When James Michael McAdoo walked into the gym at the NBPA offices in New York this summer, he found his workout partner to be a little surprising. It wasn’t another 24-year-old looking to stay fresh in case a team willing to take a chance on them came calling, nor was it someone with a job already locked down, just getting some work in between meetings. It wasn’t an active player at all. Or at least, so McAdoo thought.
Imagine his surprise on the first day of Philadelphia 76ers training camp a few weeks later, when the 6’10, 255-pound frame of 35-year-old veteran Emeka Okafor once again stood across from him.
“It was kinda odd seeing him there, ‘cause I know he’s been out for four years,” McAdoo recalls. “I had no idea he was trying to get back at the time. I thought he had retired. It was crazy showing up to training camp with the 76ers, there he is, and it’s like, ‘What’s up man? Good to see you back.’ And then here we are now playing together in the G League.”
Yes, the G League. After Okafor was waived by the 76ers, he made the decision to continue his comeback attempt with the Delaware 87ers alongside McAdoo and a roster full of players largely trying to get their first crack at the NBA.
Okafor, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, hasn’t played in an NBA game since the end of the 2012-13 season, when a herniated disc in his neck put him on the shelf. When he retired, he was still averaging nearly a double-double, and he’d posted a positive net rating in seven consecutive seasons despite some decline on the offensive side of the ball.
Believing he could still contribute at a high level, his plan all along has been to return to the NBA, despite whatever odds his age and his lapse in play might present. He’s healthy now, having opted for the non-surgical route on his neck and gaining official clearance in the spring, freeing him to begin the comeback in earnest.