Deseret News Exclusive: Mormon prep basketball phenom Jabari Parker makes the cover of Sports Illustrated
Author, executive editor discuss evolution of the story
"It's the type of story that we want to handle delicately, because we don't want to come in and be ultra aggressive. We want to make them feel comfortable and realize that we're going to handle their story with tremendous care. Pairing Jeff Benedict, who is Mormon, with this story is a major reason why we were able to get the access and the interviews that we got. He's done these types of stories before where they're sensitive. With a very short amount of time, it's very important for the subjects to trust the writer. Jeff is someone who you talk to for 10 minutes and you feel like you've known him all of your life. That was really important and they felt comfortable from the get-go. We wanted to do the definitive story on Jabari and his family."
Jabari is being recruited by all the nation's top basketball programs, and BYU is among those courting him. He is expected to announce this fall which college he will attend.
"But an even bigger decision awaits in the spring of 2014: whether to declare for the NBA draft and become the first African-American Mormon in the league or to serve as a missionary and walk away from basketball for two years," Benedict wrote, adding that it's "a life-altering decision … that few other athletes of his caliber have had to face."
Benedict's impressions of Jabari?
"The thing that stood out to me is how humble he is. It's the kind of thing you can't fake," he said. "He truly is the most humble teenager I've ever met. And he's gentle. That's another thing I admire about him. He's a gentle giant. He's one of the most gentle people you'll ever meet. Being gentle yet tough in the game is a unique combination. I really like that he doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve. He just quietly lives it. That's really important when you live in a place like he does, where there are so few members of your faith. It's important to go about your business and live your religion very quietly. People know what he's about. He doesn't need to say anything. I like that about him."
At a time when Mormonism is drawing so much attention nationally, in large part due to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, SI's story on Jabari Parker could also serve to educate the public about aspects of the LDS Church and clear up some misconceptions about the faith.
"The way I like to approach these stories is, I'm a reader first. I'm inquisitive by nature," Schecter said. "I've been friends with Jeff for a long time. We've frequently had long talks where I ask him 50 questions about Mormonism because I'm interested in it. I think our readers are too, if presented in the right way. The way to present it is informational. It's not preachy. This is who Mormons are, the slice of American religion that they represent. In that context, this story is interesting and informative. It also helps accentuate how rare of a gem Jabari is. He's a black kid from inner city Chicago, he's a Mormon — one of only two in his school — and is so devout. That just makes him that much more unique in a unique religion."
Related top list: All-time list of returned LDS missionaries in professional sports
Read more about Jabari Parker and see more photos at www.jeffbenedict.com/.
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