The Jahlil Okafor saga finally came to an end back in early Decemeber when the Sixers agreed to send the former No. 3 overall pick along with Nik Stauskas to the Brooklyn Nets.
Jah's journey in Philadelphia was a strange one with a rather rapid decline from being a highly-touted player when drafted to a guy who couldn't even get on the court in recent years.
It was ... awkward.
Okafor calls it just that in a piece he penned today for the Players' Tribune oddly titled, "Jahlil Okafor Should Be On Your Radar RIGHT NOW!!!" -- a nod to his dad's aggressive promotion of Jah his entire life.
The big man says... a lot.
The piece is rather longwinded. He dealt with loss early in his life and turned to basketball. His favorite movie was Air Bud. But it's his comments on his time with Philly that we found most relevant.
Jah has positive words for his former teammates and even the Sixers' front office who was transparent with him about their plans. He also realized his game needed work:
As a player, I recognized some key areas in my game that needed work. One, I’ve gotta improve on defense — improve both my physical quickness and my mental discipline. Two, I have to rebound better — maintain smarter positioning, be more aggressive on the jump. And three, I want to be the type of player who makes his teammates better — whether that’s by gaining confidence as a passer, or getting more comfortable spacing the floor, or even just being a supportive guy in the huddle. I’ve been working hard, and I’ll continue to work hard, to make those things happen.
By all accounts, Jah handled himself well in a tough situation in Philly. And you have to respect his professionalism even more when you read him tell how hard it was for him.
Another big thing for me, as all the trade stuff was going down, was that I really didn’t want to be a cancer. Didn’t want to be a distraction. Which is why I tried my best to just sort of stay out the way. But honestly, I mean, no matter how hard you try — a situation like that? It’s going to be awkward. There’s just no way around it.
Those guys, they’re getting hyped up to play some big nationally televised game. And I’m sitting there in a suit … dying inside. Dying to throw a jersey on. Dying to lace up a pair. Dying to have a basketball back in my hands. Because all of these years later, still, being on that court playing ball … whether it’s our driveway in Oklahoma, or the open gym at Rosemont Elementary, or an NBA arena … that’s still my sanctuary. Ever since I was nine years old, you know, that’s … where I go.
Not many of us can relate to what it's like going from a star at Duke that turns into a lottery pick to a guy who can't even get into a game early in his career. I respect the way Okafor handled things then and how he explains them now.
And how he writes about Philadelphia will make you want to pull for him in Brooklyn as well:
And at the end of the day, I love all those guys on the Sixers, too. Those guys in that locker room … they’re my brothers. They’ve worked so hard to get to where they are now, and I wish them nothing but the best. I mean, even the Sixers front office, all love to them, because they were transparent with me the whole while — and that’s really about all you can ask for in this business. All love to everyone in Philly, forever.
After a string of nine DNPs for the Nets, Okafor had his best game of his short time there on Saturday, finishing with 12 points, 5 boards, and 2 blocks in just under 13 minutes of play. Maybe things will finally start to look up for Jah. Hopefully he can stay in his happy place on the basketball court.