Here at BCC in the wake of conference we tend to have a flurry of post-conference commentary. In the Priesthood session Saturday night President Monson quoted Jabari Parker (who in turn was quoting his father, Sonny) as saying: “Just be the same person you are in the dark that you are in the light.” So for my contribution to the post-conference commentary, I would like to explore the question of what Brother Jabari should do now. The choices are: (a) serve a mission, (b) enter the NBA draft, or (c) return to Duke for his sophomore year.
Serve a Mission
About two years ago I broached this first question with a blog post here titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” I made it clear that I had an opinion, but I was not going to share it (not wanting to influence peoples’ reactions). A dominant theme in the comments was that Jabari should pray about it and do whatever God tells him to do, which I think is good advice. Of those who expressed an opinion, a majority (about 11 by my count) thought he should go; a minority (about 6) thought he should not. I never did reveal my feeling about this in that thread. I would like to do so now.
I agree that if Jabari really wants to go, or if he feels called by God to go, then of course he should go. I’m confident his family would support him should that be his choice. But in the absence of either a clear revealed answer to him or a strong sense of his own that he should go, my opinion is that he should not. I realize that suggesting that a young man forego a mission sounds pretty heretical to a lot of people. But I look at this in terms of what is best in terms of building the kingdom of God on this earth. The fact is that due to the age change we have a glut of missionaries we don’t really know what to do with. Jabari could join that throng of 75,000 and spend two years knocking doors somewhere. I’m sure it would be a good experience for him, as it was for his older brother, Christian.
But to me, Jabari clearly falls under the “Donny Osmond” rule, who in retrospect wrote: “It would have been nice to be able to have served a regular full-time mission, but when I was of that age, my career was such that everyone, including my parents and the leaders of the church, thought that I could do a lot of good in the world by continuing being in the public eye, by living an exemplary life and sharing my beliefs in every way that I could.” To me, the same principle applies here. By being a good example and role model for young people, as a basketball player Jabari has the potential to have a far greater reach and impact than he would in a limited sphere as a formal missionary. He would be able to touch hearts and influence lives that 10,000 missionaries couldn’t reach. He would generate goodwill for the Church, especially in the African-American community, where such goodwill is crucial. If he were a knucklehead, then this might not be the best thing, but he is not; he is a humble, polite, sober young man, a team-first guy, and not in-your-face about his faith. To me he comes out of central casting for what the Church would hope for in a young Mormon man in the public eye in a big way. (Jabari can always go the Dale Murphy route and serve some sort of a formal mission or as a mission president after his playing career is over.)
So if we can take a mission off the table, that simplifies the choice somewhat. But we are still left with a difficult one: head for the NBA now, or stay in college another year. In thinking this through, I would like to break this down to the following categories: money, risk, basketball development, and lifestyle.
In fiscal terms, there simply is no contest: jumping to the NBA is the thing to do. Let me try to sketch out a very rough idea of how much money he would be leaving on the table by putting off declaring for the draft by another year.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, there is a rookie salary scale. Last year (2013-2014) the scale looked like this:
Year 1: $3,565,000
Year 2: $3,725,400
Year 3: $3,885,800
Year 4: a 26.4% increase on Year 3, or just under $5MM ($4,911,651)
(Years 3 and 4 are options. The contract can be for as low as 80% or as high as 120% of these benchmarks. A high draft pick like Jabari would be tends to get paid at closer to the 120% amount, so these numbers are conservative.)
Now, keep in mind that an NBA career is a finite number of prime athletic years; let’s say about 15 if one is lucky.
So staying in school instead of going to the NBA means that for that year you are getting paid $0 instead of something like $3.5MM. The next year, assuming he declared after two years, he would be on his first year of $3.5MM, when he could have been on his second year of $3.72MM, so there is a differential that year of a quarter million dollars. When you add up those differentials, over the course of a rookie contract you’re leaving maybe $5MM or so on the table. (I’m ignoring present valuing of the numbers just to keep things simple.)
But the big money is made on the post-rookie contract. A max contract, such as someone like Jabari likely might be in line for, would be for 25% of a team’s salary cap; let’s say for discussion starting at $15MM. So in the 4th year of his contract (if he stayed), he’d be making $5MM when he could have been making $15MM, a differential of $10MM.
And the actual contract is just a fraction of an NBA player’s compensation. For star players, shoe contracts and endorsements actually tend to exceed the contract amounts. Let’s say that the rookie year total of such compensation would be about $5MM (a total guess for purposes of discussion only). When we add the $5MM + $10MM + $5MM, we get a total of perhaps $20MM in money that over the course of a finite career he would be leaving on the table by staying in school an extra year.
For most people, that’s the end of the discussion right there. But in Jabari’s case I wouldn’t suggest that this should be dispositive. Over the course of his career he likely will make substantially more than $100MM, so while $20MM is lottery money to you and me, here it’s simply one factor among many to be considered.
Personally, I would weight risk of injury more heavily as a reason to go pro than the dollars differential alone. While still in high school Jabari broke a bone in his foot that kept him away from the game for over six months. His predecessor at Simeon, Derrick Rose, has famously had two major knee injuries that have cost him the last two years of his basketball life (fortunately in his case after he had signed his max annual contract). If Jabari goes back to school he does so without a professional contract or any guaranty; he would have to deal with the consequences of a debilitating injury on his own.
I watched almost all of his Duke games, and he came through his freshman campaign healthy and unscathed, for which everyone is thankful. But there is always a risk of injury, and when the kind of money described above is at risk, that’s a serious consideration to add to the calculus.
Should he decide to stay in school, to a limited extent he can manage this risk by purchasing a disability insurance policy, either through the NCAA Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program or privately. (Indeed, he probably already has such an insurance policy.) Under the NCAA program, you can buy up to $5MM of coverage for a premium of $20-30,000 or so, which can be financed by low-interest loans from the NCAA. (The policy only pays off if your ability to play is completely compromised, not if an injury merely leaves you a lesser player than you were.) But there is no way to completely cover such a risk.
I suspect that very high on Jabari’s list of things to consider will be which route is better for his development as a basketball player. If he becomes the very best player he can be, then the money will take care of itself. To me this is probably the criterion that should carry the greatest weight.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t really answer the question, because there is substantial debate on the merits of developing as a player in a college program vs. in a pro team’s practice facility. There is a case to be made either way, and as only a casual basketball fan I don’t claim to have a strong or informed opinion on this question.
I tend to think that Jabari will develop well either way. He is very coachable, a hard worker, and motivated to improve, and when you have that particular cocktail of characteristics (along with substantial talent, of course) it may not matter too much which way he goes. This is a question where Jabari’s father, Sonny, a former NBA player himself and deeply wired into the basketball world, would probably have some good counsel for his son.
So far we haven’t seen a lot of impetus to stay in school, unless Jabari determines that that is the best way for him to grow his game right now. But he’s still a 19-year old kid, and there’s something to be said for being a sophomore in college. I loved college; in many ways, those were the best years of my life. If he goes back, yes he’ll be under a microscope (as he has been for a long time), and yes he’ll be playing 30+ games, but that’s a very different experience from the NBA meat grinder of an 82-game season. A lot of college basketball players don’t actually care about the educational aspect of the experience, but Jabari does, and he is a dedicated student. He will eventually graduate with his degree no matter what, but with such a bright future if he should decide he wants to spend another year at Duke, just because he loves the experience and it’s just plain fun, to me that would be enough of a reason to do it.
(I don’t think he should go back just to try to improve his draft position [he's projected in the top three now as it is, there is no way to know for sure where he'll go, and if he goes back he won't necessarily be the no. 1 pick next year anyway] or because he thinks he owes Duke anything.)
No one can make this decision but Jabari himself. And in my view, there isn’t really a wrong decision; I think he’ll be great either way. I know he is seriously considering going back to Duke, as well he should. He is taking a very careful and thoughtful approach to this. I’m going to put the odds at 75/25 NBA/Duke, which is rather remarkable in itself, as for most young men in his position it would be pretty much 100/0.
We’ll know soon enough. Players must withdraw their name from consideration by April 15 to retain their college eligibility, and the deadline to affirmatively declare for the draft is April 27. Either way, I would like to express to Jabari my best wishes. I will be watching his progress with interest.