Jabari Parker, who maintains a GPA of 3.6, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was recently named the Gatorade National Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year
Before Parker takes the floor to play a basketball game, he sits by himself in the locker room for a couple of minutes of prayer and reflection. “I pray that God keeps me safe on the floor, and that I’m able to have a good attitude towards my teammates,” he says. When the game ends, Parker heeds that higher calling by rushing to be first in line to shake hands. “I just want to show the opponents that I’m grateful,” he says. “I want to show good sportsmanship.”
In between those displays of piety, Parker reveals something that is truly divine: a game as good as his attitude. A 6-foot-8, 220-pound rising junior at Chicago’s Simeon High, Parker is a lithe, graceful, intelligent swingman who has the length and athleticism to play power forward.
Parker’s assets are indeed heaven-sent. His father, Sonny, is a Chicago native who played for Texas A&M and was a first-round draft pick of the Golden State Warriors in 1976. His mother, Lola, bequeathed Jabari a different kind of glory by raising him as a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lola was born a Mormon in the Polynesian nation of Tonga. She emigrated to Salt Lake City with her family when she was three, and she met Sonny when she was a student at BYU and he was playing for the Warriors. The two of them have raised all four of their children as Mormons on the south side of Chicago. An African-American Mormon is about as rare as a 6-8 point guard, but Jabari moves adeptly in both arenas. “Everyone thinks I’m so different, but it’s a good different,” he says. “My faith keeps me grounded.”
Of the 6.2 million Mormons in the U.S., only about 186,000, or 3 percent are black, according to the sports illustrated article. Baptized in the Mormon church and ordained a priest at age 16, Parker also is one of only two Mormons out of 1,588 students at Simeon.