Deseret News Exclusive: Mormon prep basketball phenom Jabari Parker makes the cover of Sports Illustrated
Author, executive editor discuss evolution of the story
As he worked on the article, Benedict made multiple trips to Chicago, covered the state tournament, and followed Parker everywhere — including restaurants, hotels, school, and the barbershop. But Benedict made a conscious decision not to attend church with Parker.
"If I wasn't a member of the Church, I absolutely would have done that," he explained. "But for me to go to church with him, it's like, what am I going to see that I don't know? What I needed to see was everything else."
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice, who works special assignments for SI, was charged with telling Parker's story visually.
"Because of the kind of story this is, we didn't need someone to take great basketball pictures," Benedict said. "We needed someone who could take pictures of Jabari and his family that could really capture what this kid's about. In my opinion, there's nobody better than her of doing that. She went out to Chicago and spent a weekend with Jabari, went to church with him, and photographed everything. Her pictures line up nicely with my words. Deanne was a critical part of the team that worked on this story."
Interestingly, the last time a high school athlete was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it was another member of the LDS Church, prep baseball superstar Bryce Harper, in 2009. Harper, who ended up being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010, made his Major League Baseball debut late last month. Before Harper, the most recent high school athlete to land on the cover was Sebastian Telfair in 2004.
Not all high school athletes that have graced the cover of SI, however, meet the lofty expectations heaped upon them.
Being an SI coverboy is accompanied by plenty of pressure, especially for a high school kid. But Schecter is confident that Parker — who, as of Tuesday afternoon, still didn't know he was going to be on the cover — can manage that pressure.
"I think he can because he's not going to take himself too seriously," Schecter said. "I can guess that his first reaction (to being on the cover) will be surprise, then he'll be uncomfortable with it. It's a lot of attention and a lot of people are going to see it. But I think over time he'll see it as a responsibility, as in, 'I'm on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old high school junior for a reason.' He has the opportunity to use this tremendous platform that he's been able to build for himself for good, and not for his own personal gain. I truly believe he's going to do that.
"With high school kids in general, there's a tremendous reluctance to put too much pressure on them and put them on the cover," Schecter continued. "That's why we rarely do that. But with him, there wasn't as much reluctance, because if anybody can handle it, it's him. You spend five minutes talking to this kid and you know he's for real. The reason why you don't read about him very much is he's very reluctant to do interviews and attract attention to himself. He'd much rather deflect it on everybody else and blend in. Yet as soon as he steps between those lines (on the basketball court), he's driven. He wants to beat you in any way he can. This switch kind of flips. Which is nice, because so many people can't turn it off."
Parker's story is compelling on many fronts. The son of an African-American father and a Polynesian mother, Jabari was taught to be humble, respectful and service-oriented from a young age. While Jabari's mom, Lola, is a member of the LDS Church, his dad, Sonny, who enjoyed a successful NBA career, is not. Jabari and his older brother, Christian, often found refuge at the LDS church, a place where they could avoid trouble, practice their religion, and hone their basketball abilities.
Initially, the Parker family was hesitant to tell its story to such a wide audience, Schecter said.
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