Bulls

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: 'There's no fear'

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: 'There's no fear'

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a member of the Bulls for the first time.

For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.

Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick of the the 2014 draft the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.

“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.

It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.

It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.

“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.

“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”

The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.

The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.

“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.

“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”

It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.

The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.

“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.

“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”

Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.

After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.

“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”

Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.

“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”

The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.

The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.

At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.

“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”

And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.

“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”

The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.

“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”

And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.

“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”

“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Adam Amin to succeed Neil Funk as Bulls’ television play-by-play announcer

Adam Amin to succeed Neil Funk as Bulls’ television play-by-play announcer

On Dec. 13, 2016, Adam Amin called his first NBA game, working alongside Doris Burke on an ESPN broadcast. The occasion: Tom Thibodeau’s first return to the United Center as a visiting coach.

Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, led by Zach LaVine’s 24 points, wiped out a 21-point deficit to prevail. In other words, storylines overflowed.

Befitting his reputation as a humble, hard-working pro, Amin kept the focus on those rather than his personal story.

Even with Monday’s news that Amin, 33, will succeed Neil Funk as the Bulls’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster alongside analyst Stacey King on NBC Sports Chicago, the Addison Trail High School product kept the proper perspective.

In a phone interview, he alluded to the conflicting feelings of wanting to celebrate amidst both a global pandemic and widespread national protests stemming from the latest instance of a white police officer killing an unarmed African-American.

Amin’s father immigrated from Pakistan to the United States in 1978. He left his job as a vice president of a bank to work manual labor at a factory. He didn’t see his wife or Amin’s three older brothers for seven years until he made enough money to send for them.

Amin was born in the U.S. a year later in 1986. Just in time to bond with his father — who had been a semi pro cricket player in his homeland — over a budding Bulls dynasty.

“So this connectivity has a lot of branches to it. It runs pretty deep,” Amin said. “He’d be pretty tickled by this. To have an opportunity to be a Chicago voice and for a team like this, he would’ve thought that was pretty cool.”

Mohammed Amin passed away in March 2018 at age 80. He lived long enough to see Amin call that Bulls-Timberwolves game but not for this honor, which, on the heels of Fox Sports signing Amin away from ESPN after nine years, continues Amin’s swift upward trajectory in a competitive business.

But in all the important ways, Amin’s father is still with him.

“I’m flashing back to being the kid in the basement of my parents’ house, sitting on the floor with the TV in front of me and my Dad on the couch behind me,” Amin said. “We watched every Bulls game and watched (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen and Stacey and Bill (Wennington) and (Toni) Kukoc and (Steve) Kerr and (John) Paxson and every name you can remember during all those formative years of Bulls fandom for, I imagine, a ton of people. The little kid in me who remembers that team and was connected to it, he’s freaking out in the most positive way possible.

“My Dad and I got to grow our fandom for that together. And we got to celebrate a lot. The ‘96 title was one of my favorite memories. It has a lot more meaning now that my Dad is gone, because that was the first title Michael won after his Dad had passed. I remember sitting on the couch holding my Dad’s hand watching the celebration of them beating the Sonics.”

Funk called that championship, just as the retiring legend did for four other titles. Jim Durham served as the primary play-by-play announcer for the first championship.

“Succeeding is the word I prefer. There’s no replacing Neil,” Amin emphasized. “I love Jim Durham, too. To me, he’s still maybe the greatest radio play-by-play guy in the history of basketball. I grew up on Jim Durham. He kind of shaped how I call games.

“But Neil is the voice of my fandom. He was the one that I was listening to with my Dad. He was the one whose call I went back and listened to over and over again when Jordan hit the last shot in 1998. He shaped a lot of my friends’ styles. His influence is so heavy, not just for me but for so many of us who grew up in Chicago.”

Amin said Funk called him over the weekend to congratulate him.

“He was so gracious and so friendly,” Amin said. “That says volumes about him.”

As Funk scaled back his travel schedule over the last two seasons, Amin served as one of the regular fill-in broadcasters. That allowed him to establish a chemistry with the colorful King.

“Everything we did in those little spurts translates to working together all the time,” Amin said. “It’s being able to laugh. It’s being able to connect. And being able to talk intelligently about the league.

“I was happy I came into the fill-in opportunity with experience in the league. I had been calling NBA games, including a couple conference finals series, by the time I started doing games with the Bulls. I had a good baseline knowledge of the NBA and also had the connectivity of being a Bulls fan growing up. I think Stacey appreciated that.

“Stacey is engaged and intelligent and enthusiastic. I want to be those things. The fact we click on those levels translates when people are listening. I want to believe that. I hope that’s the case. That’s what it feels like.

“I’m an excitable guy. I think I let passion come out during these games. I feel like it’s good for the NBA. It matches the league. It’s at such a great point in terms of starpower and peak athleticism. It’s conducive to being passionate about it.”

This passion stood out to Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf.

“We knew replacing Neil would not be an easy task, but as we got to know Adam over the last two seasons and became even more familiar with his work, he rose to become our top choice,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Adam knows our fans because he grew up a Bulls fan. That was important to us. We wanted to find someone who not only had the talent, but who also understood our history and the role the Bulls play in the lives of our city and our fans.

“When he and Stacey worked together, we received so much positive feedback that I know our fans are going to really enjoy the work of this new broadcast duo. Adam brings strong credentials to this role, as well as an energy, charisma and innate storytelling ability that help him immediately connect with his audience whether he’s behind a microphone, at an event or on social media. He’s a perfect fit.”

Kevin Cross, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Chicago, which is the exclusive home of Bulls basketball, agreed.

“Adam is a rising star in the sports broadcasting industry and, even though he will have big shoes to fill in replacing a legend like Neil, he will be an excellent addition to our Bulls telecasts beginning next season,” Cross said in a statement. “Adam is a proud Chicagoan who has a deep understanding of the team’s history and the enormous impact they have on their local, national and global fan base. We look forward to having Adam on our team.”

Amin, who graduated from Valparaiso University, has come a long way from calling minor-league baseball in Gary, Ind., and Joliet. That’s where he met Joe Davis, another young, rising star who is now the Dodgers’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster for Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles and also works for Fox Sports.

“We met in 2009 in the Independent Northern League. Both of us dreamt of doing what we’re lucky enough to be doing now. We bonded very quickly because of that shared dream,” Davis said by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re also pretty similar people. We value the same things. 

“He’s been as important for me in my career as any person. Just to have that person who you can relate with on every step you’re going on in a very specific field. Just about every experience we’ve gone through, the other one has shared it vicariously.

“I think we would both tell you we think the other one was better. We critiqued each other’s work early on. We’d always give honest feedback. And I’ve told Adam many times that I think he will absolutely love being associated with a team. It’s just completely different from what we do on the national side. Which is parachute in, learn about two teams for a week, have both teams’ fans think we’re rooting against their team and then leave. You miss out on what becomes such an indescribable connection with the fan base.

“Especially for Adam as a Chicago guy. He was born there. He’s taking over a job of a team that he grew up watching. That’s beyond special. I know he’s going to kill it. He’s as talented as anybody in the world. And he’s going to appreciate it as much as anybody in the world.”

That became immediately apparent as Amin talked about the opportunity he never thought he’d have, the one of which his father would be so proud.

“He and his brother chose to come to Chicago from Pakistan for a reason. And they stayed in Chicago for a reason. It’s the diversity of this place. He felt accepted here. He felt like this was home,” Amin said. “There’s such a large community of South Asian people here that I’ve always felt this was going to be my home regardless of where I worked. And now this job is definitely one of those dream-come-true moments.”

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Michael Jordan issues statement of solidarity in wake of George Floyd's death

Michael Jordan issues statement of solidarity in wake of George Floyd's death

Add Michael Jordan to the growing list of powerful voices to address the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25 in an incident that brought third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.

The incident, in which Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd’s pleas for help, has led to widespread protests throughout the United States, including in Chicago. Chauvin is white. Floyd was African-American.

In recent years, Jordan, the Charlotte Hornets chairman, has taken a more significant and public role in addressing societal issues after drawing criticism from some during his playing career with the Bulls for not doing and saying more.

“I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry,” Jordan’s statement said. “I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.

“I don’t have the answers, but our collective voices show strength and the inability to be divided by others. We must listen to each other, show compassion and empathy and never turn our backs on senseless brutality. We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability. Our unified voice needs to put pressure on our leaders to change our laws, or else we need to use our vote to create systemic change. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution, and we must work together to ensure justice for all.

“My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd and to the countless others whose lives have been brutally and senselessly taken through acts of racism and injustice.”

 

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