Emeka Okafor: Basketball Player

Emeka Okafor: Basketball Player

Emeka Okafor

Early life

Okafor was born in Houston, Texas. Both of his parents are natives of Nigeria, and Emeka was the first member of his family born in the United States. His father, Pius Okafor, is a member of the Igbo ethnic group.

Okafor’s family moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma when he was young because his father worked for Phillips Petroleum Company, headquartered in Bartlesville. While in Bartlesville, Okafor’s father took his son to the Bartlesville YMCA to learn the game of basketball.

High school career

Okafor played at Bellaire High School with future Oklahoma State star John Lucas III. Okafor averaged 22 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks in his senior season. Bellaire was 26–5 in that season, losing 56–42 in the third round of the 2001 UIL state playoffs, to Willowridge High School and future Texas standout T. J. Ford. This game is particularly notable, however, because it featured five players who would go on to play in an NCAA Final Four (Bellaire had Lucas and Okafor, while Willowridge featured Ford, Oklahoma State’s Ivan McFarlin and Duke’s Daniel Ewing). All five of these players would eventually go on to play at least a season in the NBA.

Okafor flew under the recruiting radar for much of his high school career, but by the end of his senior year, Okafor was receiving late interest from top programs and chose to accept a scholarship at the University of Connecticut, choosing the Huskies over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

College career

Okafor played for the University of Connecticut from 2001 to 2004 where he was teammates with Charlie Villanueva, Marcus Williams, Ben Gordon, Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone, who all went on to play in the NBA. He majored in finance during his time at Connecticut, and he graduated with honours after three years in May 2004 with a 3.8 GPA. Okafor was named the Academic All-American of the Year in 2004 for his work on and off the court.

Okafor is noted for his impressive defensive ability, especially his shot-blocking. Although he was plagued by back problems for most of the 2003–04 season, Okafor led UConn to the program’s second national title in six seasons. He was crowned as the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. In addition, Okafor led the nation in blocks that season and was also named National Defensive Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He also received the Big East Player of the Year award. Okafor graduated as Connecticut’s leader in blocked shots with 441. In light of his collegiate achievements, Okafor was made a member of the 2004 U.S. National Men’s Basketball Team which represented the U.S. at the Olympics in Athens.

On February 5, 2007, he was inducted to the Husky Ring Of Honor at Gampel Pavilion on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs during halftime of the men’s basketball game against the Syracuse Orange as part of a ceremony which recognized personal accomplishments of 13 former players and 3 coaches.

NBA career

Charlotte Bobcats (2004–2009)

On April 16, 2004, Okafor declared his eligibility for the 2004 NBA draft, giving up his one remaining year of college athletic eligibility. He did, however, receive his undergraduate degree in Accounting/Finance in three academic years. On June 24, Okafor was selected second overall in the draft, becoming the first-ever draft pick by the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. The following day, he accepted an invitation to join the United States team for the 2004 Summer Olympics, which finished with the bronze medal in Athens.

The 2004–05 season was a successful campaign as Okafor coped well with the pressures of being the star rookie on an expansion franchise. Highlights of the season included recording 19 straight double-doubles from November 21 through January 1, and finishing seventh among Eastern Conference forwards in NBA All-Star Game fan balloting with 408,082 votes, by far the highest number garnered by any rookie in 2005. At the end of the season, Okafor beat out his friend and former college teammate and roommate, Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon, to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

On June 24, 2005, the Bobcats picked up the option for the fourth year on Okafor’s contract, as he quickly established himself as the face of the franchise, and a solid player for years to come. Okafor finished his rookie season with 44.7% field goal percentage and per-game averages of 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds (ranked 4th in the league), and 1.7 blocks.

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In the 2005 offseason, Okafor’s weight increased from 260 to 280 lbs. It was this weight gain which he felt caused him to have trouble rehabbing his early-season ankle injury and forced him to sit out most of the 2005–06 season with injuries to his ankle. Nonetheless in the few games, he played he was effective as he averaged a double-double for the second consecutive season. For the season he finished with averages of 13.2 points on 41.5% shooting, 10.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

During the offseason, he continued his tutorials with Hakeem Olajuwon, which he took up after his rookie season, and lost the 20 pounds which he had gained for his second season. Okafor felt this weight loss gave him more energy and mobility. He led the Bobcats in rebounds per game, blocks per game, and field goal percentage. On December 29, 2006, in a home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Emeka would record 22 points, 25 rebounds, and 4 blocks in over 51 minutes of play, in an epic 133–124 triple-overtime victory. He also had eight blocks in games against the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics. On January 12, 2007, he would record an NBA season-high ten blocks in a game against the New York Knicks. His ten blocks were the most ever recorded in a single game at Madison Square Garden. In that game, he was one rebound away from recording the first-ever triple-double in franchise history, finishing with 20 pts, 10 blocks, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals. Later in the season, he suffered an ankle injury which caused him to miss fifteen games. He finished the season averaging 14.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 67 games.

Prior to the start of the 2007–08 season, Okafor turned down a contract extension with the Charlotte Bobcats worth an estimated US$60 million over five years. Despite turning down the contract, Okafor maintained that he indeed wanted to remain with the Bobcats. Despite feuding with head coach Sam Vincent throughout the season, Okafor still managed to average a double-double for the fourth consecutive season of his career. He also played in all 82 games of the regular season for the first time in his career. At the end of the season head coach Sam Vincent was fired by part-owner Michael Jordan saying in a statement: “The decision to remove Sam as head coach after just one season was difficult, but it was a decision that had to be made because my first obligation is to do what is in the best interest of our team.”

During the off-season, the Bobcats’ top priority was to re-sign Okafor. Through tough negotiations, the Bobcats and Okafor eventually reached an agreement on a six-year, $72 million deal, the largest in franchise history. In a statement, Okafor voiced his pleasure with remaining in the organization: “The Bobcats and the entire Charlotte community embraced me from day one, and it’s exciting to enter this season with a Hall of Fame coach and teammates who are committed to winning.”

Okafor entered the 2008–09 season with active franchise-record streaks of 93 consecutive games played and 92 consecutive games started.

New Orleans Hornets (2009–2012)

On July 28, 2009, Okafor was traded to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Tyson Chandler. During the 2010–11 season, Okafor ended up making it to his first-ever NBA playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. Ultimately, the Hornets lost their first-round series 4-2, with Okafor having a decrease in points and rebounding averages throughout the six games.

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Washington Wizards (2012–2013)

On June 20, 2012, Okafor was traded, along with Trevor Ariza, to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Rashard Lewis and the 46th pick of the 2012 NBA draft. Okafor went on to be named a finalist for the inaugural Twyman–Stokes Teammate of the Year Award for his contributions with the team on and off the court.

Injury recovery and free agency (2013–2017)

On October 25, 2013, days before the start of the 2013–14 season, Okafor was traded, along with a 2014 protected first-round draft pick, to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee. However, he missed the entire season due to a herniated disc in his neck that was discovered in September 2013, and remained unsigned throughout the 2014–15 season, the 2015–16 season, and the 2016–17 season. On May 30, 2017, Okafor was medically cleared to play.

Philadelphia and Delaware (2017–2018)

On September 25, 2017, Okafor signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. However, he was waived on October 14 after appearing in five preseason games. Later that month, he joined the Delaware 87ers of the NBA G League.

Return to New Orleans (2018)

On February 3, 2018, Okafor signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. He made his Pelicans debut two days later, playing in the NBA for the first time since 2013. He played nine minutes and had three points and two rebounds in a 133–109 loss to the Utah Jazz. He signed a second 10-day contract on February 14, and a rest-of-season contract on February 26. Filling in for the injured DeMarcus Cousins, Okafor averaged 4.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1 block in 26 regular-season games, including 19 starts. Okafor was waived by the Pelicans on September 19, 2018, just prior to the start of training camp.

Okafor signed with the Philadelphia 76ers on September 21, 2018, before being waived on October 13.

NBA career statistics

  GP Games played   GS Games started  MPG Minutes per game
 FG% Field goal percentage  3P% 3-point field goal percentage  FT% Free throw percentage
 RPG Rebounds per game  APG Assists per game  SPG Steals per game
 BPG Blocks per game  PPG Points per game  Bold Career high

Regular season

2004–05 Charlotte 73 73 35.6 .447 .000 .609 10.9 .9 .8 1.7 15.1
2005–06 Charlotte 26 25 33.6 .415 .656 10.0 1.2 .8 1.9 13.2
2006–07 Charlotte 67 65 34.8 .532 .593 11.3 1.2 .9 2.6 14.4
2007–08 Charlotte 82 82 33.1 .535 .570 10.7 .9 .8 1.7 13.8
2008–09 Charlotte 82 81 32.8 .561 .593 10.1 .6 .6 1.7 13.2
2009–10 New Orleans 82 82 28.9 .530 .562 9.0 .7 .7 1.5 10.4
2010–11 New Orleans 72 72 31.8 .573 .000 .562 9.5 .6 .6 1.8 10.3
2011–12 New Orleans 27 27 28.9 .533 .514 7.9 .9 .6 1.0 9.9
2012–13 Washington 79 77 26.0 .477 .571 8.8 1.2 .6 1.0 9.7
2017–18 New Orleans 26 19 13.6 .505 .818 4.6 .3 .3 1.0 4.4
Career 616 603 30.9 .512 .000 .586 9.7 .8 .7 1.6 12.0


2011 New Orleans 6 6 31.3 .645 .364 5.5 . 1.0 1.0 7.3
2018 New Orleans 1 4.0 .000 . . . . .
Career 7 6 27.4 .625 .364 4.7 . .9 .9 6.3

Personal life

Okafor’s first name, Chukwuemeka, means “God has done well” in the Igbo language. He appeared on the cover of NCAA March Madness 2005 video game. Okafor appeared as himself in the second season of the TV show One Tree Hill.

Okafor is a distant cousin of fellow NBA player Jahlil Okafor. He is married and has two children.

See Also: Nigerian Personality Profiles