WASHINGTON — Like the rest of the world, Washington Wizards forward Jabari Parker was tuned into what was happening in Salt Lake City this past week with Russell Westbrook and the Utah Jazz fans.
Two fans ultimately received lifetime bans for verbal abuse directed at Westbrook on separate incidents, but Parker wasn’t totally surprised by the behavior.
“I was not shocked,” Parker told the Deseret News ahead of the Wizards-Jazz tipoff on Monday. “Russ was an easy target for them because they’ve done it to him once before and it’s unfortunate, but I knew they was gonna end up doing it again.”
For Parker though, Utah has a special place in his heart. Despite growing up in the South Side of Chicago, his mother, Lola, is a native of Tonga who was raised in the Salt Lake City area.
His grandmother, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins also still live in the area, and he resides in Utah for portions of the offseason. Brigham Young University was also among his list of colleges finalists before he ultimately committed to Duke in 2012 as one of the nation's top recruits.
“I’ve got a lot of family there,” Parker confirmed. “I got a house there that I go to in the summer time, my grandma lives there, so I’ve got a bunch of cousins and everybody there.”
So, with that, as well as being one the few NBA players who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his perspective on Utah is different than most. While NBA players throughout the years have been critical of Jazz fans, he thinks the overall fan base is often painted in a bad light.
“They really get (a bad rap) because they just look forward to competition, they look forward to people coming in and they take their basketball very prideful there,” Parker said. “You’ve got good fans, you’ve got bad fans, but that’s everywhere so you can’t include all of them as one.
“It’s just the culture there, they’re just very passionate and sometimes living in that box where you only have a white demographic, they are ignorant to the surroundings and they’re ignorant to who’s out there with the black players so that’s just how it is.”
Parker knows because he’s been on the receiving end of some of those taunts inside Vivint Arena but decided to take it out on the hardwood.
“Yeah, besides them calling me fat but I don’t care,” Parker recalled a past incident. “I’m the most athletic dude on the court so I really don’t care. They called me overweight or whatever while I was in the league but then I came back, and I dunked like three major dunks.”