Chicago native Jabari Parker already embracing Milwaukee

Chicago native Jabari Parker already embracing Milwaukee
June 28, 2014, 6:00 pm
Share This Post
Mark Strotman

Seven games into his NBA career, Brandon Jennings looked like the second coming of Allen Iverson. In turn, Bucks fans instantly began embracing the lightning-quick point guard as the face of a franchise in need of one.

Jennings, the No. 10 pick in the 2009 draft, had averaged 25.6 points, 5.1 assists and connected on nearly 57 percent of his 3-pointers in that span, including a 55-point outburst to cap that run. The Bucks, which had won 34 games the previous year, were 5-2 and had the sensational rookie to thank for it.

Jennings led the Bucks to the playoffs that year, and though the point guard's numbers continued to improve in his second, third and fourth seasons, there was a growing concern in Milwaukee that Jennings yearned for a larger market and wasn't invested long-term in Milwaukee. There was never a sense that Jennings had embraced the city, and despite his on-court successes never truly won over a fan base that had been waiting for years to call a superstar their own. Perhaps Jennings peaked too early or the Bucks fans tried to make the shot-happy Jennings into something he wasn't.

Either way, by the end of his Jennings' frustrating 2013 campaign it was clear both sides had had enough. The Compton, Ca., native's desires to play in a large market increased, there was obvious discontentment in the locker room and Jennings reportedly had "irreconcilable differences" with the franchise. He even changed agents in an effort to get himself out of Milwaukee quicker. The previous October he had refused to talk to the Bucks on a contract extension, believing he could get more money elsewhere as a restricted free agent, and by season's end had no desire to re-up in the Brew City.

[2014 DRAFT: Time is now for struggling teams to get better]

So last year Jennings, who had been the de facto face of the franchise, left in a sign-and-trade deal with the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight. Jennings got his money (three years, $25 million) and a big(ger) market and, most importantly, a fresh start. And it left the Bucks with another void at the top of the franchise, another player gone. Fans had read this story before, most recently when the franchise traded Ray Allen in 2003, when Michael Redd's knees gave out and $91 million contract paychecks continued to cash in, and when 2003 lottery pick T.J. Ford was traded two years into his career as the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony turned around their respective franchises.

But for the first time since perhaps Jennings' famous "double-nickel" game, there's a real buzz in Milwaukee surrounding Bucks basketball.

And it's because of Jabari Parker.

A brutal 15-win season following Jennings' (and Monta Ellis') departure allowed the Bucks to secure the No. 2 pick in Thursday's draft, and they acquired not only a sensational talent in Parker but someone who wants to be in Milwaukee, someone who wants to turn the franchise around while embracing the city and fan base.

Days before the draft, Parker made headlines when he told reporters he thought he'd be drafted second overall by the Bucks. It was odd for a player of Parker's caliber and competitive nature to essentially concede the top pick to Andrew Wiggins, but that's what he did. At the time reports were that the Cavaliers were leaning toward drafting Parker, but those same reports noted that Parker desired to play in Milwaukee, a franchise with a much cloudier future than Cleveland's.

[MORE: Jabari Parker signs shoe deal with Jordan brand]

So when Wiggins came off the board to the Cavaliers and minutes later Parker put on his green Bucks draft cap, it signaled more than just a dream realized for the 6-foot-8 forward; it marked Day 1 of a journey he hopes to begin and end in Milwaukee. That same night he told reporters he hoped to stay in Milwaukee his entire career, and while it wasn't a binding proclamation it's a glimmer of hope for one of the smallest NBA markets -- complete with new owners who are looking to build a new arena downtown -- that they've got their foundation to turn their dreams into realities.

"I think they're getting a hard worker. I think I have a lot of integrity and a lot of pride," Parker said at his introductory press conference Friday. "I don't look forward to leaving anytime soon. I want to keep that in my heart because if I just look at this as a short-term deal then things won't work out."

That short-term likely will include its fair share of losses, as the last-place Bucks from a year ago won't be making any giant splashes in the free-agency period and are still entrenched in a rebuilding phase with a couple big salaries on their payroll.

But unlike Jennings' rookie season, the Bucks have pieces with which they can build around Parker. 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo is oozing with potential, 22-year-old Brandon Knight already has 213 games under his belt while Larry Sanders, who led the East in blocks two years ago, should bounce back if he isn't dealt this summer.

But no matter how those supporting core pieces progress or who general manager John Hammed brings in for support, the Bucks' successes or failures will fall on Parker. And if he truly believes what he said, that he's in Milwaukee for the long haul, the Chicago native and Milwaukee should make for a picture-perfect match. He received a standing ovation when introduced at Milwaukee's summer music festival, he threw out the first pitch before Saturday's Brewers game and more than 300 fans showed up to his introduction.

"I was coaching in Los Angeles and we got a guy in a trade by the name of Kobe Bryant. And I remember watching this guy, and I remember watching goosebumps in watching (Bryant) work out," head coach Larry Drew said of his eight-year stint with the Lakers. "I got those same goosebumps three weeks ago, and I'm just excited, not just for myself but for the city of Milwaukee to get a (player) of Jabari's caliber."

It'd be unfair to compare Parker to the future first ballot Hall-of-Famer, but Bryant has played all of his 18 seasons in one city. And from what Parker has said as well as who he is as both a player and person, he's prepared to embrace the Bucks franchise both on and off the court.