Deseret News Exclusive: Mormon prep basketball phenom Jabari Parker makes the cover of Sports Illustrated
Author, executive editor discuss evolution of the story
Related top list: All-time list of returned LDS missionaries in professional sports
Sports Illustrated rarely produces a cover story on a high school athlete, but when it comes to 17-year-old prep basketball sensation Jabari Parker, the venerable national publication couldn't resist.
Parker, a high school junior, graces the cover of this week's issue. For SI, the allure isn't simply the fact he is the reigning National High School Player of the Year and would likely be a lottery pick in this June's NBA Draft if he were eligible.
A native of Chicago, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Parker is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and along with leading Simeon High to three consecutive state championships and carrying an impressive 3.7 grade point average, he wakes up early three days a week for LDS seminary, carries a copy of The Book of Mormon in his backpack, and is considering serving a two-year LDS mission after his freshman year of college.
"Basketball is what I do," Parker told SI. "It's not who I am."
Sports Illustrated devoted six pages to Parker's story, which describes him as "the best high school basketball player since LeBron James, but there's something more important to him than instant NBA stardom: his faith."
The article, written by LDS journalist and frequent SI contributor Jeff Benedict, chronicles Parker's background, and explains the role Parker's membership in the LDS Church plays in his life.
The first time Parker dunked a basketball was at his LDS church gym in Hyde Park; after Simeon High claimed the state title in 2011, Parker left his team's celebration in Peoria early so he could be at church the following day to be ordained a priest; and Simeon's coach schedules Sunday practices in the afternoon so Jabari can attend LDS worship services in the morning.
"For us, with this story, it's a lot more than basketball," said B.J. Schecter, executive editor at Sports Illustrated. "We are attracted to this particular story because of how unique of a kid Jabari is. A lot of people preach that they're into their faith and that it's a huge part of their lives. Jabari actually practices that. We found in looking into this story that his faith and his Mormon religion is more important to him than basketball in a lot of ways. How he carries himself in the fact that he can excel in two distinct areas where few people can balance is really extraordinary. The fact that he is so good, yet so humble, only makes you want to know more about the kid. With Jabari, his actions are what do the talking, not him. In today's modern athlete, that makes him really unique."
Benedict approached Schecter last December with the idea of profiling Parker, and subsequently traveled to the South Side of Chicago to spend a weekend with the Parker family.
"The purpose of that trip was to find out what the story might be like," Benedict said. "There wasn't a guarantee that we'd even do it at that point. I came back and my editor and I met with the editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated and I pitched the idea. He loved it."
That Benedict is a member of the LDS Church facilitated the story's production.
"I understand the religion and the Mormon religion has been a defining influence in Jabari's life," Benedict said. "That was a bonus in terms of me doing the story. The magazine liked that idea as well … There have been plenty of stories written about the Mormon faith that haven't been completely accurate. In my case, there's no excuse to write a story that doesn't have complete accuracy with respect to the faith."
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