HOUSTON — As much as 76ers center Jahil Okafor wanted Friday to be as normal as possible, it just wasn't. The fallout from his altercation early Thursday morning with hecklers in Boston was the big topic of conversation, even as his team neared NBA marks for futility.
A video released by TMZ showed Okafor exchanging verbal jabs with a group of people at a nightclub in Boston, then him breaking away from someone trying to restrain him. He shoved a person to the ground before landing a punch a few seconds later to the same person. The video ends with someone jumping on Okafor's back, attempting to punch him in the head.
The incident occurred after the Sixers lost to the Celtics, 84-80, on Wednesday night to fall to 0-16 on the season.
Boston police said in a statement Friday that they will begin an investigation into the matter after the alleged victim of Okafor's punch filed a police report in the morning, saying he suffered a cut above his eye that needed stitches.
Police said the incident occurred after Okafor and another approached a group of people apparently requesting some women's phone numbers.
"According to the victim, when his female companions refused their advances, a verbal altercation ensued between him and the suspect," the police statement read. "During the argument, the male victim states that Okafor attempted to charge him, but was momentarily restrained by another individual. Eventually, however, the victim states that Okafor broke free and began pushing and punching him. The victim further states that the suspect struck him with a closed fist and knocked him to the ground."
Meanwhile, the Inquirer, citing several sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, reported that Okafor exchanged words with a heckler at a Philadelphia nightclub in October while he was out with teammates and that the heckler pointed a gun at his head as he left the establishment.
CSNPhilly.com reported that Okafor was outside an Old City club in the early-morning hours of Oct. 4 when he and another person started arguing with someone in a parked car near 2nd and Walnut. A witness said Okafor tried to punch the driver through an open window; the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun toward Okafor before fleeing when U.S. Park Rangers arrived on the scene. CSNPhilly.com said the passenger fled and tossed the gun and one of the rangers pursued him, but lost sight of him in a parking garage.
The Sixers issued a statement about the October incident: "We are aware that there is an ongoing investigation regarding the alleged incident and are unable to comment further."
Before Friday's game against the Houston Rockets, coach Brett Brown was asked whether he knew there would be a police investigation.
"We've heard some things, but there's not really much more that we're going to comment on right now," Brown said.
The 6-11, 275-pound Okafor was contrite Friday when he was approached for the first time by the media about the altercation.
"My thoughts on it are that it was definitely dumb on my part," the 19-year-old Okafor said. "It's something that I'm embarrassed about. We're still dealing with the team and the league, but I'm not happy about it at all. We're still going through the whole process of what we're going to do.
"(I was) just leaving and trying to go, and people were making fun of us, 'cause we've been losing. I did the dumb thing, and I reacted."
As if he didn't have enough on-the-court problems to deal with, Brown was met with a new one Thursday when the team was getting ready to fly out of Boston.
"I got on a plane, and Jahlil came to me immediately and said, 'Coach, I need to speak to you,'
"I'm a parent myself, with teenagers. Things like this are ever-present. How do you responsibly handle it? What positions do you put yourself in? It's a learning thing for Jahlil, as a lot of our young guys are experiencing, on and off the court. We'll continue to gather facts and be in a much better position to make a statement very soon."
Brown was asked whether he thought alcohol might have been a factor.
"I'm always concerned with that," Brown said. "Coaching this team is far greater than, how do we double Dwight Howard. It is never-ending. It's all over the place — lessons like that and things that we'll all learn a little bit more as the true facts come out of this particular situation. I put my parent hat on. Jahlil is the same age as my daughter. We all remember when we were 19. Those lessons, we can't put our head under a rug and play holier than thou. It's part of life. It's part of growing up. And it's my job to help him. That part of it, if it becomes true, of course it's concerning.
"This will be handled internally (as far as punishment), but it's not something that we dismiss. We pay attention and walk that line of doing what we need to to help educate and discipline anybody, whether it's Jahlil or anybody."
Okafor was supposed to be in the starting lineup against the Rockets on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Okafor seemed genuinely upset when speaking of the situation and expressed remorse.
"It doesn't happen often that people come at me and heckle me for losing," he said. "It's something that I know I'm in the spotlight and I know that there are people like that that just want to anger you. I'll never handle it like that again."
While this incident troubles him, he says it's not the worst thing he's faced in his basketball career.
"I've had to deal with injuries and stuff like that," he said. "Now, I'm living my dream of playing in the NBA. My first year, I'm healthy. Other than losing, everything is fine. I love my teammates, I love my coach, I love the entire staff. Everything has been enjoyable, we're just coming up short. That gets frustrating.
"Being a leader is a different role for me, coming in as the youngest guy here. Having Philadelphia across my chest, I know I have to fight on the court every game. Even though we're struggling, we have to give 100 percent effort. Always trying to fight on the court and stay positive, and make sure we're playing hard, because coach always says that we're in a blue-collar city and they want to see you play hard."
After having some time to think about the altercation, Okafor described the worst part of it like this:
"For me, just the embarrassment, and I'm ashamed of what I did. That's not who I am. Just being embarrassed. Everybody in my circle, they know that's not who I am. I have a great support system, and they'll continue to support me, and the entire Sixers organization has been great. It's just the embarrassment of what happened."