Talk about being a history-maker.
Jabari Parker, the 6-foot-8-inch Duke power forward who was selected second overall in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, joins a small number of African-American Mormons who have played in the NBA, such as Thurl Bailey and Brandon Davies, and is the highest-ranked Asian-Pacific Islander to be drafted by the NBA, NBC News reports.
Parker, 19, whose father is African American and mother Polynesian, is also the grandson of the second person baptized by Mormon missionaries on the island of Tonga. Active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he will forgo his missionary service to proselytize in a far-flung country—a voluntary rite of passage for young Mormon men—to bask in the limelight and make millions of dollars playing for the Bucks.
His decision to join the league may bring into the fold a new audience for the NBA and will undoubtedly make him an ambassador for the Mormon Church, which was known for its discriminatory practices against African Americans until 1978. According to the New York Times, however, not everyone in the church is cheering Parker’s decision.
“It isn’t fair to the 60,000 young men who heed the call to serve and stay out of the limelight, while the athletes bypass formal missions and gain the accolades,” Gregory Prince, a Mormon historian and active member of the church, told the Times. “It’s a double standard, but for the church it’s a no-brainer.”
While some Mormon athletes have made the difficult decision to postpone their professional athletic career to fulfill their missionary duties, other Mormon athletes have chosen to skip that work. Parker follows in the footsteps of other past and present high-profile athletes, such as Steve Young, Bryce Harper, Danny Ainge, Johnny Miller and Jimmer Fredette, who did not serve.
Parker’s decision to play on a bigger stage may ultimately enable him to touch more people than a two-year mission ever could. “He sees himself having an opportunity to be an example for young men in the church and society,” said Parker’s ward bishop, Eddie Blount, according to the New York Times. “I think he can touch a lot of lives just by being a great person and being in the spotlight.”
Back in 2012, Parker sat down with Katie Couric on Good Morning America to discuss his faith. Watch the interview:
Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that Jabari Parker was the first African-American Mormon in the NBA, based on an NBC News report. According to the New York Times, he was the first African-American Mormon drafted into the NBA. Thurl Bailey converted to the religion as a player, and Brandon Davies was an undrafted player.