When the Washington Wizards acquired Emeka Okafor in trade a few months back, we all felt like we had a pretty reasonable handle on what they'd brought in — a solid citizen, a hard worker, a guy with limited offensive game and upside who'll crash the boards and defend with determination, but won't earn many headlines with flashy play. In other words, the anti-Wizard, which, as has been established, was kind of the whole point of an overhaul that saw Washington say goodbye to the likes of gifted problem children like JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche while saying hello to more boring professionals like Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Nene.
Okafor's grown-folk bona fides got a boost on Friday with the publication of this Washington Post feature by Rick Maese, which celebrates the UConn graduate as a globe-trotting "Renaissance man" who reads voraciously, loves TED talks and "knows everything," according to Ariza.
Including, it seems, the refined art of table service, a skill Okafor displayed during a recent charity event at which Washington players and staff served as waiters for combat veterans, armed forces personnel and their families. (According to Maese, Okafor was the only Wizard to show up wearing a white button-down shirt, as required by the steakhouse where the event was being hosted, because his teammates "either didn't own one or misunderstood the instructions," which seems like a very Wizards thing, indeed.)
As it turns out, Emeka's got a real aptitude for service:
Rob Rawleigh, the general manager at J&G Steakhouse, showed players how to properly hold a tray, telling Okafor to spread his fingers wide like he's holding a basketball.
"Look at that, you're a natural," Rawleigh said. "Hire this guy."
Holding a tray of lemonades, Okafor weaved through the restaurant, treating tables like slow-moving defenders. "Would anyone like a beverage?" he asked one table.
"Then a beverage you shall receive," he said.
If you can think of a better way to receive a lemonade than to have a classy, well-dressed 6-foot-10-inch gentleman hand you one by saying, "Then a beverage you shall receive," then I'd like to hear it. I mean, I'd prefer that Emeka was dealing out Arnold Palmers, a clearly superior beverage to straight lemonade, but I suspect that such top-flight service would have me accepting whatever drink came off that tray, even if it wasn't half iced tea, which, again, it really should be.
Okafor probably isn't going to have to wait tables after his NBA career is over; he's reportedly cleared more than $61.6 million in salary during his NBA career, he's got two years and $28 million left on his current contract, and even if he's unlikely to get a lucrative long-term deal after that, he'll still hit free agency as an experienced 32-year-old who can defend the post and rebound, which means he's a pretty good bet to bank a few more seasons of seven-figure paychecks. But after his playing days are finished, a man with Okafor's zest for life might want something more than simply retiring to his study to read more volumes; it's nice to know he'll have options if that whole "career in kinesiology" thing doesn't pan out. Certain former Wizards bigs, whose notoriously small hands wouldn't make for a sound tray base, might not be so lucky as to have the same opportunities.
Also, to follow up on one of this week's most important stories, Okafor offered some clarification on his unsuccessful attempt to tame Superman: Ride of Steel after a Wizards' season ticket holder event at Six Flags America earlier this week. A Wizards spokesman had no comment when contacted by BDL about the roller coaster incident — no, seriously — but Okafor himself laid out the situation for Maese:
Okafor was already seated on the bus when a couple teammates decided they'd hit a roller coaster and urged him to come along.
Along with guards John Wall, Cartier Martin and Steven Gray, Okafor found his way to the Superman-themed coaster, and the big man had a bad feeling. A sign warned of a 76-inch height limit, and Okafor towers six inches taller.
Still, he tried to squeeze himself into the coaster car. When a sensor kept triggering an alarm, Okafor decided to heed the warning. He hollered at the ride operator, "Nah, nah, nah. This isn't the type of thrill I'm looking for. I need to get off." His teammates sped off without him. Okafor didn't seem to mind.
That doesn't quite jive with the accounting of Deadspin readers, who included a photo of Okafor being measured and said that the whole thing took 20 minutes, but we'll give the Renaissance man the benefit of the doubt. Besides, it takes a man with true self-knowledge to be aware that certain entertainments aren't his cup of tea; for Okafor, there's no way steep high-speed drops could ever be as exciting as Maurizio Seracini discussing the secret lives of paintings, anyway.