Top prospect Jabari Parker is set to become one of the top two picks in today’s NBA draft. The Chicago native spent one year at Duke before declaring himself eligible for pro ball, and while that was a tough decision, what was arguably even harder was his choice not to go on a Mormon mission.
When he’s selected, Parker will become the NBA’s first African-American mormon player. As Alex Thompson writes at the New York Times:
It was through this missionary service that Mormons traveled to the small island nation of Tonga and converted Jabari Parker’s great-grandfather a century ago. Today, Parker, who is also of African-American descent, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a regular at its meetings. His brother Christian and his mother served on missions.
Like most high-profile athletes, Parker has decided to forgo his Mormon mission and sees his stardom as a way to serve his church. “I’ve been weighing this question for the past two years,” Parker wrote in Sports Illustrated earlier this year. “After talking with my family, my local church leaders and a couple close friends, I’m at peace with my decision to forgo a mission for now and join the N.B.A. I don’t consider myself an exception to the rule. At this point in my life I know this is the right decision.”
African-Americans have long been a part of the Church of Latter Day Saints, despite the church’s racist past. Famous black Mormons include singer Gladys Knight and former Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver.