Off the Court: Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

He shares a hometown with Anthony Davis and a college background with Frank Jackson, as well as lottery-pick status with a number of his new New Orleans Pelicans teammates. A Chicago native and Duke University product, Jahlil Okafor was the third pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, joining Davis, Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle as current Pelicans who were lotto choices. Okafor recently sat down with Pelicans.com to discuss his background and interests away from basketball:

Best moment as an athlete: “My national championship that I won at Duke. That had been a goal of mine probably since I was 6 or 7 years old and started watching the NCAA Tournament. For that to come to fruition, I’m still happy about that. It was something that, when I first went to Duke, that was all I talked about with my teammates all summer, winning a championship. The people on the team became my brothers, and to this day we still talk about it and are extremely proud of accomplishing it.”

How he chose his current uniform number of 8: “My rookie season I wore 8, because I had wanted 15, but it’s retired in Philadelphia. I had worn 15 in college. I did some research on 8 and read that it can mean infinity (in numerology). When I got traded to Brooklyn, I picked 4, as in ‘four for Okafor.’ I didn’t end up liking it. So here I went back to my rookie season, as a fresh start. My rookie year I averaged 18 and seven, so it’s kind of a reminder to myself that I can play well in the NBA.”

One thing fans might be surprised to know about him: “My love for animals. I grew up around them. My neighbors used to have horses, and I would go over and feed them every morning. I have two dogs now and would love to have about 10 if I could. It’s very challenging to have dogs with all the unpredictability of being traded and moving (as an NBA player), but if I had a regular job and could stay in the same house all the time, I’d have many more.”

Favorite thing about New Orleans: “The people. I haven’t had one negative encounter yet. I guess that’s normal here. It’s not normal in other cities where I’ve been. People in New Orleans have been so supportive of me and the team. I love walking around here, because the people have been great.”

Pregame ritual: “I pray to my mother before every game. She passed away when I was 9, but I always consider her my wings on the floor, my extra step, my extra focus, my extra everything, to watch over me when I’m on the court. It takes some pressure off you when you feel like you have your mother above watching you. And I always pray to God for guidance.”

Favorite athlete as a kid: “Shaquille O’Neal was probably my favorite athlete growing up. I loved how dominant and unstoppable he was, but also his charisma off the court. He was someone I gravitated toward.”

What he’d be doing if he weren’t an NBA player: “Something dealing with animals. Right now I’m doing something I have a passion for, and if I didn’t love basketball, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Closest friends currently playing on other NBA teams: “Tyus Jones of Minnesota – I went to Duke with him and we won a national title together. Also, Justise Winslow of Miami, Quinn Cook of Golden State, Stanley Johnson of Detroit. Those four are probably my best friends in the NBA. In Philadelphia, I got very close with Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and T.J. McConnell. In Brooklyn, Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell and Quincy Acy.”

Favorite type of music: “Smooth R&B, a lot of old-school, soulful music. Right now, some of my favorite artists I’m listening to are Chance the Rapper and Lukas Graham. Being from Chicago, another guy doing big things from there that I listen to is G Herbo.”

Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones.”

Favorite movie of all time: “The Lion King.”

Favorite phone apps: “Instagram. There is also a new app called Dashlane that keeps all of your passwords, like your Hulu, Netflix, HBO accounts. You can store all of your passwords in the same, secure app.”