Jahlil Okafor: Learning Life’s Lessons In The Paint

(Philly.com)

Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) drives to the basket while Boston Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) defends during the first half at TD Garden.

In one month, Sixers top pick Jahlil Okafor has found rookie life in the NBA to be an experience on and off the court.

Philadelphia 76ers center and standout rookie Jahlil Okafor was involved in a scuffle with a heckler outside of a Boston nightclub on November 25th — hours after his team had dropped their 16th consecutive game to open the 2015-16 season. In the days to follow, the man who heckled Okafor began the process which could lead to a civil suit. It also became public knowledge that Okafor had a gun drawn on him early in November, attempted to use a fake I.D. and was stopped for driving 108 MPH on the Ben Franklin Bridge back in October.

All three incidents call for the utmost attention of an organization which has chosen to load their roster with young men devoid of any true leadership on or off the court.

 

When the Philadelphia 76ers drafted former Duke star Jahlil Okafor third overall in last summer’s NBA Draft, they were bringing in a cornerstone to a franchise in need of someone, anyone to hang their hat on. After missing out on the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes in 2014, it was back to the drawing board after drafting talented center Joel Embiid — whose chronic foot issues haven’t allowed him past rehab sessions. Philly’s top pick in 2013, Nerlens Noel is a budding defensive star, but his offensive ceiling is clear. Through 18 games, Okafor has been the bright spot on a team on the fast track to all-time futility. His 18 points, 9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per night can still stand room for improvement in a league where big men have gone the way of the handheld calculator.

Three times since October, all the potential and promise nearly came to a screeching halt.

Hours after the 76ers dropped their 16th consecutive game of the season to the Boston Celtics, Okafor and an unnamed teammate were heckled by three men after leaving a club in downtown Boston around 2 am. According to Okafor, his teammate was struck and he responded by shoving one of the men, knocking him to he ground. One of the men being held back by Okafor tried to strike him in the back of the head as he (Okafor) held the other to the ground. The scene was cleared before police could arrive, but one of the men has begun the process of what will more than likely become a civil suit against Okafor.

Over the next four days, it was revealed that Okafor was involved in an incident with a man wielding a gun pointed a gun at his head at a Philadelphia night club in October. He received two driving citations, one for being clocked on the Ben Franklin Bridge driving in excess of 100 MPH in early November. Lastly, it was revealed on Monday Okafor tried to get into a bar with a fake I.D.

Okafor responded with a series of Tweets, but to an audience that apparently had all the answers at the age of 19, his words fell on predominantly deaf ears.

There’s plenty of blame to go ’round and I’ll begin with Okafor’s employers. Current ownership of the 76ers has done the city of Philadelphia, its fan base, its coach and its players a monumental disservice. There is no way a team like this can be fielded in the 21st century unless it’s approved from on high. This is the one of the youngest teams in the history of the NBA, averaging 22.8 years. These young talented men have been summoned to be the torchbearers of a culture of futility no one deserves to endure. They are in the constant cross hairs of disgruntled fans and straight up smart asses. In this age of social media, keyboard gangsters often take their attention-seeking statuses to the streets. These are perennial nobodies poking the cage of athletes and celebrities in hopes of fifteen minutes of fame accompanied by a check. What did you expect to happen — in Boston no less. The only numbers Jahlil Okafor can look at and smile are his scoring average and his paycheck — he’s one of a handful of players on the roster who earns one. There’s no veteran leadership on the floor or in the locker room. The only probable deterrent for Okafor that night was his own conscience and for a 19-year old millionaire money trumps common sense most of the time. The team has announced that they will use a security team for Okafor and other players.

If the incident in Boston doesn’t occur, are the other stories involving Okafor make it to print? The piling on by the Philadelphia media in the last week reeks of pettiness and is a clear indicator about why athletes proceed with caution when it comes to a mic being stuck in their face. I wouldn’t be surprised if the skids are being greased to project Okafor as a problem with the hopes of a team in need of a talented young big offering the 76ers a deal to move him for draft picks. That’s how much water has filled an already sinking ship.

The following is for Jahlil Okafor:

Your life has had its obstacles, I read where you lost your mother at 9 years of age and you’ve pushed through that pain to achieve an unbelievable life accomplishment. I’m thankful for your father being such a powerful image in your life and how you’ve managed a great bond with him. I know he has your best interests at heart and he has your back.

As with anything in life there is jealousy from strangers, be it from a guy in the club who wants to start a fight because he has a gun or a loud mouth who’s out to embarrass you. These are fools who are trying to end your story and not take a page out of your book. I know at the age of 19 it’s not easy, sometimes it isn’t easy at age 43 and I’m much less of a target than you are.

Know and understand the day and times we’re living in, being from Chicago, I know you’ve heard and seen plenty. You’ve escaped one level of life and advanced to another where the antagonists, temptations and vices are greater and of course the cost now is so much greater. The further you come, the more you have to lose.

Best believe there is a certain demographic who has it in for young Black men like yourself. That idiot in Boston did his homework and knew where to push your buttons. You’re a Dukie, you know how the Cameron Crazies do their research on players of note. It’s the same thing here, but 25/16/4 won’t silence the crowd. Many of these guys like to poke the cage until it unexpectedly swings open and the moment of truth is upon them.

What I’m most thankful after hearing of the incident in Boston other than you walking away unharmed is the police weren’t involved. Last year, Thabo Sefolosha suffered a broken leg when he was taken down by nearly half a dozen NYC police officers for interfering with an arrest. Sefolosha was later acquitted of any wrongdoing and has filed a suit against the NYPD. At 6’11”, you’re a bigger target and the means to apprehend you may be more extreme than a nightstick, maybe a choke hold, a taser or worse. It’s open season on us and it’s clear a body cam on an officer means nothing.

I’m saying this to say above all else to think ahead. You’re young, rich and talented, there are people in the world who hate to see that. Some of them are your own people and there are those who see you as just a guy who can play basketball and not much else. I know some of this you’ve heard before, I’m a father myself and I stay on my 12-year old son. I guess I had to fuss at someone else today. I know this isn’t the best playing climate to be in and you’ve probably lost more here than you’ve ever lost anywhere in your entire life. Don’t let that bring you down as a person.

In closing and in all seriousness, watch yourself, think before you act and most importantly, be patient. As far as you’ve come, you’ve got that much further to go.

Be great.

One Response to “Jahlil Okafor: Learning Life’s Lessons In The Paint”

  1. D.N says:

    wow. Every paragraph better than the last. Excellent piece, and advice.