Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court? The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA. At this point in my life I know this is the right decision. Dubbed "The best high school basketball player since LeBron James " by Sports Illustrated in May , Parker is a candidate to be the first player selected in June's draft. Parker, 19, averaged

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He was attacking the Suns in the open floor when a tragically ordinary step betrayed him. Nearly a year passed before Parker could return to game action. Other raised, darkened lines track parallel to that first scar but never meet it. They are distinct, born of an entirely different dribble-drive Parker made against the Heat last season.

After taking a long stride with that same left leg, Parker folded to the floor, clutching at the familiar point of disconnection. The same ACL had torn again. His season ended on the baseline. There are stripes on each side of his knee that serve to frame it. Across the front, staggered lines remind that a second reconstruction is rarely as simple as the first.

Each mark has its own shade and texture. Two, just below the kneecap, are small and circular, as if left behind by punctures. This is not the knee of a year-old, but then again, so much about Parker belies his age. Now in his fourth NBA season, Parker is already short on contextual parallels. To tear the same ACL twice, however, offers Parker a lamentable distinction. There are but a few of these cases on record in the NBA, most involving long-time veterans and none particularly encouraging.

Repeat ligament damage has a way of ending careers. His rookie season lasted only 25 games. In the 51 games he was able to play last season, Parker averaged better than 20 points and six rebounds per game. This sort of extended rehabilitation is monotonous work—the kind that strips away the game itself. Treatment and drilling take center stage as basketball is distilled to its most basic components. If Parker wants to work on a certain move, it must be extracted entirely from the game setting for practice in quarantine.

Full contact five-on-five is not yet an option. While his teammates run an open scrimmage at the Bucks' practice facility, Parker announces his presence from the adjacent weight room with blaring hip-hop. Working toward stability is a daily goal. Parker is healthy enough to push off with his injured knee on a drive, but not quite so healthy as to trust in that bearing completely. The body has to be reminded of all it can weather.

Every workout carries the added value of putting more distance between the injury and the present. The process then repeats to isolate each leg. Parker lifts his injured knee and fires through reps on his right. He takes a deep breath and switches, pushing the leg responsible for his troubles deep into the trampoline on every impact.

Then he stumbles. There can be no mistaking which leg is stronger. Everywhere Parker goes, the question follows. When are you coming back? It pops up with the fan on the street, the genius at the Apple store, and the kids at the Boys and Girls Club.

They all mean well, but Parker dodges, sidestepping the question like a politician. Even the smallest of conversations play into the expectations game, one that any athlete scheduled to miss an entire year of action cannot hope to win.

Parker opts not to try. In public, his every word breeds caution. In private, Parker punctuates the end of his workout with a power dunk off a single step, a suggestion that he may be closer than he lets on. In the meantime, the only satisfaction to be had draws from the weight of this kind of undertaking. There is no guarantee that comes with frequenting the cold tub or making targeted stretching a force of habit.

Parker still has to fight through every uphill step with miles upon miles left to go. He may yet fail. Injury tends to walk arm in arm with sobering realization. One moment you could be the No. When Parker first tore his ACL in , his instinct was to withdraw.

Parker was This was his first year out of college and his first in a new city. Adapting to the league had been his most pressing concern, and overnight he was robbed of it, made to connect with the game in an entirely different way.

His schedule was wiped clean, leaving him with nothing but time to dwell on all he had lost. This time is different. Parker has effectively moved back in with his mom, Lola, over the past few months of his rehab. Every morning he wakes up in a re-creation of his childhood bedroom—transported, poster for poster and Beanie Baby for Beanie Baby, from the south side of Chicago to the Milwaukee suburbs. Essential oils waft throughout the house, along with the smell of breakfast.

Something about being back at home turns us all into our former selves. Lola will pack him a plastic bag full of grapes for the road, the same kind that a high school freshman might fish out of their sack lunch. Parker arrows over to the auto-complete field to find Charles Barkley, but winds up over-scrolling and selects Charles Manson by mistake. This breakfast is about to take a turn. Barkley barrels past defenders, dunking everything in sight. Charles Barkley's attitude. I like that. I'm just trying to take some of those things away while also trying to find who I am through it all.

The search extends well beyond basketball. He screamed when he saw them. In between dance numbers, he speaks with poise in advocacy. These ideas are not at odds; they are all-encompassing. The transition from shooting the breeze on a podcast into casual mention of reparations feels effortless because it is. I don't really believe that it's the best that it can be. It's always inside-out.

It bothers him that as inner-city public schools close, so little regard is paid to how students will actually travel to their sometimes-distant charter school replacements. It is a gift that Parker, at his age, naturally searches for the connections between people and things.

He sees himself as part of something—Chicago, Milwaukee, the Bucks organization, the Mormon church, the black community. There are bonds everywhere that transcend him alone, down to that between athlete and fan. Parker hears the anger that swirls through sports fandom. All he wants is to carry the weight. If they've got to express their feelings in a negative way just for them to feel better about themselves or their day, then so be it. Chicago, redlined into long-lasting division, is the textbook example with a national spotlight.

Milwaukee is more quietly—but severely—divided. When he chooses to speak out on a particular issue, his voice comes from a place of social responsibility.

Nothing about Parker suggests he is a political animal—merely a conscious person aware of the spiraling world around him. It should not be controversial to want better of our institutions, to oppose bigotry, or to hope for opportunity. No person as reserved as Parker takes to the soapbox without purpose.

Youth causes call to him. On his visits with kids around Milwaukee, Parker thinks back to the way his own hometown team kept the community at a remove.

When he pays his taxes, he remembers the free lunches that got him through school. Parker is both the big-time endorser of Jordan Brand and the kid who could never afford to wear the shoes. A status symbol was wrapped in real danger. These were, in many cases, intelligent young people short on options. Some wear Jordans. This is the world Parker comes from. Even now—with a career to occupy him, an injury to concern him, and an upcoming contract to consider—he feels a responsibility to help change it.

What matters is the impact. When it came time for Christian Parker to name his first-born son, he turned to his younger brother. Immediately he suggested the name of a proud, passionate leader who gave up everything for the sake of change. It was the name of a scholar who did so much reading in the dark he was forced to wear glasses. It was a name of confidence—one unusual enough that his nephew would have to assert it, over and over, throughout his life.

His name is Shabazz. Parker can relive the entire journey of Malcolm X, but what grabs him most is the memory of a man who never stopped searching.


Report: Jabari Parker, Hawks Agree to Two-Year, $13 Million Deal

Jake Flannigan filmed every in-state basketball game played by Chicago's Simeon Career Academy during the season. He saw Simeon's star forward, Jabari Parker, score 40 points one day and block 12 shots another. But his lasting impression of Jabari was formed when the camera was off. After a home game in which Jabari barely missed a triple double, Flannigan, a producer at Comcast SportsNet Chicago, waited outside the locker room for an interview. Jabari never appeared. He had used another exit to return to the court for the jayvee game and was behind the bench passing out water. It's hard to root against a kid like that.


The Scars That Shape Jabari Parker

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is frustrated by the lack of playing time he's seeing during the first-round series against the Boston Celtics. During the Bucks's two playoff games against the Celtics, both losses, Parker has seen only 25 minutes of playing time and has scored just two points. He has one assist and four rebounds. He could test free agency this summer. Jabari Parker is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday. Milwaukee Bucks rookie forward Jabari Parker participated in an on-court workout before Wednesday's game against the Chicago Bulls, the first time he has done so since having surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee in January.


Report: Jabari Parker, Bulls Agree to Two-Year, $40M Deal

Jabari Parker was the first freshman ever to start at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, where he became only the second player in the history of Illinois high school basketball to start on four state championship teams. A 6'8", pound forward, he was a top recruit in the class of , embarking on what seemed likely to be a one-year college career. Still, Parker's freshman season at Duke has been full of adjustments, all of which have served to deepen his connection to his coach. Mike Krzyzewski wore a dark-blue suit and tie when he approached the front door of Jabari Parker's South Side home at 7 p. In less than 48 hours Parker would reveal his college choice on national TV. Duke was the front-runner. Coach K had come to close the deal.

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