Jake Flannigan filmed every in-state basketball game played by Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy during the 2011–12 season. He saw Simeon’s star forward, Jabari Parker, score 40 points one day and block 12 shots another. But his lasting impression of Jabari was formed when the camera was off. After a home game in which Jabari barely missed a triple double, Flannigan, a producer at Comcast SportsNet Chicago, waited outside the locker room for an interview. Jabari never appeared. He had used another exit to return to the court for the jayvee game and was behind the bench passing out water.
“The other varsity players were out in the hallway, talking to girls by the snack stand,” says Flannigan. “The best player in the city was being the water boy for the jayvee. It’s hard to root against a kid like that. He’s on top of the world, but he’s incredibly humble.”
Humble isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind when describing a star athlete, but it’s the one most often used by people who have been around Jabari: the high school janitor, the hall monitors, the cheerleaders, even hard-bitten sports reporters and Chicago’s famously combative mayor. What makes this all the more surprising is that Jabari, 17, is not just the best high school player in the state. He’s the best high school player since LeBron James.
Last season the 6’9″, 220-pound junior led Simeon to a 33–1 record and a third straight Class 4A state championship. In April he was chosen the Gatorade National Player of the Year, becoming only the fourth nonsenior to win the award (after James, Greg Oden and Brandon Knight). Three months earlier USA Basketball had named Jabari its male athlete of the year for 2011, succeeding 2010 winner Kevin Durant, an NBA All-Star. Jabari got that nod after leading the U.S. to the gold medal and being named MVP of the FIBA Americas U16 championship in Cancún, Mexico, last summer.Continue Reading on sportsillustrated.cnn.com