Rahm Emanuel agrees. "Jabari is unique," says Chicago's mayor, who met the Parkers while he was running for office last year and attends most of Simeon's home games. "His family has great values. Jabari has earned the right to be a role model for kids in Chicago. His character and seriousness of purpose are exceptional."
Jabari admits that he feels "a big responsibility to be a good example. I know there are a lot of eyes on me."
Eyes might be on him most of all at the end of his freshman year in college, when he has to decide whether he will declare for the NBA draft or—like thousands of other Mormon men who turn 19—embark on a two-year mission to spread the faith in the U.S. or a foreign country (page 67). In 2010 the president of the church, Thomas S. Monson, called missionary service "a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much."
Missionaries do not return home for two years. They aren't allowed to have a job, attend college classes or pursue other personal interests. In Jabari's case, that would mean a two-year hiatus from basketball and conditioning, possibly jeopardizing a brilliant NBA career.
Jabari wakes up each morning at five and says a simple prayer, thanking God for another day. By 5:30 three days a week he's off to church for Bible study. Jabari's bio on his Twitter page features a favorite maxim from his basketball idol John Wooden: You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one. "I realize why I'm in the position I'm in right now," says Jabari. "It's not because of me. It's because of God."
The Parker family likes to say that Jabari, whose name is Swahili for valiant, got his basketball genes from his father and his religion from his mother. In 1981, while in Salt Lake City for a Warriors game against the Jazz, 6'7" Sonny Parker visited a mall in search of dress shirts and ran into Lola Finau, whom he asked for help. Lola, a student at Utah, escorted him to a tall men's clothing store. To thank her, Sonny gave Lola tickets to that night's game. The two exchanged phone numbers, and the next time Sonny was in town they went to lunch. That's when he popped the question.
"So, are you a Mormon?"
"Yes," she said, bracing for an inquiry about polygamy.
"That's really cool."
Lola was surprised. Sonny had no questions—or criticisms. He just thought it was interesting to meet a black Mormon. Lola explained that she was Polynesian and that her grandfather had been the second person ever baptized by Mormon missionaries on the island of Tonga.