“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
-Polonius, Hamlet by William Shakespeare
With the upcoming Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon left as the only major event in the high school career of one of Chicago’s most celebrated basketball players, Jabari Parker, the 6’8″ 220 lb. wing from the Windy City’s South Side, has managed to avoid the familiar pitfalls of contentment, sloth, greed, entitlement, and violence that have claimed the lives of many a schoolyard legend. Playing in America’s third largest city, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, having a father who played in the NBA, and being touted before he ever suited up for the Simeon Wolverines, Parker has been under the microscope arguably as much as any high school basketball player in the age of social media. In an area of a city rife with gun violence, Parker has walked through the fire unscathed, earning the ear of Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emmanuel. Jabari has served as the prototype for how to remain dignified, spiritual, loyal, and a legitimate student-athlete in an age of adulation and scrutiny.
Over the past four years, Parker, a devout Mormon, has transformed his physique from a somewhat chubby wing into a lean, athletic hybrid-forward. The Chicago Bulls’ young star, Derrick Rose, played for Coach Robert Smith at Simeon Career Academy and won a pair of state titles. Jabari followed in Rose’s footsteps to the vocational school on Vincennes Avenue, but raised the bar for future wunderkinds by winning an Illinois State Title in each of his four years and compiling one hundred and eighteen wins, including a 93-6 record over his last three seasons. During the past two summers, Parker has teamed up with his friend 6’11″ Jahlil Okafor, a fellow Chicagoland product and Duke recruit, to form a potent one-two punch for both the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program and, in international play, with USA Basketball, including earning a gold medal after winning the FIBA U-17 World Championship in Lithuania last July.
Among the lengthy list of accolades that Parker has received includes Mr. Basketball for Illinois (twice), Gatorade National Player of the Year, USA Basketball Player of the Year, Parade All-American, USA Today All-USA First Team member (twice), McDonald’s All-American, and most recently, MaxPreps High School Player of the Year. If he continues on this trajectory, Jabari “J.P.” Parker, a polished interviewer, will be able to turn down endorsement deals from companies looking to be associated with the hard-earned image of a clean-cut winner with a disarming smile.
Relaxed and focused, Jabari arrived in Gotham with a fresh hair cut and a sense of relief, something that this year’s Jordan Game offered that the more celebrated McDonald’s All-American Game, which was played less than twelve miles from his high school, could not, due to the palpable feeling of hometown pressure and dissection. Parker arrived with Coach Smith, who served as one of the three coaches for the West squad at the Nike event. The incoming Duke freshman was intrigued by playing for the first time in the Barclays Center, an NBA arena that was partially owned by and located in the borough, Brooklyn, of his favorite rapper, Jay-Z.
Although not quite Ringling Brothers and, perhaps, a little messier, the ecosphere of high-level high school basketball can feel like a bit of a circus, performing in a new town each weekend. This weekend, it included stops at Pier 36 for practices at Basketball City, Junior’s for cheesecake, a red carpet meeting with director Spike Lee, performing in front of a Cy Young winner as well as an assortment of rap, R&B, and basketball stars, and concluded by a concert with the performer, Drake.
Michael Jordan, the iconic quinquagenarian figure who was born in the County of Kings, NY and raised in the coastal region of North Carolina before winning Championships at UNC-Chapel Hill and with the Chicago Bulls, was at the Barclays Center. The event’s namesake had to sit in a box far from the court and other celebrities, observing the next great Duke star score sixteen points, snatch seven caroms, and capture the MVP award for his squad, which won 102-98.
While this was largely the culmination of one chapter of Parker’s life, the multi-day event enabled a pair of future roommates on Duke’s East Campus, Matt Jones and Jabari Parker, who had merely crossed paths with one another, to lay down some kindle and truly get to know one another last Wednesday night at a Westin Hotel in Manhattan. Jones, a 6’4″ guard from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, said of Jabari, “He’s great. He’s so funny and it’s amazing how down to earth he is, considering what kind of a player he is. I mean it’s kind of shocking, but he’s definitely a down to earth and humble kid.”
Although he is now eighteen and has earned more than his fifteen minutes of fame, Jabari is largely the same young man that I encountered for the first time a few years ago: driven, open-minded, reflective, generous, and largely unencumbered by trappings of fame. His father, Sonny, said at an EYBL event last May in the Bay area of California that Jabari was “wired differently” than he was at that age and most young men are. It was a keen observation from a man that has helped many of Chicago’s youth, but, hopefully, Jabari, like his favorite MC, has provided the blueprint for others to follow.
I spoke with Jabari Parker most recently at the Jordan Brand Classic.
What has the experience been like playing both here and at the McDonald’s All-American game?
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