It’s easy to forget that Jabari Parker is just 24 years old. Because he rose to fame as a high-school star with several dominant mixtapes and entered the NBA after only one year at Duke, he’s still relatively young despite entering his sixth NBA season. There are 2019 NBA draft picks who are just one year younger than him (such as Phoenix Suns lottery pick Cam Johnson).
Parker recently joined his fourth team, the Atlanta Hawks, on a two-year contract worth $13 million (with a player option for the second season). Last season, he suited up for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, averaging 14.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 26.9 minutes per game.
HoopsHype caught up with the newest Hawk to discuss his free-agency experience, Atlanta’s talented young core, his rise to fame as a teenager, the pressure he faced, his advice for phenom Zion Williamson and more.
How was your free-agency process and what factors were you considering?
Jabari Parker: Well, I finished last year in Washington, where I played 25 games. I think it went really well, but they’re moving in another direction, so I needed to find the best place for me, the best fit for me. Once Atlanta showed interest, I jumped on it. I know what direction they’re going in; they’re definitely on the rise. They had a great year when you consider that nobody really expected them to finish the year the way that they did. I’m really excited about their team and I really think it’s a good fit for me… We have a lot of really good talent. A lot of these guys are very efficient. Now, we’re starting to get into the swing of things and developing our chemistry because that means more than anything.
You just turned 24 years old in March. You’re still so young, but you also have five years of NBA experience under your belt. I feel like people forget how young you are and how much untapped potential you still have. Would you agree with that?
JP: Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to that. I know that my journey is going to be different, and it already has been [unique] so far. The only thing that I’m concerned about is progressing. I just need to continue making progress, and that’s what I’ve been doing throughout the career I’ve had. I’m always trying to make improvements. At the age that I’m at now (24), I’m pretty optimistic that I’m moving in the right direction. It’s exciting for me.
Throughout your journey, what are some of the biggest things you’ve learned? Are there specific lessons you’ve been able to take away from your experiences?
JP: I’ve learned a few things throughout my career, mainly about establishing who I am. I know what I bring to a team and what I can do on the basketball court. All of the things that I’ve been through so far – the ups and downs – those are just meant to improve and validate who I am as an individual. There’s been good [takeaways] from every situation I’ve been in. Even though I’ve been through so much, I never doubt my abilities. The bad things that I’ve faced and turmoil have just built up my confidence. That’s what I’ve learned about myself.
You’ve been in the limelight since you were in high school. You’ve always seemed pretty mature for your age. Were you always that way, or did you have to grow up quickly because you were in the public eye at such a young age?
JP: I had to grow up really fast because, when I was younger, a lot of attention was thrown at me at a very fast pace. My mom always emphasized who I was and the importance of representing everybody [in our community] – and whoever associated themselves with me – in a great light. I just wanted to make them proud. That was a time when I really wanted to put on for the community that I’m from. At the time, Chicago was dealing with a lot of violence and bad things in the news. I just wanted to show that not everyone from Chicago was like that. It’s definitely something I’ve worked on since I was a kid. I do admit that I’ve made mistakes and I’m not trying to be perfect, but I’m so grateful for those experiences and what I’ve been able to learn from them.
That’s a lot of pressure to deal with, especially at a young age. You were, what, 15 years old when those mixtapes came out and everyone started talking about you? You were one of the first phenoms to come up in the mixtape era or the social-media era. How did you deal with that immense pressure?
JP: I was about 16 years old. It was in 2011, I think, when YouTube and all of those basketball networks really took off. It was good for the culture and it was good for basketball when all of that came about. I never put so much pressure on myself. People can judge you, but His judgment – the man upstairs – is the only judgment that matters. When I have that type of outlook, everything else takes care of itself. I know that I make the right decisions. And maybe I will make some wrong decisions too, but, at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We’re all human. There’s just not as much pressure when I have that type of outlook.
Speaking of pressure and entering the limelight at a young age, you and Zion Williamson share some similarities. He became a high-school phenom after his mixtapes blew up and now he’s entering the NBA with high expectations after one year at Duke. What advice would you give to Zion given your experiences?
JP: No, I cannot relate to Zion. Zion is on a whole different spectrum than me. That guy is a once-in-a-lifetime type of athlete, a once-in-a-lifetime type of icon. He just needs to be whoever he wants to be. I don’t think people should tell him what he should be doing. The only way to [love life] and grow is by being yourself. We should all be ourselves. I really, really hope that he becomes the person he wants to be and enjoys his life.
Trae Young is a fantastic shooter, but he’s also a great passer. You’re obviously an offensive weapon too. How can you benefit from playing alongside Trae, who demands the defense’s attention and helps his teammates get easy buckets?
JP: I have a great level of respect for guys who are multi-dimensional on the offensive end because they bring so many facets to the game and there are so many ways that they can help their team. Having a point guard who can score and create for himself and create for others is a great thing. I’m just looking forward to having those components.
John Collins is another young Hawk with a ton of potential. He seems like a franchise cornerstone for Atlanta. What do you think of his game and what kind of player he could become long-term?
JP: A very, very great player. He’s someone who’s really athletic but, at the same time, he brings a finesse to the game and he has great touch around the basket too. His size and his skill set and his athleticism all complement each other really well. I’m really excited to see what he can do. I’m a fan. I’ll be watching and supporting him.
You and Cam Reddish both went to Duke. What did you see from Cam throughout his season with the Blue Devils and did you have kind of relationship with him prior to becoming teammates in Atlanta?
JP: I knew his AAU coach, but I don’t really know him. I know what he brings to the team, though. Cam is so talented. He’s very skilled. He has great size too. His height will shock you because he doesn’t look that tall, but then in person, he’s pretty tall (at 6-foot-8). I’m just excited that I’ll get a chance to know him and relate to him. We have that Duke connection, so that’s going to be nice.
What does your offseason training look like and what aspects of your game are you focused on improving?
JP: I’m always working on different aspects of my game, but I’m really just trying to get in the best shape possible. My body needs to be able to take the impact and be ready to play 82 games. Then, when I get to Atlanta, I’ll just be focused on getting on the same page as everyone else as quickly as I can.
When you look at the 2019-20 Hawks, how good can this team be? Are the playoffs a realistic goal?
JP: Well, the playoffs are always going to be my goal. I don’t go out there and tamper with the game. If I go out there, I’m going to put forth the effort [to win]. Basketball is my passion and I will always give my all out there. Winning is definitely the No. 1 thing on my list [of priorities], and hopefully I can prove that.
Who is Jabari Parker away from basketball? It’s obviously not healthy to be obsessed with your work and have no other hobbies or interests. What are some things you like to do when you aren’t hooping?
JP: I’m doing the best that I can to spend time with my loved ones; that’s what I do in my spare time. I enjoy watching independent films and other movies. I love movies. I’m really into mystery moves and crime movies. I love hanging out with my friends too. I try to use that time to relax.
I recently interviewed Bobby Portis, whom you played with in Chicago and Washington after you guys got traded together. That was your first time getting traded. What was that experience like?
JP: For myself, I needed an opportunity to play. In the first quarter of the season, to just be the 16th man on the bench… I just wanted an opportunity, so I properly shared my wishes with the team. I had just made the move [to Chicago] months prior.
Bobby’s situation was a little different because he had been drafted by [the Bulls] and he’d done everything for them. He was surprised because they’d had more dialogue with him – more than they had with me – about leadership and about the team and stuff like that. I was pretty surprised that they gave away such a good talent like Bobby at such a quick pace.
That situation was weird. Your hometown team signed you to a two-year, $40 million deal (with a team option in the second season) and then, by December, they removed you from the rotation. I’m sure that was the first time in your life that you haven’t been featured in a big role, much less not playing at all. What was it like to go through that and what lessons did you take away from it?
JP: You know, it was really good because now I can relate to every kind of player. When I talk to kids, I can talk to them about everything – from being the best player on a team to being the player who isn’t even playing. I’m just grateful for that experience. It allowed me to see things differently. I’m always looking for any little way to improve whether I’m on the top or the bottom, and I was definitely on the bottom in that situation. It just made me a better person, more importantly.
Speaking of talking to kids, you’re hosting a free youth basketball camp in Chicago this week. Can you share some details?
JP: Yeah, this is my fifth year doing my youth basketball camp and it’s been amazing. I really wanted to give back to my community; pay it forward. The camp is free. It’s at Quest [Multisport] from July 31 through August 2 and it’s for ages 9-through-18. I want as many kids as possible to show up so we can all have fun.
When you were growing up, was there a certain player’s camp that had an impact on you?
JP: Yeah, Juwan Howard was that guy. We all went to his camp. It’s what we were looking forward to all summer. His camp was always the highlight of our summer. I went to his camp for five years straight when I was a kid. He did it for free, and it was amazing. He kind of passed the torch to me and I want to take care of the youth in this city.
And, a decade from now, one of your campers may start their own youth basketball camp because you had that same impact on them!
JP: Yeah, that’s the plan! I want as many people as possible to give back. Hopefully, when these kids get older, they can try to do some of the same things and help the community too.