The patch is circular, nearly the size of a $1 coin. It predominantly features the number “10” in bold, black font thinly outlined in white. The background is filled with the unmistakable color of Celtics green. A pair of three-leaf clovers adorn the top of the patch.
It’s a prized possession for Albano Thomallari, aka oFAB. A gift from the organization with deeper significance than simply a good luck charm.
It’s a reminder of something bigger than a video game. A remembrance of a life taken too soon. A commitment to honor a legacy.
To understand oFAB, the Celtics Crossover Gaming star, it’s important to first understand oFAB, the man. His journey to becoming the second overall pick in the NBA 2K League Draft is one full of hardships that include being the son of immigrants, dealing with life-crippling depression as a teenager and coping with the recent death of a childhood best friend.
“I wear No. 10 for him,” oFAB said. “I wear this little patch in my pocket. The team gave it to me.”
Him is David Jackson, a 19-year-old from St. Louis who tragically passed away following a swimming accident last August. With Jackson that day was Mario Thomallari, the younger brother of oFAB.
In the wake of the accident, Mario started a GoFundMe to help cover Jackson’s medical expenses. He raised nearly $50,000 and drew the attention of St. Louis native and now Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who had retweeted the post on social media at the time, according to oFAB.
That was just the beginning of the Celtics connections that came about when oFAB was drafted by the organization in April. He wanted to continue wearing No. 10 with Celtics Crossover as he had during his Pro-Am days in memory of Jackson. His request was unfortunately unable to be fulfilled due to the number being retired for Celtics great Jo Jo White.
“I was like, ‘who is Jo Jo White?’” oFAB asked. “So I Googled Jo Jo White and he had gone to the same high school (McKinley) my brother went to back then.
“I was like ‘wow,’ so many connections to this Boston thing.”
Unable to allow oFAB the use of the number, the team gifted him the patch as a keepsake for the remembrance of Jackson. The gesture wasn’t lost on oFAB, who settled on No. 4 instead, and doesn’t take for granted the fact he’s living out a dream as a member of the NBA 2K League.
His path to this point began on Sept. 15, 1996, just a month after his parents came to the United States through a lottery system from Albania, a country recovering from Communist reign. The family settled in St. Louis, living in what oFAB called “poor living conditions” in the “worst part” of the city.
His parents both spoke little English and worked full time to support the family. There were time during his youth, including incidents of racism and the burglary of his family home, that led oFAB to question life’s circumstances.
“I was thinking, ‘what’s wrong with this world?’” he wondered. “Why do they hate us so much? It was a crazy situation growing up.”
As a youth, oFAB got into video games as a hobby in his spare time. He started playing the NBA 2K series in 2009. That’s where he first connected with and became friends with Dimez, now a point guard for Mavs Gaming. The two would later go on to be the top two picks in the inaugural NBA 2K League Draft.
A few years after being introduced to NBA 2K, oFAB was battling depression at the age of 17.
“I was so depressed, I didn’t want to live anymore,” he said. “I went two, three years not leaving the house, just playing straight 2K. I was tired of life, pretty much.”
The countless hours he spent playing the game provided an outlet and allowed him to become one of the top players in the 2K community. In the process, it gave him a sense of purpose that he felt had been missing.
“2K was kind of an ego boost,” oFAB said. “Everyone was saying I was the best point guard or I was the best 2K player. Everyone wanted me on their team. So I felt wanted. I kept on playing it.”
It was around that time that a life-changing opportunity would present itself.
“Like a year or two later, the 2K League was announced,” he said. “And I turned a negative into a positive.”
Particularly on his outlook on life.
“I’m a happy person now,” oFAB said. “I try to help people out, giving money to people. It’s crazy that my depression made me focus on something that helped me be the highest-paid person in my family, pay the bills and stuff like that. It’s just weird how life works.”
He’s more than lived up to expectations since since joining Celtics Crossover. More reserved than some of the other point guards in the league, his play has done the talking. He’s a maestro with the ball in his hands, possessing the ability to read defenses and pick them apart in a variety of ways.
He models his game after Houston Rockets All-Star Chris Paul, crediting his high-level play on offense to his ability to space the floor and read what the defense is showing.
“It’s knowing different people you play against,” said oFAB, who honed his game playing real-life basketball and watching the NBA. “Are they aggressive or do they sit back and give free layups? You have to know, are they baiting you, are they full-out commiting on you? Just a bunch of reads and progressions.”
Heading into Week 6, oFAB leads the league in assists (17.8), averaging nearly five more per game than the next closest player. He has a specific assists target in mind each time he takes the court.
“If I get 20 assists, that means it guarantees us a win,” said oFAB, who also ranks second in the league in steals per game (2.6).
That doesn’t mean oFAB is totally content with all aspects of his game. His jump shot has been a work in progress for much of the season, especially from beyond the arc. He is shooting just 32 percent on 3-pointers, making it easier at times for defenders to choose to sag off of him.
“I’m not happy with my jump shot,” he said. “I feel like I’m leaving a lot of points off the board. My team should be winning by a lot more.”
His desire to improve is part of the reason he seeks out advice whenever the opportunity presents itself. Just as it did last week when Celtics Crossover had the opportunity to visit with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
The meeting happened to come days after Celtics Crossover’s run to the title game of THE TURN, the league’s first mid-season tournament. oFAB said Stevens mentioned that he had watched one of the team’s game during the tournament and told them to “keep up the good work.”
“It was really cool,” oFAB said. “I asked him a lot of questions. My manager had to pull me back a little bit because I was asking too many questions.”
His play at THE TURN coincided with oFAB’s concerted effort to shed his quiet-natured persona in favor of a more boisterous one. He was constantly mixing it up with opponents, tossing in some good-natured trash talk.
“I was talking more, I had way more energy,” he said. “My other teammates got into it, too. They loved it.”
And right now, for oFab, he’s loving it, too.