sixers so thoroughly dominated the Wiz that I fell asleep in my couch in the fourth quarter. (Again, bosses: I apologize. I’d had a long day.)

Sunday afternoon I put on my Sixers shirt, my Sixers shorts, my Sixers socks and my Ben Simmons sneakers to watch the team complete the sweep and get a nice rest before the next round of the playoffs. And when the Sixers opened up a 14-4 lead early in the first quarter, I was pretty confident this could be a game where I could sleep away the fourth if I wanted to. The Sixers were still up 20-10 about 15 seconds before Embiid was injured, which was when everything seemed to go to hell.

And so now I wait. The Sixers have said there won’t be media availability today. Someone just posted a photo on Instagram of Joel with his right knee wrapped with the caption: “JOJO told me to tell yall “if y’all don’t trust the process then it’s fu*** *** 🙌🏾🦍🦍🔥.”

I’m going to spend the next few hours analyzing it.