It’s been a tough road for Jahlil Okafor during his NBA journey. Even before he entered the league, many critics were skeptical about how his game would translate to the modern NBA. Okafor is an old-school back-to-the-basket-type player, which has gone increasingly out of vogue in an era that values more versatile big men who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from the outside.
Beyond that, Okafor started exhibiting some troubling behavior off the court early in his career after being captured on video getting in a street fight with intoxicated fans and getting ticketed for speeding and reckless driving for allegedly doing more than 100 mph in a 60 mph zone. Okafor then found himself out of the rotation entirely in Philadelphia for almost two full seasons before the organization was finally able to find a trade partner and ship him off to Brooklyn in exchange for Trevor Booker.
But after failing to make much of an impression with the Nets, Okafor finds himself at a major crossroads in his career this offseason. And perhaps sensing the gravity of his situation, the former No. 3 pick took to Instagram on Friday to open up about his struggles with mental health, as well as his recent physical transformation that he hopes will breathe new life into a career that is in desperate need of resuscitation.
“Although the physical changes in this photo are evident, there has been extreme growth unbenounced [sic] to the eye. I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has allowed me to overcome them. Often times because of my size and profession people may view me in a certain way, but in reality I deal with the same struggles as countless others. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal. 6 weeks left in the offseason; with a lot more work to do!”
Okafor is, of course, referring to Kevin Love’s Players’ Tribune piece from last season in which he admitted to his own struggles with anxiety, which came off the heels of DeMar DeRozan’s revelation that he suffers from depression.
Last season turned out to be a watershed moment for the NBA in terms of mental health awareness, and it takes players like Okafor, Love, and DeRozan having the courage to speak publicly to help eliminate the stigma surrounding the types of emotional issues that have become increasingly common today yet often go untreated because of the shame associated with it.
For Okafor, it seems he may get another chance to revive his NBA career, as the New Orleans Pelicans are reportedly considering offering him a training camp invite, although nothing has been made official yet. If it does happen, it appears Okafor is at the very least both physically and mentally prepared for the challenge.