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Jahlil Okafor on his life, motivation and desire to be a ‘franchise cornerstone’

Minnesota Timberwolves vs Brooklyn Nets Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

It’s difficult to encapsulate Jahlil Okafor’s piece for Players Tribune Monday. That’s the website that is just what its title implies, a tribune for players, unfettered access to speak their mind.

It’s difficult to encapsulate because it’s just so good.

In it, the Nets new center touches on everything from the effect Air Bud had on his childhood to meeting the first black president. And throughout, there’s his parents — his mom who he lost at age 9 and his dad who was and is his rock.

His love of the game is another theme, how it centered him when his mom died at age 9, then abandoned him in Philadelphia. For those who believe he may be a malcontent or a malingerer, the Players’ Tribune is the corrective. It is a deeply human and moving account of a life.

Take this account of what happened after his mother’s death, after he spent the night at the rural Oklahoma hospital, silently stroking her hair...

“I remember when we got back to the house, me and my sister were there with my two younger brothers … and it all felt empty. It felt so dark.

“At some point, I grabbed my basketball and I went outside.

“And I just started shooting.

“I don’t know why … I just did.”

Or how he felt waiting for the trade, the chance for redemption, the chance to rebuild his basketball life...

“Part of handling the situation professionally, I decided, was making sure that whatever team in the league did end up trading for me — they were getting themselves the best possible version of Jahlil Okafor. That meant going through some very real, very honest reflection about my strengths and weaknesses, both on and off the court. And it meant growing up fast — into a professional that I knew I could be proud of...

Basically, I just wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that the organization trading for me — they got a warrior and a leader. To make sure they got a player with the type of game that helps teams go deep into the playoffs. And to make sure they got what my family, friends and I have always envisioned me becoming: a franchise cornerstone.” (Emphasis added.)

That franchise, of course, is Brooklyn and that opportunity is now.

Can he get to that lofty goal? Could he and another 21-year-old so easily jettisoned combine to make the Nets relevant again? If you read the story, you will be a believer, but even he admits, it will take some time, some work.

He recalls the moment he heard about the deal ... from a text, from a friend.

“Man. Brooklyn. Clean slate. I’d been waiting so long for that moment....

“I’ve started to ask myself some tough questions about what it means to grow up. About what it means to be thankful, in a way that counts, for this new beginning — for this chance to be back at my sanctuary.

“About what it means to be back playing ball.”

Gotta wish him good luck. Not just for our sake as fans, but for his...