Meet the real-life Jerry Maguire who is ‘like family’ to Raptors all-star Pascal Siakam

“People always ask me how to get into the business and really, I don’t think you could ever retrace my steps.”

Jaafar Choufani has had a unique career trajectory. He may be the only person in the world whose resume includes respected certified NBA player agent, restauranteur, and lawyer.

But the role of NBA player agent wasn’t something he thought of as a career choice growing up in the 1980s.

“That’s a good question,” Choufani told Sportsnet when asked what career he hoped for when he was a kid. “Because I never really thought of that growing up. I just thought, can I be around sports somehow? I didn’t really know what an agent did back then. And it wasn’t really, I think until the movieJerry Maguirecame out that people really knew about sports agents.”

Choufani grew up in the restaurant business, his dad the noted restaurateur Rashid Choufani in Orlando, Florida. But instead of just following directly in his father’s footsteps, he eventually chose to go to law school and has been practicing law for 15 years.

“A lot of the players came to my family’s restaurant. One day, I started working with an NBA player (who was playing for the Orlando Magic) as a lawyer that needed help at that time … I was helping him out and then they said, ‘Hey, you know, you could probably help me out on a bunch of different things’ and it became a hybrid relationship.”

And that’s how his career path in the sports agency world began.

Choufani became well respected in the Magic’s locker room and, before long, other players from around the league started to contact him to help them with their careers.

One of his current clients is Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who he co-reps with colleague Todd Ramasar. Choufani has been there for every step of Siakam’s NBA career, including special moments off the court like when Siakam and his family surprised their mom with a new home in 2021.

“He’s always there whenever I need something,” Siakam told Sportsnet. “At this point, he is so much more than an agent. It’s more than that, he’s like family.”

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Though Choufani mostly grew up in Orlando, he has spent a lot of time in the Great White North over the years going to events and attending games to support Siakam. He also has family from Calgary and Montreal, so he’s been a Flames fan for decades.

“You know, everybody always jokes with me that like I’m an honorary Canadian because I know so much about Canada for someone that’s not from Canada.”

This year, Choufani is representing his first Canadian NBA player, Andrew Nembhard with the Indiana Pacerswho is off to a strong start in his rookie season.

“So, Andrew was kind of my first foray into representing Canadians. I think it turned out to be a good Canadian to start with, right?”

The 22-year-old recently knocked down a buzzer-beating three to send the Pacers to victory over the Lakers in LA

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“You could tell Andrew had a high basketball IQ even at a young age,” Choufani said. “(When) someone like that is already high level, you know they’re going to have success and we just make sure to help him achieve his goals and make sure he is surrounded by the right people.”

Though Jerry Maguire may have helped inspire Choufani, it’s not all ‘show me the money!‘ moments in his journey to build a career in an incredibly competitive industry.

“There have been terrible stories where you’ve helped certain players — whether you’re representing them or working with the players and family — and you’ve tried to guide them or give them good advice … and when they turn pro, you think they’re going to sign with you and then they don’t. You know, these things happen but you have to roll with the punches.”

That’s where Choufani’s experience as a lawyer has helped guide him through his role as a player agent.

“Being a lawyer is kind of the same thing as being an agent. You have clients and they can fire you for whatever reason because you might have missed something up or you didn’t do this, or you weren’t on top of it. It’s not that different.”

A unique experience for his restaurant — Paradiso 37 in Disney Springs in Orlando — came in 2020 when the world was in peak shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. His restaurant was just minutes away from where the NBA was hosting its bubble season in Disney World, so it became one of the places selected to help feed the entire league that was working from inside the “Disney Bubble.”

“It was this weird, kind of Groundhog Day every day,” Choufani said about the experience. “You’re five minutes away from your clients and you’re talking to them on the phone and you’re talking to people in the league that are in the bubble and you can’t see them. It was so weird to be around people that you work with and you see all the time without any sort of restriction and then they could be that close to you and you could never see them face to face.

“It was just a weird, interesting time. But it now goes into the history of this place. We’ve been open now since 2009 and it’s an interesting period of history for us, that for like four or five months we were servicing the “Disney Bubble.”

What’s next for Choufani is hopefully traveling to Salt Lake City for the 2023 NBA All-Star weekend in February. Voting for the All-Star Game has opened and fans can vote for Siakam, who just last week dropped a career high 52 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

Should Siakam get the all-star nod, you can be sure that Choufani will be right there to celebrate another career highlight with his ‘family’.

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