Shortly after Jahlil Okafor was traded by the Philadelphia 76ers to the Brooklyn Nets, he sat down with a staff member of his new team who helped him realize he might have been dealing with depression and anxiety.
“I didn’t know I was dealing with depression and anxiety myself,” Okafor told The Athletic. “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.”
Okafor appeared in only 26 games for the Nets and before the end of the season, he had an epiphany about his situation.
“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.
“I thanked Kevin Love because when I was reading his piece, I realized that this is normal and some of the stuff he was talking about … damn, I deal with some of the same things. Kevin Love, we know how successful he’s been in the NBA, but to hear somebody of his stature come out and talk about this is super inspiring to me.
“I lost my mom when I was 9, and it goes way deeper than me playing the game of basketball. It’s my life. It’s my trials. I wouldn’t blame Philly, wouldn’t blame the media or anybody.”
Okafor worked to transform his body and lost 17 pounds over the offseason.
“There was no bullshit with Jah, and I have a no (expletive) approach,” trainer David Alexander said. “We clicked, and it was organic from the beginning. I knew that with Jah, it would be work both mentally and physically. It goes hand in hand. He’s had some unfortunate situations, some setbacks and organizations that weren’t a great fit. I understand the psychological side. With someone like Jah, I understood the space and where he’s coming from. From what I felt and saw, he wouldn’t have benefit from the drill sergeant approach, or the fuck you mentality. The more he believed in himself and his body, the more successful he would be.
“He was extremely inflamed, extremely bloated, when he arrived here to start the offseason program. He wasn’t a fat guy, but he doesn’t have the physique he has now. And when you’re not successful at something you’ve been successful at your whole life, it can eat at you. It can tear you apart. You can’t look at the glass half empty, and I told him he’s got to believe in himself, that he’s young enough to be one of the better big men in this league. He built himself back up.”