If Jahlil Okafor doesn’t get his act together, he may risk losing what’s supposed to be a promising NBA career.
We see it all the time with NBA draft picks. Players who are physically ready to play in the league, but not mentally and emotionally ready to handle what it inevitably comes with it.
Okafor made a splash recently after video footage, obtained by TMZ, showed the 6-foot-11 center involved in two physical altercations on the streets of Boston.
Not exactly how you want to tip-off your NBA career.
But think about it. Once these players get drafted their life changes instantly. Money, fame, pressures from their friends, family. For some it’s the culmination of a lifelong dream achieved. For others it’s a new-found opportunity to provide for their families.
However, to whom much is given much is expected. Right, Jahlil Okafor?
Okafor was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA draft as the third overall selection. Now when the Sixers drafted Okafor I’m sure they imagined they would be getting the player who helped elevate Duke to a national championship, not the player who has grabbed headlines recently for all the wrong reasons.
Despite being 19-years old and a rookie on a team that’s going nowhere fast, Okafor’s dominance in college has translated to the NBA. He is currently averaging 18.0 per game, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. Solid numbers right? Absolutely. His on-the-court productivity is not the issue. It’s how he conducts himself off the court where the issue lies.
On Oct. 4, Okafor was spotted leaving a nightclub in Philadelphia after 2 a.m. when he got into an altercation with two men who were sitting in a parked car, CSNPhilly.com reported. Once the verbal disagreement escalated a witness nearby said they saw Okafor attempt to punch the driver of the vehicle. The driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor, the report said.
Then there was the speeding incident on Oct. 19. Okafor was pulled over on the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia for driving 108 mph. The speed limit on the bridge is 45 mph. As a result, Okafor ended up receiving two traffic citations, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Finally, on Thanksgiving TMZ released video footage they obtained of Okafor fighting outside of a Boston nightclub. A second video obtained and released by TMZ showed Okafor involved in another physical altercation. In both videos you can see Okafor visibly trying to attack civilians who were believed to have been heckling the NBA rookie.
If that wasn’t enough his problems run much deeper than just off-the-field incidences.
His team, the Philadelphia 76ers ended their 18 game losing streak (28 games) when they got their first win of the season last Tuesday against what’s left of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
The Sixers 28-game losing streak dating back to last season and 1-20 start overall this year finds them on the wrong side of history. Whether intentional or on their own merit, heckling usually accompanies such ineptitude. Rightfully so. (The 76ers have the worst record in the NBA).
So here we have a guy in Okafor whose been playing basketball his entire life and knows nothing but success that has now lost more games as a 76er than he did his entire time playing with Duke. For a player who is accustomed to winning on the court, losing at this historically unprecedented rate has to be foreign to him and tough to handle.
My advice to Okafor is simple.
If fans are heckling you – whether it be at NBA arenas, on social media, or off the court – simply ignore them. Their heckling does not give you a license to try and assault them.
Your age doesn’t exonerate you from being held culpable for your actions.
Even though your team is devoid of any real leadership or experience that’s no excuse either. I’m not sure what your coaches, front office, or family are telling you, or in this instance not telling you, but the message needs to be clear: You’re making permanent decisions based off temporary emotions. (The Sixers organization suspended the first round draft pick for two games)
I harken back to when veteran superstar Paul Pierce was stabbed outside of a nightclub in Massachusetts 15 years ago. While much of the details surrounding Pierce’s incident remain ambiguous, the moral of the story remains the same. As a multi-million dollar professional athlete you’re always a target to someone. Okafor needs to realize that his losses on the court mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. His erratic behavior and suspect judgment indicate that he is not afraid to lose his NBA career, or even worse his life.
Since the incident on TMZ, Okafor’s family has assured the media that these kinds of incidents will not happen in the future and are very uncharacteristic of him. Thanks to a request by Okafor’s handlers, the 76ers will now have a security guard accompany Okafor whenever he goes out. His former coach and family can go on ad nauseam about how he’s a good kid and how his recent mishaps aren’t indicative of who he is as a person, but that’s hard to believe at this point.
If the young man who was caught speeding, blatantly disobeying speeding laws, and getting into verbal and physical scuffles with civilians isn’t the real Jahlil Okafor, then will the real Jahlil Okafor please stand up.
And while you’re at it tell the emotional and immature one to sit down.
Marcus Lamar is a New York-based sports journalist. Read more from his blog at letsaddressthis.blogspot.com Follow him on Twitter @MarcusLamar_.