SALT LAKE CITY — Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Houston are some of the illustrious stops throughout the grind of a typical NBA season.
With no disrespect to the state of Utah, most players aren’t circling their calendars to play in Salt Lake City.
Injured Milwaukee Bucks star Jabari Parker is different. He actually loves the yearly trip to Utah.
“It’s real peaceful,” Parker said of Utah. “It’s a good family environment. It’s nice.”
Parker is also one the few NBA players who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His mother, Lola, is a native of Tonga but was raised in the Salt Lake City area.
Parker’s grandmother, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins still reside in town. As Parker continues to recover from his second ACL tear, his faith keeps him in great spirits during the tough period.
“It’s the biggest thing that helps me every day and regardless of if I was hurt or not,” Parker said, while winding down from Saturday’s shootaround at Vivint Arena. “I’ve got to make sure that I always worship and give God thanks because anything can happen at any moment in time, so you’ve just got to stay true.”
For the past month and a half, Parker has participated in practices, shootarounds, 3-on-3 battles and team travels — including Saturday’s trip to Utah.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd expects him to return at some point in February. He initially underwent knee surgery last season at that same point with Dr. Robert LaPrade in Vail, Colorado, at the Steadman Clinic. The Bucks organization isn’t rushing the process on the fourth-year forward
“He’s been through this before so this isn’t his first time,” Kidd said. “He’s been with the team for this long road trip, so he’s been practicing, working and mentally and physically, he’s doing a great job.”
Milwaukee guard Gary Payton II is one of the teammates who loves to soak in Parker’s positive energy. He first became familiar with the Mormon culture during his two seasons at Salt Lake Community College from 2012-14 and respects Parker’s beliefs.
“JP’s always positive. If anyone gets a little nick or bruise, he just says, ‘be strong,’” Payton said. “We’re not in his situation but he knows how to handle that being his second time going through that so he’s just trying to be positive and keep high spirits.”
Jazz guard Rodney Hood is another one who enjoys being in the locker room with Parker. The duo starred together at Duke during the 2013-14 season, leading the Blue Devils to a NCAA Tournament appearance.
When Hood first learned of Parker’s religious background, he was very surprised — but not in a bad way.
“I really didn’t believe him, especially with him being from the South Side of Chicago, but he really took it serious and practiced the religion,” Hood said. “I didn’t get too in-depth with him about it, but it was just a shock when I first heard it.”
Even after missing so much time with the left knee surgery, Parker said he never feels isolated because of his connection with his teammates on an individual basis.
While observing the action, he’s looking forward to helping the Bucks out immediately. For now, it’s all about patience.
“Injuries are a part of it,” Parker said. “It’s all about what you do with it to make yourself better and to come back from it.
“I can’t control my injuries, but I can control giving the best effort, so that’s all I worry about.”