More Than a Game
Basketball star, Jeffery Parker, satisfies his love for the game and finds peace in the mission
STORY BY MARK HARTLEY | PHOTOS BY NICK DANIELSON
(Above) It’s nearing 8 p.m. on a Sunday night and the last of the Rec Center patrons are trickling out. Meanwhile in the MAC gym, Jeffery Parker is on shot number seven of 1,300.
Boom, boom, swish.
It’s Friday night and Jeffery M. Parker Jr. is where he always is; in an empty gym playing the game he loves.
He was invited to hangout with friends but prefers the solitude of the gym.
“It’s nothing personal, I just have to get through my daily routine,” Jeff says.
He listens to no music because he prefers the acoustic sounds of the rhythm from the bounce of the ball on the hard wood floor and the swish of net. His shirt is discolored — the result of being converted to a towel designated to wipe the sweat from his brow. He does not slow down. There is only so much time in the night for him to reach his daily 1,300-shot quota.
Boom, boom, swish.
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A smile appears on Jeff’s face as he is pushed back and forth by his teammates upon his entrance to the court.[/caption]
The gym is Jeff’s getaway, his sanctuary. Even if he has pressing schoolwork due the next day, when he steps on the court, his attention is sully given to his love for the game. His worries fade away like water on rocks. For most of his life he has been considered an underdog, motivated by stereotypes and perceptions, committed to out-working anyone in front of him. The peace on the court allows his soul to find everything he needs in between the cement walls and reflective floors, he says.
Jeff’s practice is not casual. His tall and narrow build provides an athletic display as he moves from shot to shot. His movements are a song that rise and fall in melody, bringing the viewer emotional satisfaction when the ball finds its place in the net. The determination of his practice may come across as intimidating, however, if you find the courage to talk with Jeff, you realize he’s the nicest guy in the gym. He will talk with anyone that greets him, but be prepared, the practicing won’t stop.
His favorite spot to play basketball as a youth was Sobrante Park, in Oakland, California. His mom would pack him a lunch everyday, knowing he would be there for hours. Basketball players would come and go and sometimes Jeff would play them one-on-one, but he would eventually find himself alone on the court.
Thinking about the old hoops he used to practice on makes him think about his mom. Princess Parker isn’t able to make Jeff’s lunch anymore, but she finds her ways to support him. Jeff receives a call from his parents after every game. They always tell him he played great, no matter what the score was. Jeff wouldn’t be where he is now, if it wasn’t for his parent’s support, he says.
When Jeff was younger he was bullied because of his faith in Jesus Christ. When he reported this to his mother she told him, “You’re different, and God has different plans for you than he does for them.”
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With exactly 35 minutes remaining before the start of a game against rival team, Central Washington University, the WWU locker room goes silent. Just as he does before each game, Jeff leads his team in a prayer.[/caption]
Jeff’s lifeline to his passion for basketball is connected to his relationship with God. He often reflects upon a story in the book of Genesis. He says he is inspired by how Joseph’s priority concern is with how God will view his action.
“Some people are worried about their parents finding out about something, or their coach. I’m concerned about God watching my mistakes and he is always watching,” Jeff says.
It’s because of this mindset that it’s easy for Jeff to say no to things. He believes that God gave him gifts to be a basketball player and he wants to use those gifts to glorify God. He trusts that his confidence doesn’t rely on his numbers but in his faith.
Players and friends will come in and out of the gym to practice for a little while or just say hello. However, they rarely stay for long, and Jeff returns to the rhythm of the squeaking of shoes and echoes of bounces. The lights are bright, as they hang high in the rafters, giving movement to Jeff’s shadow as he moves from shot to shot.
When Jeff stops practicing, which is rare, the silence that enters the gym is so quiet you can feel it. This peace is rare to humans. It only enters when it has been won. It comes from accomplishing something you have worked for. Jeff doesn’t sit in the silence for long; his work ethic doesn’t allow for long breaks.
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Taking a final moment to himself, Jeff sits quietly on the bench, waiting to hear his name, as the announcer calls out each starter for the Western Washington University Vikings.[/caption]
Boom, boom, swish.
A staff member of the Wade King Recreation Center greets Jeff as he moves through another rotation of shots, informing him that the gym is closing. He receives the same warning every night, but never packs up. Eventually the Rec Center is forced to one action — turning off the lights. Staff have threatened to fine occupants that remain in the gym after closing, however, no one has the heart to fine Jeff. It has become a frequent game they play. Jeff ignores the warning, and then the lights go out. The net is done swishing for the night, the squeaking of shoes is gone and the ball bounces to a hearty crescendo before silence overtakes the gym. Jeff stands alone in the darkness.
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The MAC gym continues to get quieter as more students leave and as Jeff nears shot number 100 of 1,300.[/caption]