http://www.jsonline.com/sports/bucks/a-hesitant-jabari-parker-returns-to-floor-for-bucks-b99609914z1-340604951.htmlAll the hard work was done. The countless hours of rehab. The time alone in the weight room. The tedious process of regaining his strength, his form, his confidence.
Finally, it was time to take the final steps on his long road back to meaningful basketball Wednesday night.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your Milwaukee Bucks!"
Jabari Parker sprinted onto the court at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and turned around to greet his Milwaukee Bucks teammates...only to see them standing back in the tunnel, laughing at him.
Up in the stands, Sonny Parker — Jabari's father and a former NBA player — had to laugh, too.
"They do that to rookies," he said.
Jabari Parker isn't by definition a rookie, because he played 25 games last year before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Dec. 15. But the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft is basically starting over, and he looked it in the Bucks' 91-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 6-foot-8 power forward was cautious and hesitant in his first game action in nearly 11 months. He didn't attack the basket. He spent most of his 16 minutes of playing time hovering around the perimeter. And his line was far from impressive: two points, four rebounds, one assist. He made 1 of 6 shots.
"I thought I did pretty good," Parker said with a smile. "I made a basket."
His performance warranted a little self-deprecating humor, but don't let him fool you. Parker wants to be a great player, and there's no reason he can't achieve all his goals and help the Bucks achieve theirs.
But this is going to take time.
"He has some rust," coach Jason Kidd said. "As much as we try to simulate games in practice, the atmosphere is different, the lights are brighter."
Parker, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in his abbreviated rookie season, was in the starting lineup but was a non-factor and didn't play in the fourth quarter. His eagerly anticipated return to the court wound up being overshadowed by the Bucks' thrilling victory. That was just fine with him.
"I thought it went really well," he said. "We got the win and that's all that really matters."
Sonny Parker wasn't the least bit concerned about his son's lack of production. Sitting about 15 rows from the court and watching intently, he focused on how Jabari moved, and he liked what he saw.
"He looks real fluid," Sonny said. "He looks good. I'm watching his movement. It doesn't seem like he had that (reconstructive knee) surgery at all. He's just trying to get a feel for everything. He has to get used to everything all over again.
"He's a little hesitant on some things, but you can see how well he moves."
Kidd was asked before the game if getting Parker back felt a little like Christmas Eve.
"No, it's only November," he said. "It's more like Thanksgiving. We're thankful for him to have that opportunity to come out and play tonight and to begin his NBA career again."
As for his teammates' prank just before the game, Parker said, "I didn't get pranked. It looked bad on them. They didn't follow me."
Soon enough, the hope is, they will.