Saturday, May 19, 2012

How far we've come--Jabari Parker

I've found a great deal of inspiration lately from the fact that the national high school basketball player of the year -- and the top recruit coming out of the Class of 2013 -- is Jabari Parker, an African American LDS church member from Chicago.  (Jabari's mother Lola is a life-long Mormon of Tongan descent, and his father Sonny is an NBA veteran.)  Although BYU is recruiting him heavily, it seems certain that he'll sign with a Duke, Kentucky, or North Carolina.  He reportedly is seriously considering serving a church mission after his freshman year (as his older brother Christian did some years ago), although he and his parents have to be concerned that it would affect his basketball development and thereby harm his chances for stardom in the NBA.  (I personally have mixed feelings about Jabari's serving a mission: on one hand, it would surely be a tremendous learning and growing experience for him personally, but, on the other hand, it's easy to imagine that he could be an even greater ambassador for the church as a pro basketball player.  I note that a number of famous LDS athletes -- for example, Steve Young, Danny Ainge, Jimmer Fredette -- did not serve church missions.)

So why is Jabari such an inspiration?  Well, what's not to like about him?  He's a gifted athlete, which is remarkable enough, but he's also: a faithful Aaronic priesthood holder who attends early-morning seminary; a humble young man despite his basketball success and growing fame; a good student with a 3.7 grade-point average in high school; and someone who obviously smashes the lily-white Mormon stereotype to pieces.

When I think about where the LDS Church was at a generation ago (prior to 1978), when persons of black African descent were still barred from the priesthood and temple ordinances, I marvel at how far we've come.  I was a freshman at BYU in 1977 when the school brought in its first black scholarship basketball player, Keith Rice, which was a big deal at the time.  In that light, I can't help but tear up a little now at the thought that the best high-school basketball player in the land is LDS and African American.

(Here's a link to the story in Sports Illustrated on Jabari.)