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Jeff Benedict: Deseret News exclusive: Watching Katie Couric's interview with Jabari Parker at New York Mormon meetinghouse

Published: Wednesday, June 13 2012 6:00 a.m. MDT

The ABC crew setting up for Katie Couric's interview with the Parkers at the Manhattan chapel.

Jeff Benedict

Watch the interview on the second page of this article.

NEW YORK — A month before my story on Jabari Parker appeared in Sports Illustrated, I obtained permission from my editor to share it exclusively with Katie Couric. After reading it, Couric agreed to do a television profile on Parker for ABC.

Parker appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated three weeks ago. ABC chose to run Couric's profile on Parker during the NBA Finals. It will air Thursday morning on "Good Morning America."

Couric may be the most diverse television journalist in America today. Prior to joining ABC as a special correspondent for "World News Tonight," "Nightline" and "Good Morning America," she was the anchor of the "CBS Evening News" and a special correspondent for "60 Minutes." Before that she hosted NBC's "Today" show. In September, she will launch a syndicated daytime talk show called "Katie," which is being produced by Disney-ABC.

Parker is the most celebrated high school basketball player in the country. His interview with Couric will mark the first time that the 17-year-old high school junior from Chicago has appeared on a network television news program.

The interview took place last month at the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse that's adjacent to the Manhattan Temple. Representatives from ABC, Sports Illustrated and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looked on as Parker answered Couric's questions about his religious beliefs, his basketball ambitions, his thoughts on missionary service and his experience growing up as an African-American Mormon in Chicago.

"Jabari is an outstanding young man," Couric said earlier this week. "Clearly his faith and family will continue to ground him as he pursues a profession replete with challenges and temptations."

Couric also interviewed Jabari's parents, Lola and Sonny Parker. Lola, a Utah native who served a full-time church mission in Tonga, was asked about misconceptions about Mormonism. Sonny, a former NBA player who is not Mormon, fielded questions about basketball, religion and parenting.

"What impressed me most about Sonny and Lola is that they are not stage parents," "Good Morning America" producer Gary Wynn said. "Their son is famous and they are proud of him. But they exist on the periphery. They are very involved in his life. But they don't push him. They are there to support him."

Wynn spent time with the Parker family in Chicago. He even got up at 5 in the morning and drove Jabari to early morning seminary. It gave Wynn a deep appreciation for Jabari, his family and his faith.

"To be that talented and that fawned over at that age and have no ego is remarkable," Wynn said. "How many 17-year-olds in his position would not have a sense of self-importance? I know I wouldn't be that humble if I were in his shoes."

The most dramatic moment of the "Good Morning America" segment comes toward the end of Couric's interview with Jabari. The interview was taped the day before Jabari appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But the magazine purposely did not tell Jabari that he would be on the cover. Only his parents had been informed.

Couric, however, had been given an advance copy of the magazine. With cameras rolling, she revealed the cover. Parker was speechless.

The filming session had some light moments, too. At one point, Couric kicked off her shoes and played one-on-one with Parker at the gymnasium inside the LDS meetinghouse. Using a dozen brand-new basketballs that were donated to the local Mormon congregation by ABC, Couric and Parker shot jumpers and layups.

The "Good Morning America" segment on Jabari Parker marks the first time that Sports Illustrated and Katie Couric have collaborated on a story.

"It was a natural fit to do a story of this importance and magnitude with Katie Couric," said Sports Illustrated editor B.J. Schecter. "Over the last two decades she's established herself as the best interviewer in the business. Anytime you collaborate with a different media partner there is some natural apprehensions. But Katie and her team were great partners and we are very proud of the end product."

Couric's interview with Parker will air on "Good Morning America" Thursday at 8 a.m. on ABC.

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

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

Related video: Jabari Parker says "Mormonism keeps me focused"

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Jeff Benedict is a special features contributor for Sports Illustrated and the author of 11 books. His website is www.jeffbenedict.com.

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