Jahlil Okafor latest Peter Pan problem for NBA

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The NCAA and the NBA need to fix the one and done problem that I believe is ruining the game of basketball in this country. It’s rare when such a huge talent comes along that a player is able to make the leap as an 18 or 19 year old into the NBA. Requiring one year of college is not making the game any better. For every Kobe Bryant or LeBron James that successfully makes such a transition, there are hundreds who have signed lucrative contracts who end up a total bust.

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers just announced his retirement. (Claudia Gestro)
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers just announced his retirement. (Claudia Gestro)

Besides having to make the leap in level of play to succeed in the NBA, players who choose the one and done route must also learn how to handle responsibility off the court.

Case in point, Philadelphia 76er rookie center Jahlil Okafor. Less than one-fourth of the way through his first season in the NBA, after being looked at as a can’t miss product out of Duke University, Okafor has shown a complete inability to handle life as an adult.

While his play on the court may not be nearly as bad as the rest of his horrific 76er teammates, Okafor has been involved in far too many off court incidents for someone who is looked to be the face and future of a franchise. This happens when you give young men millions of dollars in guaranteed money to play a game for a living — they tend to not grow up.

To date, Okafor has been in too many incidents, most of which involve alcohol, and all of which demonstrate he is a train wreck waiting to happen. Okafor got into a fight outside a bar in Philadelphia when a fan began to heckle him, something commonplace in that sports crazed city.

At some point, someone apparently pulled a gun on him, potentially placing his life in jeopardy. Then, after another loss in Boston, Okafor managed to get into it with a Boston fan while outside a Boston bar, again, something Boston fans are known to do. While Okafor has no control over how fans behave or what they say, the 19-year old does have control over whether or not he frequents establishments that require you to be 21-years old.

Photo from Okafor’s Twitter
Photo from Okafor’s Twitter

He has clearly demonstrated he has a thin enough skin to be unable to handle the verbal barbs tossed at him, probably because he is on the receiving end of them far more frequently than ever before.

Still, he chooses to go out late at night rather than hole up in his hotel room or plush new digs to find entertainment. For someone selected to be the face of a struggling franchise, Okafor has so far created more problems for his new bosses than he has solved.

Most recently, Okafor was pulled over for driving 108 mph; not because he was late to a game, but because he simply decided it was something you do for fun. He clearly lacks the decision-making skills required to be the leader of an NBA team. Heck, he lacks the skills to be the leader of a high school freshman team.

This is what happens all too often to NBA players who enter the league after going through the motions of the required one year of college. Basically, there is no responsibility for 19-year old boys (lets face it, they are not men yet in terms of maturity) who have signed lucrative contracts that guarantee them millions of dollars. If they can manage to produce just enough, they know they will be signed to another lucrative contract. Unless Okafor drinks himself silly or wraps a car around a tree late at night, he seems financially set for a life of carefree fun.

However, we also know it will not be a shock if he blows through his riches while he teases NBA teams by showing just enough talent to make them think he is worthy of another contract, one he will fail to live up to. He is more likely to frustrate fans, coaches, and teammates to no end than becoming the super star people saw him as just a year ago. Okafor will be yet another wasted talent who shucks any responsibility, all because he wants to be nothing more than an oversized Peter Pan form the rest of his life.

His teams will be forced to hire a staff of full time babysitters, personal drivers, bodyguards, trainers, and cooks, just to make sure he does all the things the rest of us adults do for ourselves. The NBA is littered with young men just like Jahlil Okafor.

However, this could all easily change. “Can’t Miss” players like Jahlil Okafor might be worth the initial investment owners make if NBA players were willing to make one change to the collective bargaining agreement: end all guaranteed rookie contracts.

LeBron James made the successful leap from high school to the NBA and is now considered the best player in the league. (Claudia Gestro)
LeBron James made the successful leap from high school to the NBA and is now considered the best player in the league. (Claudia Gestro)

If teams can sign rookies to non-guaranteed contracts, perhaps more would remain in college longer, giving them a chance to grow up. Maybe then the Dukes and Kentuckys of the basketball world will return to recruiting players with a little more character rather than tolerating them for a year with the hope of winning an NCAA title. Maybe these guys would enter the NBA able to handle adulthood because their college coaches took the time to prepare them for life after college in the way John Wooden and others used to do.

Perhaps fans would see NBA rookies with a more complete game, one that included being able to make far more free throws than they miss, rebounding and running the court, setting screens to free up teammates, pass the ball because you trust your teammates more than you value your stat line, all while waiting until the ripe old age of 22 to strike it rich.

In other words, maybe these young players will learn just how fortunate they are to play a game for a living rather than crapping all over it like all too many seem to be doing.

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UPDATE: After the incident in Boston, Okafer did an interview with NBC Sports and said, “It was definitely dumb on my part. It’s something that I am embarrassed about, (we’re) still dealing with the league and the team. But I’m not happy about it at all.”

He then took to Twitter with a series of tweets apologizing for his actions:

“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.”
“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% focused on my responsibility to the League, my teammates and fans.”

 Top photo: Jahlil Okafor (in white) facing up against the Chicago Bulls’ Pau Gasol. (YouTube)