When you're Jabari Parker, the best player in the class of 2013 -- and, according to the cover of Sports Illustrated, "the best high school basketball player since LeBron James" -- it's not easy to live a normal life. Not when college coaches are constantly breathing down your neck. Not when fans are obsessing about your every move. Not when you're a local hero at the age of 17. The world has aligned to guarantee that almost nothing Parker does in the next year of his life -- and probably for many years after that -- will come without heaps of media attention and scrutiny.
But Sonny Parker, Jabari's father, is doing his best to try. Admitting that his son was overwhelmed by all the attention, Sonny Parker told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers that the family is going to limit Parker's media availability over the summer in an effort to let Parker "continue to be a kid."
"Basketball never stops, so we're getting ready to shut it down for him," Parker's father, Sonny, said. "He just wants to continue to be a kid, watch cartoons, hang out with friends and everything. [...] "It's overwhelming," Sonny said. "It could be a distraction sometimes, because he still has to stay in the same routine. I think the distractions sometimes can get overwhelming.
"He doesn't like a lot of attention. He's managing. With all the interviews, they want to do a book, they want to do a movie, they want to do a documentary, those things. He says, 'Dad, why do they have to follow me to school and church and home and everything?' He's trying to get used to that."
Sonny Parker also made an interesting point about the current mixtape-and-Twitter-driven recruiting media climate:
"I think Jabari is the first (high school) player who has experienced this social media stuff. LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant) never experienced that. Jabari can't go to the bathroom without being on Twitter. It's the first time a player of his caliber, you know, he plays a game, gets out of the shower and he's on YouTube."
That's at least partially true: If we're willing to go all the way and buy in to Parker's status as a once-in-a-generation, LeBron James-level destroyer of basketball worlds, then yes, this is the first time a player like that has been enveloped in the modern media landscape. (Obviously, every year brings a new batch of players whose recruitments are watched by thousands from afar; these days, every top-100 recruit is a micro-celebrity in his own right.) But even if YouTube was less of a cultural force when LeBron James was in high school, the level of celebrity James achieved as a six-year-old still outranks anything Parker has had to deal with just yet. The attention is different, more finitely focused. But it's not like we haven't seen it before.
In any case, this is among the reasons why Parker is seen not just as a talented player, but a potentially special one. Many recruits and their families would feed off all the attention. Some would milk it for all it's worth. For Parker, basketball is just one of the many facets of his life, and you can sense that in every interview given by him and his family on the subject of his career. It's a refreshing approach. As Parker embarks on what is sure to be the most challenging year of his life to date, plenty of time away form the spotlight might be just what the doctor ordered.