Jahlil Okafor was the third round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He went to Duke University where he won the NCAA National Championship. He is a high priced, highly touted rookie who will go higher and farther if he learns from his recent rookie mistakes.
Okafor’s had a mess of a month. On the court, his team was winless, 0-18, until last night. Off the court, he’s recently made some miscues and mistakes which have been exposing and embarrassing. And for his recent involvement in a street fight in Boston, Jahlil has been suspended for two games effective immediately.
Okafor, who will turn 20 on December 15th, was caught on video engaging in a brawl with a man outside a Boston nightclub in the early-morning hours after losing to the Celtics after LEADING by 11 late in the game. The victim filed a report with the Boston Police Department, and police have urged any other possible victims to come forward. The videos released by TMZ appear to show two separate scuffles.
It is now reported that Okafor was involved in two altercations leaving nightclubs, the most recent after a loss in Boston that saw TMZ release two videos detailing Okafor punching out hecklers. He also was stopped on a bridge by police last month driving 108mph in a zone where 40 mph is considered reckless.
Last Sunday, Okafor tweeted that “I own my choices” and he “doesn’t want to be a distraction for my team” going forward. He went on to say that
“I hold myself to a higher standard than anyone else ever could and I’m not proud of some of my decisions over the last few months,” Okafor wrote. “I own my choices both personally and now publicly. At this point I am cooperating and respecting the process I have to go through.
Going forward I don’t want to be a distraction for my team and am grateful for the support and guidance those close to me are giving. I am 100 percent focused on my responsibility to the league, my teammates and fans.”
He called the Boston punching incident “dumb” and “something I’m embarrassed about.”
As for the Philadelphia 76ers, the team released this statement:
“Jahlil is a very important part of our organization and our future. While we are disappointed with his recent actions, we have faith in him as a valued member of the Sixers. We will provide the necessary resources to support him on his journey and will do our part to help him succeed both on and off the court.”
On the court, Jahlil has experienced basketball success. Despite the fact that his team is now at the bottom of the barrel, he has a promising future. And off of the court, Jahlil has experienced extreme exigency with his mother and exciting expectancy with his father.
Jahlil’s mother, Dacresha Lanett Benton, died when he was 9 years old as the result of a collapsed lung. Jahlil moved to Chicago to live with his father, and Jahlil’s story became two stories, connected: the story of a boy turning to his father to learn to become a man, and the story of a father whose wandering life – a life of mistakes and trouble and unfulfilled potential, a life cast in the shadow of his own mother passing away at a young age – was set straight when he realized that, now, he was all his son had. “Without Jah,” Chucky Okafor told me simply, “I’d probably be dead or in jail.”
After Jahlil’s mother died, the father came to save the son. It turns out the son saved the father, too.
So what can we learn from Jahlil’s life and his recent letdowns? Disappointments and downers and difficulties can and must be overcome. Unforced errors are messes of our own making which can be controlled. And we can control them. The tragic death of a loved one, especially your mom at an early age, can be traumatic and even catastrophic. But it need not be cataclysmic. We have the innate, God given ability to bounce back and bound forward, if only we limit and learn from the “rookie” mistakes we make along the way.