The contest between Miami Heat and Team World center Hassan Whiteside, and Philadelphia 76ers and Team Africa center Joel Embiid, may turn out to be one of the highlights of the 2018 NBA Africa game, on Saturday August 4 in South Africa.
As the game of basketball has evolved, players have added more skills to their traditional roles, in order to have an advantage over whomever is facing off against them.
So, from the emergence of the point-forward, we have seen the development of the stretch four, and the center who can shoot. Players in those positions who possess these 'new' qualities will always be seen as the elite, and will have a better rating in match-ups.
Whiteside, a traditional center, dominated in the low block for three seasons, and is still considered one of the elite defenders in the league. The Marshall University product has led the league in blocks and rebounds, and was named in the All-Defensive Team for the 2015/16 season.
Cameroon's Embiid, on the other hand, is one of the rare breed that combines the traditional roles of a center with the skill-sets of other positions. He can run the floor, he can pass, and he can shoot from distance. These variations to his game mean that it is difficult for players with a traditional positional game to guard him.
Cue endless entertainment.
The second reason these two will likely light up the Sun Arena in Pretoria is the growing rivalry-slash-feud between them. Player feuds are not new for the NBA: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder, LeBron James and Draymond Green; and before them, Jason Kidd and Jimmy Jackson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the list goes on and on.
The rivalry between Whiteside and Embiid started in a preseason game just like this, last year. The Heat had won three of the five preseason games they had played, before they travelled to Philadelphia to face the Sixers for the routine sixth and final game.
It turned out to be anything but, as the two big men got into it early: within two minutes, they had a block each against one another, and Whiteside had been booked for three personal fouls within three minutes of the tip-off.
It went downhill quickly after that. With four fouls against his name, Whiteside played only 11 minutes, and ended up with 7 points on 2-5 shooting, and added 3 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, ending up with a plus/minus of -9.
Embiid fared a little better; he lasted 15 minutes, scored 5 points on 1-7 shooting, but added 7 rebounds and logged a plus/minus of 13. The back-and-forth that followed on social media between the two entertained fans as they waited for more on-court action.
Embiid dominated their first regular season meeting, as he totalled a double-double of 17 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in a 103-97 win. Whiteside managed just 4 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
The second regular season game produced no drama between the two, as they both scored in double figures, with Whiteside shading the board battle while Embiid topped the offensive end with better numbers in points and assists.
The tension spiked again after their last regular season game in March. The Heat won 108-99, Whiteside had a monster 26 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, while Embiid recorded 17 points 7 rebounds and 3 assists. But an in-game incident sparked another social media row.
Embiid alleged that Whiteside played 'dirty' by hitting his back during a play. Embiid has a history of back problems, and he insinuated Whiteside tried to aggravate it. Whiteside blocked an Embiid shot, they got tangled in the after-play, and Whiteside lost his cool because he thought Embiid hit him in the face. The Cameroonian vowed not to forget the 'dirty play' of the back hit.
Then they were paired in the first round of the playoffs. Embiid sat out the first two games, but a physically unfit Whiteside didn't do much to help Miami. Then, the Cameroonian returned, scored in double figures in the final three games and helped the Sixers win the series. Then he blasted Whiteside for being unfit.
And just like Embiid vowed not to forget 'the dirty play', the Miami center is not likely to forget that media roasting. What drama will the NBA Africa game hold?