Jahlil Okafor posts up against Boston's David Lee in Okafor's NBA debut

Pelicans veteran players have varied memories from their NBA debut games

by Jim Eichenhofer

Among the 11 veteran players on the main 2019-20 New Orleans roster, center Jahlil Okafor has perhaps the most vivid memories from his first NBA game, which took place Oct. 28, 2015, in Boston. Perhaps not coincidentally, he also objectively enjoyed the most productive debut performance on the squad, going for 26 points and seven rebounds as a Philadelphia 76ers starter.

“We came up short,” Okafor said, alluding to the loss, “but individually, I felt like I played well and had a lot of fun. I remember in the first quarter I scored a couple times in a row and all of my teammates on the bench were standing up and cheering me on. You always remember your first game.”

While that may be true for Okafor and Zion Williamson after the latter’s 22-point performance vs. San Antonio on Wednesday, it’s definitely not the case in every instance.

“I think my first basket was against the Spurs, a three,” said forward Darius Miller, who was correct in that fact from Oct. 31, 2012. “But that’s all I really remember. I think it was Jason Smith who passed it to me on the left wing, if I’m not mistaken. I really don’t remember much else.”

Pelicans center Derrick Favors did not remember the specifics of his first NBA basket or the opponent from an Oct. 27, 2010, game, but as a New Jersey rookie he got on the scoresheet with a free throw against Detroit (Favors thought it was Boston).

What actually stands out most to Favors nearly 10 years later is how focused he was on minimizing any potential “rookie mistakes” he made, while playing for former NBA point guard Avery Johnson.

“I remember being excited and nervous at the same time,” Favors said, smiling. “Avery Johnson was the head coach then, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t (called out) on film the next day. He was a defensive guy. I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly defensively and played with a lot of energy.”

Brandon Ingram had a similar experience in terms of how his debut affected him mentally.

“There were a lot of jitters,” Ingram said of an Oct. 26, 2016, game between the Lakers and Rockets in Staples Center. “But I had a good vet around me, Lou Williams, to help me. It was fun. I think we played against the Rockets and my first basket was a three. It was fun getting my feet wet on an NBA floor.”

Even though it was only three-plus years ago, Ingram could not remember whether Los Angeles won the game (it did, surprising Houston 120-114), but correctly recalled that his first NBA points came on a three-point shot. After scoring nine points against the Rockets, Ingram’s first double-digit scoring game did not occur until his sixth appearance.

Kenrich Williams had to wait a while before tallying a basket, more than two weeks into the ’18-19 regular season. “It was a three against the Trail Blazers in Portland, toward the end of the game,” he remembered. Williams more fondly recalls his NBA debut in Houston on opening night, partly because of who was on the opposing team. “It was a surreal moment,” the Texas native said of debuting in Toyota Center. “(The Rockets) had Carmelo (Anthony) then and I grew up watching him, so it was surreal to play against him.”

Like “Kenny Hustle,” wing E’Twaun Moore’s first-game memories have as much to do with the venue as what actually happened on the court. In more ways than one, Moore had an extremely odd NBA debut. One, it occurred after an NBA lockout; two, it happened on Christmas, which was opening day for that abbreviated ’11-12 campaign; three, the game took place in historic Madison Square Garden; four, he logged just four seconds of action, as a Boston defensive substitution at the end of the second quarter.

Also like Williams, Moore’s initial game memories are tied to a certain multi-time All-Star who now plays for Portland.

“I had been (playing) overseas for a couple months,” Moore said of the lockout. “Then boom, my first game is on national TV and in Madison Square Garden. Carmelo went crazy and had like 35 points, hitting everything. I was like, ‘So, this is what the talent level is like in the NBA?’ ”

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