HOUSTON - Already at age 19 the face of the 76ers, Jahlil Okafor said that being heckled or approached disrespectfully in public doesn't happen often - but we are finding out it does happen.
At 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, he's usually not hard to spot. And that can lead to some uncomfortable situations for the rookie center, especially one playing on a team that hasn't won a game this season.
According to five sources who spoke to The Inquirer independently on condition of anonymity, Thursday morning's incident in Boston was not the first time Okafor has been in an altercation with a heckler while out and about.
At a Philadelphia club in October, sources said, Okafor exchanged words with a heckler while with teammates. As he and his teammates left the club, a source said, the heckler pointed a gun to Okafor's head outside the establishment.
A source said the incident was witnessed by federal officers. Okafor did not want to speak about the situation.
The Oct. 4 encounter near Second and Walnut Streets was detailed in a by the U.S. park rangers.
The October incident combined with Thursday morning's fight outside a Boston nightclub shows a pattern that the Sixers and Okafor need to avoid.
Both incidents involved Okafor's being in establishments where alcohol was being served. He won't legally be permitted to consume alcohol until he turns 21.
Being in places that serve alcohol, without team security present, and being heckled by fans has proven to be a bad combination. That's especially true when some might view Okafor as an easy target on a Sixers squad that is always ridiculed for its constant losing.
"It doesn't happen often," Okafor said Friday of being heckled. "People are just coming after me, heckling, making fun of me for losing. It's something that I have known I'm in the spotlight.
"I know that there are people like that that try to anger you. I'll never handle it like [he did Thursday morning] again."
In a video obtained and published by TMZ.com, Okafor is seen shouting at several individuals before shoving a man to the ground. He then punched a man who appeared to be the same person he had pushed, knocking that individual to the pavement. Okafor could be heard shouting, "We got money, you broke ass . . ." He then uttered a racial slur.
The incident started because he and teammate Christian Wood were being heckled by Boston fans over the Sixers' struggles.
"It was definitely dumb on my part," Okafor said. "It's something that I am embarrassed about."
He added that he was "still dealing with the league and the team. But I'm not happy about it at all. But we are still going through the process of what we are going to do."
The Sixers are investigating what happened and will deal with things internally in conjunction with the NBA once all the evidence becomes available.
Okafor said he told Sixers coach Brett Brown about the altercation Thursday afternoon when he was boarding the team plane to Houston.
The fight took place outside Storyville Nightclub, in Boston. It occurred hours after the Sixers lost, 84-80, to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday night. The loss dropped the Sixers to 0-16 and tied the NBA record for consecutive losses with 26, dating back to last season.
After Boston police told The Inquirer on Thursday that there would be no investigation, there are reports that they will now pursue the case.
That's because an alleged male victim told police on Friday that he was assaulted outside the Storyville club on Exeter, according to reports. The reports added that the alleged victim said the men approached him and his friends and tried to get several females' phone numbers. The alleged victim believed Okafor to be one of the men. The alleged victim said the two men were unable to get the phone numbers and that's what resulted in the "verbal dispute" than turned violent, according to reports.
Sources have confirmed, however, that the altercation began after someone outside the nightclub yelled "the 76ers [stink]" at Okafor. The third overall pick out of Duke acknowledged that losing was starting to get to him.
"We are all staying together, working extremely hard," he said. "We are coming in every day at shootaround, and we keep coming up a little short. We get close.
"So it does get a little frustrating to hear it all the time that we are 0-and-whatever. So it's definitely frustrating."
Okafor was not suspended from Friday night's game against the Houston Rockets. Sixers coach Brett Brown said the team was in the fact-gathering process. Once that is complete, it will handle things internally.
Based on their sport science research, the Sixers chose to stay overnight in Boston instead of traveling to Texas immediately after the Celtics game. That's a routine the Sixers won't change even though it gives their young players a night's worth of free time.
"I don't know any professional team that I've been a part of in the NBA that has a curfew," said Brown, a former longtime assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. "We ask them to make responsible decisions. You know, life is filled with pitfalls. You can't put a [padlock] on life.
"He's going to have to, like all of us, navigate through NBA worlds and NBA environments with a level of responsibility."
The organization also wants him to take advantage of the resources available to him.
Lance Williams is the team's director of security. The Sixers have a car service available for players who want to go out.
"That's part of the education for Jahlil and others," Brown said. "If you choose to go out, of course you know we have Lance Williams. Of course you know we have internal security. Of course you know we will provide an automobile to transport you. We will create an environment to protect our player.
"But they are going to have to call upon it from time to time. We can't monitor their every move."
Brown said that he's concerned that underage drinking may have played a part in Friday's situation. He added that the Sixers will learn a lot as the facts come out.