PHILADELPHIA — Minutes after the first playoff series win of his career, 76ers center Joel Embiid sought out Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill and embraced him.
“I was just excited that he got to witness this because he’s always represented the city, and he loved this city so much,” Embiid said late Tuesday night.
Mill attended the Sixers’ series-clinching 104-91 win over the Miami Heat hours after his release from prison earlier Tuesday.
Wearing an Embiid jersey, the Philadelphia-born rapper rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before tipoff of Game 5. He received a thunderous ovation from the Wells Fargo Center crowd upon introduction and was seated courtside, next to 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin and comedian Kevin Hart.
Before and after the Sixers’ win, Mill met with players and team personnel in the team’s locker room.
“It was like this mass happiness, hysteria,” Rubin said after Philadelphia’s victory. “The city’s so excited to have him. The team’s so excited.”
Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, had been fighting for his release while appealing a two- to four-year sentence for a probation violation.
His controversial incarceration has drawn response from the sports community.
Rubin has been one of Mill’s biggest supporters. He tweeted Tuesday that he was on his way to pick up the rapper from prison, and hours later posted a photo on Instagram of the two heading to Game 5.
The commute with Rubin involved a helicopter, something the co-owner said Mill often talked about.
“You know, Meek told me every day we talked, ‘I just dream about the heli picking me up,'” Rubin said. “He said, ‘That’s what I want.’ So when they released him, we said the helicopter’s gonna pick you up.”
Said Mill on Twitter:
“I’d like to thank God, my family and all my public advocates for their love, support and encouragement during this difficult time. While the past five months have been a nightmare, the prayers, visits, calls, letters and rallies have helped me stay positive.
“To the Philly District Attorney’s office, I’m grateful for your commitment to justice. I understand that many people of color across the country don’t have that luxury, and I plan to use my platform to shine a light on those issues.
“In the meantime, I plan to work closely with my legal team to overturn this unwarranted conviction and look forward to reuniting with my family and resuming my music career.”
Rubin had organized visits to Mill’s prison with Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
“When he was in jail, I went to visit him, and he wasn’t feeling good. You could tell he was trying to hold on,” Embiid said after scoring 19 points and 12 rebounds in Philadelphia’s win. “So to be here and to kind of provide this opportunity for him because he’s been following us, for him to come to this type of game, this was a close-out game and we got the win, I was just happy. I got the news earlier from Michael Rubin, and I was happy for him. They’ve been working on it for months now.”
Simmons said Mill’s presence was meaningful to the team and the city.
“It’s just having someone that looks out for us, all of us here,” the point guard said.
Mill, a South Philadelphia native, attended Sixers games regularly before going to prison. On Tuesday, he took pictures with fans throughout the game and greeted several players, including Simmons, Embiid and Miami’s Dwyane Wade, before and after the game.
Support for Mill spread beyond the Sixers.
Members of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles championed Mill’s cause. Some players declared Mill’s song “Dreams and Nightmares” as the club’s unofficial anthem during their run to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft visited Mill at a state prison in Pennsylvania earlier this month and later called for criminal justice reform.
“It’s really bad. I know some of our players in the NFL have talked about this. I see it firsthand. It’s just wrong,” Kraft said then. “We have to find a way to correct it and also help the community help themselves. It’s just sad. This guy is a great guy. Shouldn’t be here. And then think of all the taxpayers here paying for people like this to be in jail and not out being productive.”
By: Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer