Okafor quickly is learning the dos and don'ts of being an NBA rookie.
Rule No. 1: Don't promise to dunk on Shaquille O'Neal.
Okafor made that mistake last week at a news conference with 300 schoolchildren to promote a preseason game between his expansion Charlotte Bobcats
and O'Neal's Miami Heat. Getting little reaction from the crowd, he tried to excite the kids.
"Come on!" he yelled. "Don't you guys want to see me dunk on Shaq?"
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Charlotte management, aware of the TV crews in attendance, immediately cringed. In the days since then, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft has taken a
ton of ribbing about it.
"Will I dunk on Shaq? The likelihood of that happening is very small," he said. "You've got to put in perspective where I said that."
One day into training camp, Okafor is already guarding his words a lot more carefully.
He won't predict what kind of NBA player he'll be, and he won't dare set numerical goals that could be used to define his first season. Pressed over
and over to list some sort of statistic, he finally explained why he wouldn't do it.
"I'm going to give you the numbers, and when I don't get them, here comes the noose," he said. "So I just want to come in and play hard and go through
my growing pains."
Okafor and the Bobcats are going to face a lot of bumps and bruises during their inaugural NBA season. It will be a far different climate than
anything Okafor has ever experienced.
He won a national championship at Connecticut last season, and has never played on a losing basketball team. In fact, the only team he's ever been a
part of with a losing record was a youth baseball squad — which advanced to the championship game.
So is Okafor expecting a dismal first season full of lopsided losses?
"My success is based on winning," he said. "Losing is just not my mindset. My mentality is ‘We're going to win and we're going to make the
Okafor is in an unusual situation for a rookie.
Because the Bobcats are starting from scratch, he's the immediate face of the franchise. The team crafted a cute little marketing strategy this fall,
featuring Okafor in several election-themed commercials ending with: "I'm Emeka Okafor, and I approved this ad."
Drive anywhere in Charlotte and you'll see election signs dotting front yards proclaiming "Okafor in '04."
But the cornerstone of the franchise said he feels no pressure to carry the team. Nor will he force himself into a leadership role, something he'd
have to earn on an already established team.
"If I see the opening, I'll take it," he said. "But there are going to be certain dynamics to this team that we're all still feeling out. So I need to
wait to see how things are going to develop and react as they progress."