The untold truth of Joel Embiid’s girlfriend
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Sorry, NBA fans, but the least interesting thing about Anne De Paula (aka Joel Embiid’s girlfriend) is that she’s dating the basketball superstar. The Brazilian beauty, who topped timelines around the globe after she consoled the Philadelphia Sixers star after a devastating defeat in the 2019 NBA playoffs to the Toronto Raptors, is an all-star in her own right, with a modeling career on the rise and a background straight out of Bond Girl central casting.
The Rio de Janeiro native seems like a (sea) salt-of-the-earth type who has beauty, brains, brawn, and oh, she’s also a three-time Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. She’s an all-around talent who can stun in exotic beach bikini cover shoots, engage in debates about women’s empowerment, and offer a 7-foot, 250-pound giant a shoulder to cry on. Here’s a look at De Paula’s life, which is as colorful as one of her eye-popping body paint photo shoots.
She consoled her crying giant
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Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard ended the Philadelphia 76ers season with a buzzer-beating dagger in Game Seven of the 2019 NBA playoffs, leaving Philly’s all-star center Joel Embiid in tears. As Embiid walked off the court after the heartbreaking loss, Anne De Paula was waiting in the Scotiabank Arena hallway to offer her 7’1″, 250-pound boyfriend a shoulder to cry on. NBCS Philly sports anchor John Clark tweeted a video clip of the tender moment, captioning it: “Joel Embiid is in tears after the game with his girlfriend. He gave it everything he had. 45 minutes. Nobody played more.”
While fellow NBA baller Allonzo Trier and a 9-year-old Sixers fan praised Embiid for revealing his softer side, former Philadelphia Eagles’ football great Seth Joyner wasn’t impressed, tweeting: “When you pour you [sic] soul into what you do and come up short, I understand the emotions!! But come on, crying publicly on your opponents and girlfriends shoulder, that’s a bit too much!! Cry in the locker room or home! The world doesn’t have to witness your tears to know you care!”
Embiid took it all in stride, tweeting: “Hell of a season. Proud of my guys and I appreciate all the support you guys gave us all season long. Extremely disappointed and fell short of our goal but this is the motivation I needed and best believe I’ll be BACK EVEN BETTER AND STRONGER.”
She won the Swimsuit Illustrated model search
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Anne De Paula was crowned the winner of the 2017 SI model search, earning the Wilhelmina model a rookie spot in the magazine’s coveted annual swimsuit issue among supermodels Kate Upton, Olivia Culpo, and Ashley Graham. De Paula found out about her life-changing experience in a teary-eyed reveal on an episode of SI Now. The show’s producers pulled a fast one on the unsuspecting birthday girl, having her read the teleprompter where they snuck in the announcement that she had won. “It means a lot to me coming from Brazil,” said an emotional De Paula. “It was so hard to leave my country … my parents and I know how hard it was to get here and it’s a dream come true. It’s the best birthday ever.”
In a Sports Illustrated Facebook Live chat, she talked about her big break with Sports Illustrated. “I always looked up to their models,” she said. “They were real-life role models.” De Paula, who won through online fan voting, revealed that her family was a big reason for the victory, pounding the pavement throughout her Brazilian hometown to secure votes. “My mom going to the local gym to ask people when they were working out,” she laughed, adding that if folks said they didn’t know how to vote for her daughter, her mom would offer a helping hand: “I can do that on your phone.”
Her relationship with Danny O’Donoghue didn’t end well
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Before hooking up with NBA superstar Joel Embiid, Anne De Paula was making beautiful music with The Script’s frontman Danny O’Donoghue. The statuesque stunner met the Irish rock star on the set of the music video “No Good in Goodbye.” De Paula went from playing O’Donoghue’s love interest in the steamy video to playing his girlfriend in real-life, but The Sun revealed that the two kept things under wraps until their “red carpet debut” at the London premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The couple eventually called it quits after about four years with a bang. According to the British tabloid, things “ended on bitter terms,” which may be why a newly single De Paula posted a racy selfie on her Instagram with the caption: “Looking at bae like…” The Sun reported that said post drew the ire of O’Donoghue’s sister, Andi, who assumed it was a message to De Paula’s new beau, Joel Embiid. In a since-deleted Instagram comment, Andi called her brother’s ex “disrespectful,” adding, “This is where your age comes in! All this sort of stuff does is attract attention for the wrong reasons. How very insecure are you to need to post this sort of crap. I have had enough of it. I was going to DM u but hey… what’s good for the goose. Don’t disrespect my brother ever again like that.”
Guess there really is no no good in goodbye.
This tomboy likes to ‘kick it’ with the boys
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The Brazilian bombshell was a self-described tomboy growing up. “I used to play soccer on the team of my city,” recalled Anne De Paula in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “I used to be a goalkeeper and that was my number one thing.” According to Fox News, her mom eventually convinced her to trade in her soccer cleats for something more ladylike. “My mom was the one who was giving me high heels and going, ‘Would you like to do a photoshoot? There might be something for you there.’ I told her, ‘Mom, I’m not sure. I don’t even know how to walk in high heels!’ But then I did my first photoshoot around 12 [or] 13 and I loved it.”
Although De Paula enjoyed playing sports, she also enjoyed this new “girly version” of herself. “I wasn’t popular in school,” she admitted. “I wasn’t successful with the boys. They never really looked at me like a girl because I was always playing with them.” While that has obviously changed, athletics are still a big part of the Sports Illustrated model’s life. In an interview with SI, she talked about her love of Muay Thai. “It’s a lifestyle for me,” said the model, who picked up the fighting sport as a teenager. “I love it and it’s good for your body. It’s also amazing for the mind.”
She could have been a doctor
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Anne De Paula’s photos can get heartbeats racing, which is ironic, considering she considered a career in the medical field. “Yes, I wanted to be a doctor,” the swimsuit model told Fox News. “I grew up in a family that all worked in health. My mother does X-rays, my dad’s a nurse. My uncle is a cardiologist. So my family is very involved in helping people. So growing up, I looked up to them and I wanted to be just like them.” She also revealed that she “always loved babies,” so a career helping them come “into the world” was something she saw in her future.
Her drastic career change hasn’t upset her parents, whose favorite modeling photos of her happen to be the most racy. “My parents love the photos,” she said. “My mother has a big photo in the house right in the living room of me just wearing body paint. So if you go to the house, the biggest photo you’ll see is of me kneeling down in the sand wearing body paint. My grandmother and grandfather? They had loads of copies of the magazine.”
Embiid’s boss made the relationship ‘Instagram official’
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Imagine if your significant other’s boss was the one who announced your engagement to the world! That’s kinda, sorta what happened to Anne De Paula when Philadelphia Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin made her relationship with star player Joel Embiid public with a #TMI post about the two sharing a post-game kiss at the Wells Fargo Center. “What a lovely couple!!!!! Congrats on your engagement!!!!! @joelembiid @annedepaula THIS IS WHAT WINNING ON EVERY LEVEL LOOKS LIKE!!!”
While NBC Sports Philadelphia assumed the “engagement” tag was just a joke, Rubin’s October 2018 post did make the couple “Instagram official” because the duo had reportedly not been publicly linked before that post. Embiid and De Paula both seemed okay with the seemingly awkward public outing, and they continued to literally “share” their affection for each other on numerous Instagram posts and comments. Case in point: this grainy video clip of an off-key karaoke duet, in which De Paula wrote: “‘We are still kids, but we’re so in love, fighting against all odds’… HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my lover and best friend @joelembiid. You’re PERFECT! I love you!”
She thinks SI’s swimsuit issue empowers women
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The Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit edition has been a hot topic of pop culture conversation ever since its 1964 debut. While critics have dubbed the controversial publication as “America’s inexplicably enduring ode to sexism,” others, including Anne De Paula, have applauded it for empowering women. “I think it’s amazing,” the three-time SI magazine model told Fox News. “One of my favorite models from SI is Kathy Ireland. And look at her now — she’s an amazing businesswoman. Same with Christie Brinkley. These women offer so much more than just the beautiful photos you see.” She added that her Sports Illustrated appearances have helped her with her own self-esteem issues, “we all feel insecure… I think it’s beautiful SI is embracing different body types, different types of beauty.”
The Rio de Janeiro native attributed her stance on her beach-side upbringing. “Brazilians are very open-minded when it comes to the size of a bikini,” she said. “Nobody judges you. So I feel like I’m very lucky because nobody has ever said anything mean to me about my photos … And SI does very tasteful photos.”