Emeka Okafor, the first-ever rookie draft pick of the then-Charlotte Bobcats, is back in the NBA – at least for now.
Okafor, a center who last played in the 2012-13 NBA season, is in the Philadelphia 76ers training camp. He has missed the past four seasons while rehabilitating a herniated disk in his neck.
Okafor, 34, was selected by the Bobcats second overall in the 2004 draft, after then-general manager/coach Bernie Bickerstaff traded up from the fourth pick in a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Okafor was voted Rookie of the Year for 2004-05, but was quickly eclipsed in that draft by top pick Dwight Howard.
Ironically, Howard was acquired by the Hornets in a June trade with the Atlanta Hawks. The Bobcats/Hornets have now had the first four picks of that draft on their roster: Howard, Okafor, third pick Ben Gordon and fourth pick Shaun Livingston.
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Okafor played his first five NBA seasons with the Bobcats before being traded to New Orleans in July of 2009, in exchange for center Tyson Chandler. Okafor struggled playing for then-Bobcats coach Larry Brown.
Knowing Okafor would miss at least the 2013-14 season because of the neck injury, the Wizards traded him to the Phoenix Suns for Marcin Gortat, who is now a core player in Washington.
Okafor chose to address his neck injury with physical therapy, to avoid neck surgery. He said throughout the process he intended to play in the NBA again.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell