Duke phenom Jabari Parker has humble alter ego

By Laura Keeley

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

“That was one of the main reasons that I came here is because I get my space,” he said. “My name is not as important as another person because they’re just as important in their field. Who am I to them? That’s the kind of attitude that I have because everybody is unique, and you will run into future corporate CEOs here.”

His favorite class last semester was a cultural anthropology course called, “Music as Mirror, Mediator and Prophet.” The professor, Ingrid Bianca Byerly, says the class investigates the role of music in societies.

Byerly, who is teaching at sea this semester, gave her thoughts over a series of emails. She says she is a fan of Duke basketball, though not an avid one. As a graduate student who arrived from South Africa in 1990, she attended games during her six years of school. But she does not follow recruiting, so when Parker showed up on the first day of class, she didn’t know who he was.

“I had NO idea who was walking into my class on the first day of the semester, because he absolutely does not have an attitude,” she wrote. “In fact it was only after a few classes that I realized who Jabari was – and that was really only after someone asked me what it was like to have a ‘superstar’ in my class.”

Byerly said Parker was quiet and diligent, with a sense of humor, always thinking, often amused. When she asked students early in the semester to reflect on experiences in their lives that led them to her class, Parker went first. His classmates followed his lead.

The course ended with Byerly bringing her Nepalese walking-meditation bell, to show how difficult it is to produce a series of clear rings while doing a slow, focused walking-meditation. Parker, who moves so quickly and swiftly up and down the basketball floor, slowed down, way down, in attempts to sync his steps with the rings.

“Very wise for one so young,” Byerly wrote. “A philosopher’s soul in an athlete’s body.”

Byerly will most remember Parker as the ultimate “parable-man.” Never had she seen a student think so often in parables, using them to analyze readings and abstract ideas. Parker thinks in stories, she said, using them to teach and learn.

That’s a habit that can be traced back to his religion.


Like nearly all Mormon men active in the church, Parker is a priest, and he spent about two years during high school as a home teacher, making monthly visits to a group of families in the congregation. For these visits, he was paired with his bishop, Joe Cannon.

“And we would teach them a little lesson or share with them experiences that we’ve had and hear experiences that they have had and ask them if there was anything that we could do to help out,” Cannon said. “He was a young kid and sort of learning how to interact with people like that. He was very, very supportive and helpful and would always share one or two things, his insights about whatever we were talking about.”

Cannon has known Parker since he was in grade school, but it wasn’t until high school that he realized the extent of his basketball talent. Many of the people Parker visited had no idea, either.

There was the time they went to a nursing home during the winter holidays, where an elderly woman wanted to hear Christmas carols.

“I’ll be honest; I don’t sing very well. Jabari sings a little bit worse than I do,” Cannon said. “So it would have been very easy for him to say, ‘you know, I’m really not comfortable doing it.’ But as a 15- or 16-year old, he said, okay, let’s do this. And it was great. She loved us for doing that, and he was rewarded for having done it.”

Some of Parker’s favorite visits were to families with young children, and he would sit on the ground and play with them. That’s also what he would do when visiting Cannon’s house for dinner.

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