CHICAGO -- Not that long ago, a teenage Jabari Parker was on a first-name basis with one of the best basketball cities in the world.
He was just Jabari.
Playing for Derrick Rose's old school in Derrick Rose's town, Parker made his own name as the Simeon Career Academy star got a Sports Illustrated cover and his team drew all-access coverage by Comcast SportsNet Chicago and the Chicago Tribune as it won four straight state titles. Parker's college decision-making process was reported like a presidential campaign announcement.
A strong media contingent went to Simeon to find out he was going to Duke. The announcement was aired live on ESPNU.
Now, after one year at Duke University and 25 games with the Milwaukee Bucks, he’s another Simeon star with a knee problem.
Parker was ruled out for the season after tearing his left ACL on Dec. 15. The second overall pick in the 2014 draft, Parker looked solid before the injury, averaging 12.3 points on 49 percent shooting to go with 5.5 rebounds.
Now he’s stuck watching as the Bucks play the Bulls in a first-round playoff series. He can only observe Rose's second comeback, as Rose plays in his first postseason series since tearing his left ACL in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Rose then tore his right medial meniscus early in the 2013 season.
Rose's injury-riddled past few years can serve as a cautionary tale for Parker.
The two are separated by 6½ years, but they have much in common. They shared a high school coach in Rob Smith and agents in Arn Tellem and B.J. Armstrong. Parker, who rarely tweets (Rose never does), has an old picture of him with Rose as his Twitter profile picture.
Which makes it odd, at first blush, that they still haven't talked about Parker's injury. Rose hasn't offered advice on dealing with the injury, and Parker hasn't asked.
“No, I didn’t get a chance to, with so much stuff going on,” Rose said after the Bulls’ win Monday.
Rose tore his medial meniscus two months after Parker’s injury, and then he had his own rehab to focus on. His advice would be simple.
“Be patient, because it’s a long process,” he said.
That’s advice Parker, a very mature and grounded person, doesn’t need.
Parker sat in his locker before Monday’s game and said he wasn’t upset about missing this series.
“No, it’s [about] longevity,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere any time soon, I hope. I’ll get a chance to get a crack at it again.”
Really? It’s not tough at all?
“No, because I believe in my teammates,” he said. “I think they’re just as good as me. Without me, we can carry on this series and do really well. I’ll have my chance. I’ll have my moments."
Parker, a practicing Mormon, said faith has helped him the past few months.
“I think there’s a higher power somewhere giving me my strength,” he said.
Parker’s rehab has barely elicited a peep outside of Milwaukee, where media attention already pales in comparison to Chicago, where Rose’s first ACL rehab was covered like a presidential election.
Rose’s failure to return to action, and the miscommunication about it, in the season after his injury damaged his reputation in his hometown to this day.
Parker’s situation is different in that his injury occurred at a time where a return this season would be impossible.
When asked about the differences in media attention between the two, Parker said he wasn’t putting himself out there, like Rose did with the adidas campaign, “The Return,” and subsequent mini-documentary.
“I’m not going to promote it so much where I have, like, all-around access,” Parker said.
Parker, who is signed to Jordan Brand, has a point. “The Return” campaign, designed to sell shoes and enhance his brand, backfired for Rose.
But Rose was also a former MVP for a team with title expectations playing in one of the biggest media markets in the world.
While he was one of the most famous amateur basketball players in recent memory, Parker plays in Milwaukee, which seems to fit his low-key personality. His parents moved there from Chicago’s South Side, and they helped as he recovered from knee surgery, Parker said.
Asked about living in Milwaukee, Parker smiled and said, “I love it, I love it in Milwaukee. Real nice city, no traffic. Just enough to do.”
While Parker’s first national commercial was a Gatorade spot that highlighted his injury and ensuing rehab, the 20-year-old seems wary of the media attention devoted to a comeback.
He has seen first-hand what can happen.
“Yeah, because who knows what happens,” he said. “I don’t want to make it a big deal, even though it is. For me, it’s about my team, getting better, improving mentally and physically.”
With that in mind, Parker, listed at 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, is trying to stay under the radar as he pushes to get back to action next season for an up-and-coming team.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m not a person who wants to show my stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to put it out to the public. I’m not going to tweet about it, I'm not going to Instagram it. What’s most important is I act on it. I can’t say anything. I just have to do it. That’s just the type of person I am.”