I live in Vancouver, Washington, which is a suburb of Portland. Every year Nike and USA Basketball put on a camp and public game in Portland for high school aged preparatory and international players. It’s called the Nike Hoop Summit. You have probably heard of it. Me and my mom try to go to the public every year, because it is extraordinarily fun. Cheap tickets for awesome seats, good game, a chance to wildly project NBA futures onto 18 year olds. (I still believe in you, Dennis Schroeder! I saw you control the flow of the game against America in 2013!) It is everything you could want from a sports outing.
In 2013, there was a palpable buzz around the event. Jabari Parker, a recent Duke committee and Sports Illustrated cover-boy, would be squaring off against Andrew Wiggins (an American preps player, but on the international team by function of his Canadian heritage), a hyped-as-hyped-can-be prospect who went for 20 and 7 in the previous year.
I walked into the Rose Garden’s lower bowl that day with a black pall in my heart. Jabari Parker, I had decided, was the enemy. First, he was a Dukie and I regarded that as unabideable. Second, I had seen Wiggins rip the game apart in person last year and regarded myself as an early adopter.
I also generally align my rooting interests with the International squad at the Summit, and Parker is an American who was playing for America. If I don’t have a rooting interest in a game I prefer if the home team loses, because I think it’s more interesting to be in a crowd of mildly upset people than a crowd of happy people. Also the first year I went the kids behind me were yelling semi-racist things about Wang Zhelin and when he blocked Nerlens Noel at the rim I stood up and pumped my fist and yelled, “YEAH GET EM’ WANG.”
The game started and there was an old man behind me watching the game with younger relations. He seemed nice enough, pointing out this and that. (He shared my enthusiasm for Schroeder’s control of the game.) Around the halfway point of the game, he installed a rooting interest in one of these kids: Jabari Parker’s performance and well being.
At halftime, we went into the concourse and watched Andre Miller beat the Warirors with a layup on the TV at Schonely’s Place.
For the entire second half of the game, this kid, this sweet, silly kid, who probably wasn’t a basketball fan in particular and just wanted something to latch on to, sat in his seat and yelled, with his high pitched, prepubecent voice, over and over, in thousands of variations:
“Let’s go Jabari!”
“Let’s gooo Jaaaabaaarrriiii!”
“Let’s go Jabarrrriiiiiii!”
It was HORRIBLE. And it went on and on and on and on into eternity after eternity.
After the game, a US Basketball loss, when everyone was leaving, a small group of mean teens mockingly yelled, “Let’s go Jabari,” at this poor kid. I felt bad for him immediately, but I couldn’t help myself. “You know, you probably didn’t need to yell THE ENTIRE TIME.” I forget what he said in reply. I think he looked kind of confused. I walked out of that game relishing America’s outright pantsing by the world team and set against Jabari Parker for the rest of my life.
At some point in the future I was telling my therapist about this and I started to lean into Parker a little bit. “You know what he said in his post game interview, Gabrielle? ‘I have had a great time, but I have to go back and get caught up on my homework.’ I mean, c’mon!”
I was trying to allude to a sort of conspiracy of Parker branding himself, as an 18-Year old, as a “responsible” player who “does his homework.” The type of person I stand against and resent as a former terrible high school student who went to Evergreen and fucked around with books and plays for four years.
“Oh, that’s unfair,” she said. “I like this kid!”
Gabby was right. I was being unfair! I don’t know Jabari Parker! He’s probably a perfectly nice person. I hope he has a good NBA career. But every I watch him catch the ball in the post on a wing mismatch, the echoes will ring in my head….
“JAB-ARI!!!! LET’S GOOOO JABA-RI!”
And I will be compelled in that moment to pull for his failure. Sorry, man. Blame that weird kid and his grandpa