So What Should Brother Jabari Do Now?

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.

Basketball Development

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.


  1. JennyP1969 says:

    I hope Jabari stays at Duke for these reasons:

    — those college years are a special, special time that never come again and are gone all too soon.

    — he will gain more life experience and maturity to help prepare him for the NBA where women lie in wait at stadiums to flash themselves and offer many unholy things.

    — and because I still have a bit of childlike hope that his sport means more to him than money, alone. I admit I’m still a bit judgmental when someone enters the draft out of high school or before college is finished–I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I kinda feel like it’s selling out.

    — I’m a huge fan of Coach K. Enough said.

    Now most of my kids did very well in high school and college. But one of my sones hated academics from 2 on. He would not sit to listen to bedtime stories and scripture study was a mass of dramatic sighs. He did very poorly in elementary school, though testing showed good intelligence and no discernable learning disabilities. High school was an endless nightmare of conferences, meetings, cut classes, tutors, tears, bargains, and alas—dreaded ultimatums. All to no avail. He is an exceptional athlete. He was All-State because of a coach who made him sit to do assignments to get the bare minimum required in grades. He had a dozen scholarship offered, but turned them all down because he truly believes classrooms are torched chambers. He feels this country is guilty of child abuse for making every child have to suffer only one method of learning and for discriminating against people like him for requiring college to play in college.

    Sigh……I’m always amazed how the same gene pool gave me such an “enlightened” one.

  2. Queue Elder Andersen’s talk about the kid who went on a mission instead of joining the All Blacks (it was used it at the time to excoriate the freshman playing QB at BYU).

  3. I missed your post from two years ago, unfortunately, related to missions. I often think about this regarding celebrity young men, and here is my thought/question. I agree that only young men who feel the desire to serve a mission should serve. However, the points you made about how many people would be introduced to the gospel if he were to stay vs. go, just like Donny Osmond or Steve Young, perhaps might be missing the full mark. If Christ is truly the Good Shepard and this is His work which he allows us to participate in, then it seems like having a lot of missionaries to spread the gospel is a perk, not a necessity. I’ve wondered if the MOST important reason for a young man to serve a mission is to help him grow into a man who can work and lead. Societies are crap at making men now, if they were ever good at it all. And nothing seems to mature a squirrelly boy into a man like a mission, followed up with marriage and a family. I know plenty of men who never served missions and are great husbands and fathers – but there is something to be said for what missions do to the YOUNG individual who is serving one. I didn’t go on a mission. Am I off on this one? Perhaps, but maybe a mission would be great for the growth of the soul and character of Jabari himself – not just for God’s children who might listen, should he choose to go.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    JennyP1969, thanks for your pro-college thoughts. I am sympathetic to your thinking along these lines as well.

    queuno, yes, but I think the church is happy to play it both ways, as I believe they should. If a great athlete decides to serve, yay! If a great athlete decides to play and be a beacon of light that way, yay!

    Tara, yes, you’re right that a large part of the mission experience is the spiritual maturation process of the young person him or herself. It certainly helped to serve that function for me. But I don’t think it’s the only or an essential way for that to happen. I know many great, spiritually mature saints who never served missions.

  5. Very balanced consideration. I think he should go to the NBA precisely because he is 1) very mature and balanced for his age and 2) appears to have a strong support network. College is great but there are many ways to continue a fine education outside of college, especially with the resources Jabari will have. Again, for someone who is coachable and with his head screwed on right his basketball development can only be enhanced by doing it as a pro with a well chosen support system around him geared toward transitioning him to the pro game. You only have so many games and years injury or not in your knees etc. He will go high enough in the draft regardless of who else comes out to make it the right choice.

    If here were my son, barring a Paulian experience, I would counsel him not to even consider the mission. I loved my mission, but I think the Donny Osmond rule absolutely applies. There is just not one right path for everyone. I think the probability of him not going on a mission i 95/5. I am very glad he will get little shaming from church members for that decision.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    (I should clarify that the rookie scale in the OP is for the third pick in the draft, a good guess of approximately where Jabari will go.)

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the cogent thoughts, rah. (I read somewhere that his bishop was always very careful when talking about missions in his presence, because he didn’t want to put any undue cultural pressure or expectation on him in that regard, which I thought was great.)

  8. Donny Osmond made a huge impact on missionary work around the world. I had a missionary companion and knew a member on my mission who both would not be members without him. I’m certain he’s responsible for thousands, if not tens of thousands, converts. Steve Young has also had a big impact, albeit mostly in the U.S.

    It would be fun to see Parker in the NBA next year. But it’s his choice, and he’s the only one qualified on this earth to make that decision.

  9. I lean towards another year at Duke, but am not sure how much that is related to me being a Duke fan. I think he has enough to learn from Coach K that despite the risks, he will be better prepared for the NBA after 2 years. Plus I think he loves college and learning and his class and Coach K (who I believe is shaping his character as well).

  10. Ojiisan says:

    I found your analysis interesting but was a little puzzled by the comments in your “Donny Osmond rule” paragraph regarding the benefits of his potential influence etc. if he didn’t go on a mission. I am puzzled because even if he did decide to go on a mission, he would only be postponing his pro career not eliminating it. Therefore, all of the potential positive factors that you state could accrue by his skipping a mission and going pro would still apply upon the commencement of his pro career when he returned from his mission. However, in that case those positive influences would be coupled with the influence he could possibly have on some Mormon YM who would see him delay the signing of a multi-million dollar contract to play pro basketball in order to serve the Lord for two years.

    On the other hand, if he did choose to serve a mission the negative financial and development factors would become more significant because he would delay the receipt of money for two years and not be playing competitively for two years. Tangentially, on the development point, I note that Grant Hill has opined in the last week or so (speaking generally and not specifically about Parker) that a player’s development is enhanced by staying in college because the focus in college is teaching, which is not something that is emphasized as much in the pros.

    Having said all that I do want to note that I am not saying he should go on a mission because I concur that is a decision only he can make after weighing all the factors. My view is that there is no chance he will go on a mission because I think that alternative was considered and rejected when he decided to play his freshman year. I also expect to see him back at Duke for a second year if only to erase the memory of that inglorious exit in the second round.

  11. Jabari should do what he feels inspired to do and not worry about what anyone else thinks. This is a simple question with a simple answer. Study it out, weigh the options, pray for insight and then do what you feel is right.

  12. Awesome post Kevin. One more year of college, skip the mission.

  13. OD,

    I agree with you. Every Child of God is entitled to revelation… Use it!

  14. Fred Zundel says:

    President Thomas S. Monson has said: “Every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary” (“As We Meet Together Again,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 5–6). Doesn’t this pretty much answer the question? Of course going on a mission is a personal decision, but if President Monson is a prophet and I sustain him as such, and I am worthy and able, what is there is to decide? Am I not to “give heed unto all his words and commandments….” D&C 21: 4. I am surprised that not a single response has mentioned this. And as a purely secondary matter, where is the good PR in announcing you are a Mormon Christian and choosing to consistently break the Sabbath to earn one’s living? And per endless Nibley scriptural cites in Approaching Zion, isn’t seeking after riches ($3,000,000.00 plus surely qualifies as such) contrary to the Savior’s teachings? The Donny Osmond Rule ( if there is such a thing) is the creation of the Donny Osmonds in the Church and not the Lord’s prophets, so far as I am aware.

  15. JennyP1969 says:

    Ahhhh Fred……you’ve got the letter nailed down tight. Now try the merciful spirit of the law. On another thought, it’s been approved to seek treasure after you’ve first sought the Kingdom. Jabari has been doing that all along, so no worries there. Did you know some of the Q15 never served missions…..but look where they are now? And one more thing…I know a few young men who have anxiety problems who have become less active because of the “pressure cooker” missions-are-mandatory teachings. Their anxiety problems interfere with several aspects of life, but being young men, they feel shame and embarrassment about it, so they’d rather disappear from the church than be faced with regular questioning and judgment. Their “worth” to the church is severely compromised to the point that they leave. Thus far, none have returned. It seems to me that all members should avoid any kind of standard/statement that drives innocents away. I love our prophet so very much, but I’d rather he say, “All who feel the Spirit whisper to go should go, for the Lord will always provide for the church’s needs.” Then those who suffer serious, but unseen problems just might stay, which effects generations to come.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Donny was indeed counseled by high church leaders not to go. Things like this are often framed as broad, general principles, but there are situations where the broad principle does not apply.

  17. Fred Zundel says:

    Jenny and Kevin, I am chuckling that you responded to my post at 4:38 and 4:41 respectively. Sleeping issues, as for me? In reply, President Monson did say “able”, so that should address the anxiety-related and other genuine reasons why one should not serve on a mission. I doubt that President Monson would further qualify his statement as a broad principle once one is able and worthy, unless one wants to accuse him of careless imprecision. The requirement of being “able” assumes mercy, since it would not be merciful to press one to serve a mission if one were not emotionally or otherwise “able.” An innocent who is not able or worthy should not serve a mission. I can’t think of a scripture which stands for the idea that “it’s been approved to seek treasure after you’ve first sought the kingdom.” The story of the rich young man opposes this. Mathew 19:23-24 (eye of a needle and so forth). The Savior’s counsel to Joseph, Oliver, and Hyrum opposes this. (D&C 6:7; 11;7). Jacob notes that one with a hope in Christ will obtain riches if he or she seeks them, as if there is no distinction at all in obtaining them for such a person, but then limits the intent for such pursuit to helping the less fortunate and not to aggrandizing oneself. Jacob 2:17-19. See Approaching Zion for more. The Savior clearly took a dim view of rich men and seeking for riches, notwithstanding the rich among us. The great competitor to serving God is mammon (riches, wealth, money). Mt. 6: 23. I am aware that some Church leaders did not serve missions, but I do not see how that cuts against President Monson’s statement as the living prophet. I do believe it vital that one feel the Spirit and have a testimony before applying to go on a mission, but if one is able and worthy, I would expect that one would experience the Spirit impressing one to go in that case. You seem to expect otherwise? Why?

  18. I believe Dale Murphy also benefitted from the Donny Osmond rule. The positive impact for the Mormon, no LDS, no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Thank you Elder Ballard!)Brother Murphy had as a player and role model dwarfs anything done by modern missionaries. His example has opened many doors and conversations about the gospel and whatever name we are supposed to use to refer to ourselves Mormon/LDS/CoJCLDS. He is a living legend in Atlanta and the Southeast in general and he’s joined at the hip with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or can I use Mormon in this context since that is how the Southerners call Brother Murphy?

    We can only speculate what effect a mission would have had for Brother Murphy’s playing career, though I suspect it would have been negative on his playing abilities. (He is an adult convert and would have gone in his early 20s instead of 19). I cannot speak for Brother Murphy and have no idea if he has any regrets, but it would be hard to overstate the impact he made for the Church by playing and living the way he did. Jabari can easily do the same thing to a different audience than MLB fans whether he stays in school or jumps to the NBA. Brother Parker can follow Dale Murphy and be a susperstar in his sport and outstanding role model. He can skip a mission and go to straight to being a mission president just like Dale Murphy before him.

  19. I believe in personal revelation can in certain exceptions, go against the general counsel of the Brethren. For example, some families have been prompted with the wife to be the breadwinner while the husband stays home. Exceptions and circumstances require adaptation – and the Brethren do not teach the exceptions from the pulpit. Even though exceptions abound.

    I’ll be interested to find out how the Spirit leads and directs the Parker family.

  20. My mom investigated and joined the church at 17 because she was impressed with Donny and his family and the values they expressed during their many television interviews. I expect that there could be similar interest and curiosity in the church developed because of Jabari, and not just from teenage girls.

    There’s also a conflict of interest for me, and I would assume, other Utah mormons. As an LDS person, I recognize if he chooses to go on a mission, that’s great, but as a Jazz fan, it would render him undraftable in our time of need. Even if he doesn’t come to Utah (can you imagine?) the more loaded the draft, the better our odds of picking a real star, right?

  21. Dear Lord,
    Please don’t let Jabari Parker end up on the Utah Jazz.

  22. He’s better off at Duke than the Jazz.

  23. lol, Kristine A FTW!

    Parker needs to come back home to Chicago, join Jimmer with the Bulls and then the real “Mormons in basketball” discussion will flow. He claims Rose is his greatest motivationI am flummoxed by the Bulls unwillingness to tank the season when Rose blew out another knee.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    rb, I agree that the Dale Murphy analog is apt.

  25. I understand where Fred’s coming from, but the general rule doesn’t apply to everybody. Plus, it would seem rather odd to have the prophet mention specifically that up and coming celebrities may not fit the general rule. The fact that Nephi’s direction by the Spirit (to take another life) has been published is not a sufficient reason to say that nobody else could receive personal revelation to go against general counsel (or commandment). The decision is between Jabari and the Lord, and your comment seems to imply that the Lord could only possibly give Jabari one answer, and one answer only. I say that it’s between Jabari and the Lord, and the Lord could tell Jabari to not go. Whatever decision Jabari announces, that ought to be good enough for fellow saints.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Update: We now know Jabari has opted out of a mission, a decision I fully support. As of this writing he is completely conflicted and does not appear to be leaning either way. He plans to sit down and have a conversation with Coach K early next week and then come to a final decision either Tuesday or Wednesday.

    While I think either decision would be fine, I will admit that secretly I’m rooting for a return to Duke.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Update No. 2: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we now have our answer: the NBA. Here is an SI article where Jabari very eloquently describes his decision process:

  28. What a mature, classy statement.

  29. Steve Young was also encouraged by his Stake President not to serve a mission. I heard Brother Young explain it at a fireside shortly after he joined the 49ers. Anyone who has read biographies on Steve know that he didn’t give a darn about the money. In the first league he played in, his money often went in a drawer, uncashed. When he did use the money it was to pay for stuff the league didn’t cover. When he pulled up to the 49ers parking lot, he was driving an old clunker. Not to show off, but it was part of who his dad raised him to be. He changed his own oil. As an athlete he did so much for so many. He used his talent as a missionary tool. He never shied away from his religion, he always (okay there was the one game where he lost his temper but) represented the best values the church PR could have asked for. He funds so many charities to help kids. I think these exceptions are good. There are multiple ways to go out into the world. Brother Jabari has my support.

  30. Can’t believe I missed this one last month. Great post, Kevin!