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Vai's View: Vai's View: Mission could open doors for young hoops phenom

Published: Friday, May 18 2012 9:06 p.m. MDT

Related top list: All-time list of returned LDS missionaries in professional sports

Related top list: High school athletes who have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated

Related article: Mormon prep basketball phenom Jabari Parker makes the cover of Sports Illustrated

Related article: Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Benedict grateful for the opportunity to share Jabari Parker story with the world

After reading my buddy Jeff Benedict's Sports Illustrated cover story on high school phenom Jabari Parker, I noted that his Tongan mother, Lola, served her mission in Tonga in the early to mid-'80s before marrying Jabari's father, Sonny. My younger sister Lynette served in Tonga about the same time, so I texted her and asked if she remembers a Lola Finau from her mission. She responded, "Yes. I remember her as Sister Falola Finau from Salt Lake City."

Sensing Lynette hadn't read the SI story or knew anything of what had become of her fellow sister missionary, I asked, "What kind of person and missionary was she?" She texted back, "Tongan sisters from the States didn't have a great reputation because they were often prideful that they could speak English or had things. She was different. I worked in the office and trained her and her companion on various things. She was always humble and respectful. She worked hard. She was unique in that she was a Tongan from the States who wasn't cocky."

I thought, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

I asked Lynette, "Do you know where Sis. Finau is or what's become of her?"

She texted back, "Last I heard, she married an African-American man who wasn't LDS and moved away. R U in touch with her?"

No. But a WHOLE lot of people have been. Including my friend Jeff Benedict, author and senior writer at SI. When I informed my sister of what has become of Sister Finau, who is now Sister Parker, she responded, "Doesn't surprise me. Good for her."

Last week, I got a call from my friend Benedict, whom I met about five years ago in Connecticut at a book signing/press conference for the debut of his book, "The Mormon Way of Doing Business." A month later, Jeff came through Philly to promote his book and I arranged for him to be a guest on our morning magazine show at my TV station. We've been friends ever since.

Jeff called to tell me he was working on a story for SI about Chicago schoolboy phenom Jabari Parker. He had finished the feature piece but was working on a sidebar story about the effect missionary service had on the professional sports careers of those who served, and of course on those who didn't, like Danny Ainge and Steve Young, who nonetheless enjoyed successful pro careers. Jeff wondered if I knew someone whose athletic career didn't take off until AFTER their mission. I suggested Chad Lewis and connected them. A few days later, Jeff emailed me back with a few simple questions for his sidebar piece.

Though he loved my response as did his editors, Jeff informed me that it was an issue of time and space — including me was an afterthought, so by the time I responded his piece has already been submitted. He was just holding out hope that I might be included. I wasn't. No biggie. I was flattered that he considered me and tried to include me in his piece.

Here's our email exchange:

Vai,

Where and when did you serve your mission?

Did you play football at BYU prior to your mission?

Did the mission help or hinder your football career?

Jeff

1) Served in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission

2) Played 2 yrs at BYU before my mission.

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