The amazing story of the once forgotten Miami Heat’s Kendrick Nunn is that of an undrafted player, who spent a couple years in the G-league, before being voted Eastern Conference rookie of the month for 3 consecutive months this season.
Then there is the concerning career of Nunn’s forgotten high school teammate, Jabari Parker, once considered a surefire NBA star and today struggling to make a rotation.
Simeon High School won four consecutive Class 4A Illinois High School championships from 2009-10 to 2012-13, . Alumni include Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson and the legendary Ben Wilson, an All American who was tragically murdered in a shooting during his senior year. His coach Bob Hambric once referred to Wilson as “Magic Johnson with a jump shot”.
Parker may be the most accomplished player though to graduate from Simeon, or any other high school in Illinois. At Simeon, Parker earned the ESPN HS 2010 Freshman and 2011 Sophomore of the Year awards, became a four-time state champion, the first two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball, the Gatorade national player of the year in 2012 and the Max Preps player of the year in 2013.
In May of 2012, Sports Illustrated featured him on their cover with a caption that read “The Best High School Basketball Player Since LeBron James”.
Parkers life however was never defined by basketball. “Basketball is what I do,” he says. “It’s not who I am.”
Parker was raised on the south side of Chicago by his father, Sonny Parker, a youth foundation director who was once the 17th pick of the 1976 NBA draft. His mother, Lola, a Polynesian native of Tonga, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To avoid the inner-city violence, Jabari would play ball all day with his brother Christian at the local church meeting house. By second grade, Jabari was better than the fifth graders and by fifth grade he had a personal trainer and division one scholarship offers. By sixth grade he was already scrimmaging with Rose when Rose was at Simeon.
While at Simeon, Parker attended LDS Seminary a couple times a week and by age 16 was an ordained an a LDS priest and has since performed baptisms, administered the weekly sacrament and traveled with his bishop during his monthly visitations to comfort the sick, the poor and the elderly. In high school, he was known for always carrying a copy of the Book of Mormon along with his athletic gear.
A local reporter, Jack Flannigan, told the story how after a home game in which Jabari barely missed a triple double, he waited outside the locker room for an interview. Jabari never appeared. He had used another exit to return to the court for the jayvee game and was behind the bench passing out water. Flannigan commented, “the other varsity players were out in the hallway, talking to girls by the snack stand. The best player in the city was being the water boy for the jayvee. It is hard to root against a kid like that. He’s on top of the world, but he’s incredibly humble.”
After high school, Parker spent one year at Duke where he was a 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball All-American first-team selection. The Milwaukee Bucks then made him the second pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
As faith would have it, Parker’s NBA career has been a rough ride. On December 15 of his rookie campaign, Parker suffered a season-ending injury by tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. The injury would linger into the 2015-16 season when he slowly started to get his game back. Then on February 9, 2017, Parker was ruled out for the rest of the 2016–17 season after an MRI revealed another torn ACL in that same knee.
At the time he was averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds. He would not make another appearance for the Bucks until February 2, 2018. It was clear by the time he returned that he would never become the superstar the Bucks were hoping for. Instead, that title belonged to an emerging player nicknamed The Greak Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was drafted the year prior to Jabari and like him plays the power forward position.
Following the 2017–18 NBA season, the Bucks released Parker allowing him to sign a two-year $40 million contract with his hometown Chicago Bulls. There, Parker endured the controversial fight between teammates Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic, both who played the same position as him. He also experienced the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Jim Boylen. Under Boylen, Parker found himself on the bench. It was then that he made the famous comment that “they don’t pay players to play defense”.
He was traded to the Wizards in February of 2019. The Hawks then signed him after the season to a 2-year deal before trading him to the Kings.
Once compared to Carmelo Anthony, when healthy Jabari Parker can still put up 20 points on any given night. He did so as recently as December 19th when he put up 23 points in a little over 23 minutes for the Hawks. He even had a better defensive rating while in Atlanta than star guard Trae Young and rookie DeAndre Hunter who was drafted as a defensive specialist. In fact, both his offensive rating (106) and defensive rating (113) were the same as his high school teammate Nunn, who is now a rising star.
The question is, will Jabari be able to turn things around in Sacramento where he will compete with Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III? Or will he leave his 2020-21 option on the table to pursue a better opportunity, perhaps back with his high school teammate down in Miami?
One thing is for sure. Whatever transpires on the basketball court, nobody will forget who Jabari Parker is as a person off the court.