By Patrice Nkrumah, Chicago Crusader
There was a love fest taking place at the United Center on Wednesday after the Bulls officially introduced and announced they had signed Chicago-native Jabari Parker to a two-year $40 million contract. The forward spent his first four NBA seasons as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. But his relationship with the Bucks soured over the past year, in part because of Parker’s health, which opened the door for him to sign with the Bulls this summer as a restricted free agent.
“There is no better way to live my dream than to play down the street from where I grew up…to wear that red, that white, that black is something like a dream,” said Parker, dressed in a black pin-striped suit in front of his hometown media. “I spent a lot of my time a few blocks from here, playing ball at the James Jordan Center.”
Parker was part of four consecutive Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state title teams while he was at Simeon. He was a McDonald’s All-American his senior year and went on to play two years at Duke University.
Parker’s father, Sonny, is well known around town and has served hundreds of Chicago metropolitan area children as a youth foundation director since 1990. Parker said while he is a member of the Bulls, he will continue with his off-the- court community service efforts. Parker’s mother is Mormon, so he has always felt a duty to perform community service. “I will be looking to partner with the Chicago Public Schools and other organizations to help my community in any way that I can,” Parker said.
He is not the only one excited to see Parker return. Many of those who have known him since he was a kid have praised the Bulls for signing him. Among those are several prominent high school coaches from the area.
“I’m happy the Bulls made the move to bring JP here,” said Morgan Park Head Coach Nick Irvin, who coached against Parker during the high school season but whose family also coached Parker on their travel team, the Mac Irvin Fire. “It’s a great thing for Chicago. It feels good for me because we all coached him when he was a kid and I know how bad he wanted to be here, putting on for his city.”
Parker, 23, will start at small forward, along with projected starters Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen. Parker’s signing, combined with Lebron James’ departure from Cleveland and the power shift in the NBA clearly being in the Western Conference, means the Bulls might have a legitimate shot at making it to the second or third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“I have a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and I’m just ready to get it going here at the UC,” Parker said. “I think we are a young team, but we have a lot of versatility and we have the chance to build new memories together. These last few days have been anxious for me because I’m so ready to get started.”
Parker, who has had two knee surgeries in recent years, after suffering from foot problems while he was at Simeon, said his health is in a “good place” for the first time going into a season. He said this off-season he has been able to focus more on building his skill set than rehabbing from injuries as in seasons past.
Parker’s signing may also rejuvenate a fan base that has been in dire need of a reason to be hopeful the past few seasons. While the Bulls continue to lead the league in attendance, fans last season were completely fed up with the poor performance and perceived lack of talent on the court.
“Them bringing in Jabari will make me strongly consider buying some tickets to games this year,” said James Hill from the Marynook community. “They’ve been hard to watch the past two years and I stopped going to games. But I think they might finally be heading in the right direction and they certainly shocked me by signing Parker.”
Crusader sources tell us the Bulls may not be done just yet in signing former Chicago prep stars. The Bulls are said to be heavily courting Whitney Young native and free agent Jahlil Okafor. The 6’11” 271 lb. center reportedly worked out for at least three teams this past week in Las Vegas, including the Bulls. If they sign Okafor, who was the number three overall pick in the 2015 draft, he would be reunited with Parker, with whom he played as a member of the Fire.