It’s not every day an NBA star wanders onto campus to visit students at Heritage but that’s just what happened on May 17.
Mua Faleao, director of the Cascade North boys’ home, found himself in an impromptu basketball game on May 16 with NBA star Jabari Parker and Jabari’s brother Chris, in Utah for a vacation.
Mua said Chris and Jabari decided to take Mua and his friends out to eat at IHOP after the game. After midnight Mua’s wife Hoku mentioned it was now Mua’s birthday.
“We had a great time and I had the inspiration not to just share Jabari with my family and friends but I wanted to make an impact on my (Heritage) boys as well,” Mua said. “We were done eating and I said, ‘do you want to know what I really want for my birthday? I would love for you to come and meet the boys I work with.’”
Mua said although Jabari had just played basketball with him, a cool birthday present itself, he had no second thoughts – Jabari said he’d be there.
Annie Fagnant is the program manager for the Elevate Academy at Heritage and was at the midnight birthday meal.
“Mua’s wife and I are friends,” Annie said. “I got to see Jabari in a normal setting. Just seeing how he composed himself and how engaged he was with others at the table, I wanted to make sure we had something for him (at Heritage) and he had an impact on the boys. We kept it pretty small; he did it for Mua. It was not a big scene. It was kind of informal.”
The boys of the Elevate homes, some boys from the Peers Academy and several staff members were treated to Chris and Jabari Parker’s visit shooting hoops and chatting.
Max was one of the lucky students and was impressed with the way Jabari presented himself.
“He wasn’t super cocky or wearing all this nice stuff,” he said. “He was laid back and humble. He talked about not going out on Friday night, just playing basketball, practicing two hours a day. He gave me something to look up to.”
Emilio said he liked how Jabari was “calm, cool and collected.”
“He didn’t showboat like other players,” he said. “He was there to give his view on life and how he succeeded. One thing he said was that if you’re not practicing you’re getting worse. If you aren’t working on skills you won’t get any better, to consciously try to work on things. To me it was good to hear you should keep your values and find what you want to do in life.”
Upon entering the gym Jabari immediately put down his phone and hat and asked who wanted to play “21.” He also threw a football around with some students whose sport pick was football, not basketball.
Mua said after playing ball with the boys, the group listened while Jabari and Chris spoke. Jabari talked about it being rough in Chicago and the work ethic he had to have.
“He stayed busy to stay out of trouble,” Mua said. “Basketball was his healthy outlet. He helped the boys realize you should find that one thing you are good at and perfect it to the best of your ability – it’s your ticket out of situations you might struggle in.”
His brother Chris spoke about the discipline you need after you find that one talent you have.
“Make sure you don’t react to the world and what the world throws at you,” Mua said, quoting Chris. “You can be a bigger and better person. He bragged a little bit more about Jabari, something Jabari wouldn’t do.”
Annie said it was powerful to hear them both speak.
“We couldn’t have planned it better,” she said. “They were talking about finding that one thing that can lead you out. Seeing the reaction of the boys, I’ve never seen them more quiet or focused – they could relate to someone who had made it.”
She said once the brothers finished speaking Jabari challenged the boys to some half court shots, offering $20 to the first one who made it. He made good on his challenge, then paid a second, third and fourth boy for making their shots, having to borrow $20 from his brother.
Jabari was the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft and currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks as a power forward. He suffered an ACL injury his first year but came back from it even stronger.
“He mentioned how in his first year he had an ACL injury,” Mua said. “In his mind he could have given up, thrown in the towel and collected his money but his work ethic is what got him out of the situation in Chicago and the same mind set for him was, ‘I’m going to come back stronger and better and prove to critics, ESPN and media how great a player I can be.’”
Mua said Jabari also talked about his faith. “Jabari said ‘what motivated me was love for God, for family and for basketball, in that order,’” Mua said. “He had a couple friends who had money because of the wrong things they were doing – it would be cool for a bit, but now one friend is in jail, and probably won’t be able to hold down a regular job when he gets out.”
The message for the boys was to put their skills and interests to work in something worthwhile that would pay off for the long run, not just in the moment.
Mua said during the half court shots Jabari was also letting the boys and staff take pictures with him, rebounding shots and being patient with the boys.
“This was an impromptu visit to come see the kids,” Mua said. “He probably had a million things to do; he was on vacation. It was spur of the moment out of the goodness of his heart.”
Jabari donated a signed Milwaukee Bucks shirt to Heritage and gave Mua a signed pair of shoes, those he had worn in their game the night before Jabari’s visit.
“It was the best birthday I’ve had in my 25 years of living,” Mua said.
Annie said even though it was impromptu, it happened for a reason.
“I’ve never seen so many kids impacted at once,” she said. They agreed this is a memory most will have for a time long.
Author: Kaye Nelson