Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jabari Parker: Basketball Phenom, Mormon, and Future Missionary?

We've posted a couple of stories on Elliot's blog about young men who excel in sports and are then faced with the decision whether to serve a mission. Our two stories featured rugby stars Sid Going and Will Hopoate, both of whom elected to serve missions. In Elder Going's case, he returned from a mission to Canada and became one of the most celebrated stars of New Zealand's All Blacks team. Elder Hopoate is currently on his mission in Australia, so we'll have to wait to see about his professional rugby career.

A similar story is currently developing. A young man from Chicago, Jabari Parker, is being hailed as the top high school basketball player in the country and a sure thing for the NBA. He was recently featured in a lengthy cover story in Sports Illustrated, which called him "the best high school basketball player since Lebron James." But the subtitle of the story points out that "there's something more important to him than NBA stardom: his faith." Jabari is a Mormon. The Sports Illustrated story points out:
The backpack that Jabari Parker takes everywhere contains all the expected items: a pair of Nikes, socks with the NBA logo, basketball shorts, T-shirts, Icy Hot gel, a couple of rolls of athletic prewrap, and an iPod loaded with rap and R&B. But there's also a paperback copy of The Book of Mormon. Jabari belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. "Basketball is what I do," he says. "It's not who I am."
The story acknowledges the difficult decision Jabari will face at the end of his freshman year of college: enter the NBA draft, with the potential to make the astronomical salaries available to young stars, or risk that future to serve a two-year mission for the Church, where he will be unable to train seriously or play at a high level to maintain his skill level.
Eyes might be on him most of all at the end of his freshman year in college, when he has to decide whether he will declare for the NBA draft or—like thousands of other Mormon men who turn 19—embark on a two-year mission to spread the faith in the U.S. or a foreign country (page 67). In 2010 the president of the church, Thomas S. Monson, called missionary service "a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much." 
Missionaries do not return home for two years. They aren't allowed to have a job, attend college classes or pursue other personal interests. In Jabari's case, that would mean a two-year hiatus from basketball and conditioning, possibly jeopardizing a brilliant NBA career.
Whatever decision Jabari makes, what is beyond question is that he is an extraordinary young man, and not just because he's a 6'9" budding superstar. Another excerpts from the SI story:
Jabari wakes up each morning at five and says a simple prayer, thanking God for another day. By 5:30 three days a week he's off to church for Bible study. Jabari's bio on his Twitter page features a favorite maxim from his basketball idol John Wooden: You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one. "I realize why I'm in the position I'm in right now," says Jabari. "It's not because of me. It's because of God."
It's a great story of a great young man. It's nice to see such good coverage, done fairly by a member of the Church, Jeff Benedict. There is also a companion story in the same edition of Sports Illustrated, To Serve Or Not To Serve?, which discusses Jabari's decision and talks about others before him who faced the same decision. Both stories are well worth a read.

The Oklahoman included a brief summary of the story about Jabari, Faith and Hoops: Check out Sports Illustrated. And most recently Jabari was interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America. The video interview is below.

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