Jahlil Okafor Opens Up About Anxiety, Depression

By Brandon Apter, Sports Talk Philly Staff 

The dark days of The Process are in the rear view mirror, but from time-to-time, our minds slip back and think of what the Philadelphia 76ers have been through to get to this point. Whether it was the 10-win season, the big man surplus or Sam Hinkie's departure, there were plenty of dark times that led us to where we are today.

Arguably one of the most frustrating storylines and argued about draft picks from the process was 2015 No. 3 overall pick, Jahlil Okafor (yes, we get it, Sam should've taken Porzingis). With Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel nursing injuries, the Sixers selected the proven winner out of Duke. After an impressive rookie season that saw him average 17 points and over seven boards, a meniscus tear cut that short and Okafor never seemed to be the same physically and mentally. His career gradually spiraled downward in Philadelphia, leading to a trade at the end of 2017 to Brooklyn. Okafor barely played there and signed with the Pelicans in the offseason, but suffered an ankle injury in the preseason.

Once the Sixers learned that Okafor may not be a fit on their team in the future, they made attempts to trade him, but failed until his value was at its lowest. For a guy so used to winning in college, Okafor was put into a much different situation in Philadelphia. Despite his shortcomings on the court though, he was professional throughout his Sixers career. All of this would take a toll on any human being. Over the past few years, more and more athletes have come forward about their battles with anxiety and depression and Okafor sat down with Shams Charania of The Athletic to speak about his battle with it.

Here are some of Okafor's comments from the article:

On finding out that he was dealing with depression & anxiety:

I didn’t know I was dealing with depression and anxiety myself. When I was in Brooklyn after the Philly trade, I started to talk to somebody there. That was the first I heard about it. Then, during the season, I didn’t act on it. I was in a dark place, man. I didn’t act on what was told to me, and I ignored it and shut it down.

On realizing he needs to address his depression/anxiety:

A week before the season ended, I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I not only had to get my body right but my mind right,” Okafor said. “I went straight to Miami and changed my diet and worked out. But most importantly, I started talking to a therapist to help me get through the depression and anxiety that I was going through, and it’s something I’m still dealing with. But I’m coping with it a lot better, and I’m learning ways to continue to feel good.

On becoming numb to losing with the Sixers:

“I became numb to losing. I couldn’t put emotion into a loss. After a loss in college, it’s the end of the world — like, ‘Damn, we just lost. Wow.’ Everyone is on you about it. And in the NBA, that was my mindset when I got drafted. I took the losses extremely hard. It got to a point where, I don’t want to say that I didn’t care, but I definitely got numb to it. I know a lot of people on the outside looking in feel that I feel a certain way about the 76ers, but in all, actually, I love the people on the team. Coach (Brett) Brown, all of the players over there.

On coming back to soon from injury in Philadelphia:

My rookie year, I was first-team All-Rookie. That offseason, I was really in a good place. I know I probably rushed my health because I knew we had me, Jo Jo and Nerlens. I didn’t want to miss any games or miss any camp time because I knew we would all be fighting for minutes. I think I rushed my injury at the time and came back too soon. It’s no one’s fault but my own.

On the trade rumors and the mental toll it took:

The second season, I was supposed to be traded. It never happened. In the third season, I thought I was going to be traded before training camp. It didn’t happen. Thought I was going to be traded before our first preseason game. Didn’t happen. Then I was told to play one preseason game and then they’ll trade me — and that didn’t happen, either. It was just mentally draining, mentally defeating, and so much to take in. Something I have never dealt with before.

Although he's nursing an ankle injury, Okafor should get another chance to revive his NBA career in New Orleans. Now that he has addressed a variety of mental and physical issues on his plate, hopefully Jah can move forward and prove that he belongs in the league.


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