Can Jabari Parker do what Derrick Rose couldn't in Chicago?

ByNick Friedell via ESPN logo
Monday, July 16, 2018

Jabari Parker has never been afraid of Derrick Rose's shadow. He has embraced it on every step of his basketball life. As he gets set to join the Chicago Bulls, the team Rose led back to prominence earlier in the decade, the parallels between the two proud South Side natives will only intensify. To Parker, the comparisons to Rose are a blessing, not a curse.

"He's still a hero for a lot of people, including myself," Parker told a few months ago. "And his legacy is gonna be, it's going to be with the tops and historically with the best no matter what. ... We embrace Derrick so much no matter what he does; he can stop playing now. He's going to be a legend."

The similarities between Parker and Rose's journey to NBA stardom have never been hard to see. At Simeon Career Academy, Parker took his team to four straight state championships, following in the footsteps of the title that Rose won at the same high school. After watching Rose become the youngest MVP in NBA history at age 22, Parker became the second pick in the 2014 draft, suffering the same ACL injury in his left knee that Rose sustained in 2012 -- only Parker did it twice -- enduring the tedious rehab for a second time before returning in February of last season to mixed results.

"His injuries don't define him," Parker said of Rose, although he could've easily been talking about himself. When healthy, the four-year vet has shown flashes of the form that made him one of the most highly touted prospects since early in his high school career. Before re-injuring his knee in 2017, Parker was averaging career highs across the board (20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game) and showing off a 3-point shot he hadn't possessed as a teenager.

The Bulls are hoping that Parker's words about Rose will be prescient about his own future, and he'll be able to return to that pre-injury form, and perhaps even surpass it. There is no organization more familiar with the risk involved in banking on a star returning to form after a torn ACL -- after three consecutive seasons averaging better than 20 PPG before his injury, Rose never again averaged even 18 PPG in a Bulls uniform after it -- but the Bulls are willing to take that risk, in part because the second year of Parker's $40 million contract is a team option.

"Jabari is a 23-year-old player who is a natural fit with our young core," Bulls GM Gar Forman said in a statement announcing Parker's arrival. "And is a proven scorer at the NBA level. We look forward to welcoming him back to his hometown."

When Parker suits up in October, he'll become the 19th player in team history born in the city of Chicago, according to Bulls Radio statistician Jeff Mangurten. The Bulls are banking on that hometown connection to help them reinvigorate a frustrated group of season-ticket holders who have been hesitant to continue to invest in a lackluster product. Even while playing in Milwaukee, Parker's connection to his hometown has remained strong, and while his relationship to Rose isn't as close as expected when Parker entered the league, both men have a respect for the all the steps needed to take in order to get from Chicago's high school ranks to basketball's biggest stage.

"His influence on the culture helped me go to Simeon," Parker said. "I've seen that if you bring a group of guys together, and if you are successful, then you're going to do well, so that's what I love: The exposure that he helped pave the way for me and other guys, and I was able to do that for other guys after me."

Now Parker is faced with the challenge of doing what Rose and fellow Chicago product Dwyane Wade could not do before him: Maintain the same level of love within the city on the way out that they had on the way in.

Rose's relationship with the city soured during his yearlong absence as he rehabbed his torn ACL. As he struggled to stay on the floor because of injuries over his final three seasons in Chicago, Rose received an increasingly rocky response.

"It's just normal, especially with fans; they don't know him," Parker said of the way Chicago's relationship with Rose went south. "But the people who he has the impact on love him. That's the type of relationship that's normal in any society, just a love-hate relationship."

Wade's homecoming in the summer of 2016 was much celebrated, but the good feelings didn't last long as he wasn't able to recapture his championship form from his years in Miami, squabbled with teammates and was eventually bought out and departed his hometown again after just a year.

It's not an uncommon story. Of the 18 Chicago natives to play for the Bulls before Parker, only Rose made an All-Star team in a Chicago uniform, and only Randy Brown and Darrell Walker -- reserves on the Michael Jordan-led teams of the '90s -- won a title. But Parker remains focused on the positive.

"I always remember the good times," he said. "[Rose is] an MVP. Not many people can say they're MVP of the league, and that's all I remember is how he carried the city, who he was to us growing up, and that's just going to be my hero."

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