On Saturday evening we got a bit of fun news. Former Sixers third overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft Jahlil Okafor was acquired by the Delaware Blue Coats.
The Blue Coats made the official announcement on Twitter: “The Delaware Blue Coats acquire the returning player rights to Bruno Caboclo, Matt Mooney, Shabazz Napier, and Jahlil Okafor from the Mexico City Capitanes in exchange for the rights to Skylar Mays, Justin Robinson, and Raphiael Putney.”
The Okafor saga is completely, 1,000 percent wild. Like, as far as basketball stories go, you couldn’t have made up a more bizarre...on second thought, you’re Sixer fans, you’ve seen worse. But it’s still crazy!
Former 76ers President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie surprised many fans when he selected the former Duke star big man back in 2015.
The team already had a couple high-profile bigs in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. But because of their health concerns, the perceived offensive talent of Okafor at the time, plus his apparent market value around the NBA, Hinkie, and his inner-circle of Sachin Gupta and Ben Falk, made the controversial and fateful decision to select Okafor. That led to countless stories about the team’s redundant “glut at center,” and speculation about which of the three might get traded and when that might all go down.
Okafor had a solid rookie season. The Fort Smith, Arkansas, native averaged 17.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 53 games for the Processing 76ers. But a combination of an increasingly up tempo NBA, some knee ailments, some off court troubles, and all of the team’s losing (process haters will point this last one out, though that didn’t seem to bother Embiid much) quickly put a dent in Jah’s young pro career. Many began to label the former college standout a bust well before his 22nd birthday. (Surprisingly, he’s still just 27 years old.)
He had one turbulent beginning to a pro career. Robert Sanchez, writing for ABC News back on Feb. 10, 2016:
“In early October, there was the argument outside a Philadelphia nightclub where a gun was pulled and the cops showed up. There was the ticket for speeding 108 miles per hour across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. And there were the fights outside a Boston nightclub in November, moments captured on video and posted online for everyone to see.”
The Sixers suspended Okafor two games for the now infamous bar fight.
The team opened that season 1-18, and apparently this incident was some final straw for “The Process.” Jerry Colangelo was brought on just five days after the TMZ video of the bar incident leaked. Coincidence? Think again wrote “Tanking to the Top” author Yaron Weitzman.
After that, over the years, Okafor would slowly drop in the depth chart all the way behind first Joel Embiid, then Richaun Holmes, and eventually even Amir Johnson too.
Okafor’s name would pop up in trade rumors until Jerry’s son Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers’ former Team President, finally put an end to Okafor’s tenure in Philly, trading him and a second round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for (former Sixer) Nik Stauskas and Trevor Booker.
Nets GM Sean Marks gave up nothing of value, yet somehow got Colangelo to kick in that second-rounder Marks would use to one day select Nic Claxton. Yes, the same Claxton who just dropped 25 and 11 on the Sixers a few nights ago and would be an ideal fit for this team as a weak-side rim protector and lob threat from Harden.
HARDEN LOBS FOR THE CLAXTON POSTER— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 26, 2021
As much criticism as Hinkie gets for selecting Okafor, the Colangelo duo probably deserve at least as much heat for their handling of things.
For example, there were the reports that Sam Hinkie (then reportedly stripped of decision making power) was shopping Okafor in January of 2016 and rumors the Sixers might have been able to acquire one of the Celtics’ fabled Brooklyn picks for Jahlil - before someone in the organization pulled out of the lopsided deal.
Per NBCS-Philadelphia, nearly seven years ago to the day:
“Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub (via ProBasketballTalk) Friday and said he was “very close” to pulling off a deal involving a big package before the other team “backed out.” While Ainge didn’t mention any player names for obvious tampering reasons, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reports that the proposed trade involved Sixers rookie center Jahlil Okafor, according to a league source.
Adam Kaufman of WBZ NewsRadio added that Ainge told him the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2016 first-round pick held by the Celtics was part of the package.”
That hurts to read, doesn’t it? Boston wound up selecting Jaylen Brown with that 2016 pick. Even if Colangelo selected Kris Dunn, as he was reportedly tried very hard to land, that might have had Brown falling harmlessly to Phoenix, Minnesota or New Orleans. You’re better off dismissing it as conjecture for your sanity.
Then there was the BurnerGate stuff connected to Okafor that in part led to Bryan Colangelo’s ultimate resignation.
Per a report by Ben Detrick, writing for The Ringer, Colangelo (or someone close to him as it turned out) was sharing team medical secrets regarding Okafor on twitter burner accounts:
“Most alarmingly, though, the Eric jr account urged members of the Sixers media to ask Okafor about a failed physical that the account alleges scuttled an in-the-works trade. This is information that has never been publicly reported.”
The “Still Balling” account struck some of the same chords:
Since his Sixer days, Okafor played in 142 regular season games for the Nets, Pelicans, and Pistons, his pro career fizzling out.
But a slimmed down version of Okafor resurfaced with the Mexico City Capitanes this year, appearing in 15 games, dropping a robust 20.5 points, and 8 rebounds in 29 mpg. The Capitanes became the G League’s 29th team, and first team outside of the USA and Canada, back in 2020-2021.
On his head!!— NBA G League (@nbagleague) December 17, 2022
Jahlil Okafor with the hustle play at the end of Q3!! @CapitanesCDMX pic.twitter.com/GuP7jkeqJG
They play at Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City.
Along with Okafor come a few familiar names like Caboclo and Napier.
Looking back, Okafor became a magnet for fan frustration at times during moments of peak organizational dysfunction. So it’s hard not to now root for a guy who had such an inauspicious beginning to his career. Who doesn’t love a redemption story?
The Sixers need a backup five at this deadline and while Sixers fans comb the trade rumors looking for possible fits, we get this news story. So it’s impossible not to smile wondering what it would be like if Big Jah ever got called up to hop into a Sixers game to spell Embiid. It makes you wonder what the Sixers’ plan is here. Do they see something in him? Or is this for some nostalgia?
Whatever their reasoning, we’ve come full circle to the max.