From the moment his name first beeped on the radar as a prospect for Melrose High School which he helped to a Tennessee state championship, to his quest to become the first Filipino to make it to the NBA, Bobby Ray Parks Jr.’s story has been extensively documented.
His journey is an open book with pages written even by international media outlets such as Sports Illustrated, Grantland, and SB Nation, yet Parks remains a mystery to those who have followed his career.
He has seemingly erected a frosted glass around him, allowing just enough translucence for people to see portions of his persona, the finer details kept a perimeter jumper away, a rather safe distance, from prying eyes which are quick on the draw to scrutinize.
His latest move, signing with the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins in the professional Japan Basketball League, or B. League, was welcomed by most Filipino hoop fans, though there remained a spatter of ho-hums from those who have made it a pastime to pass judgment on him.
But Parks is content with where he is, 340 kilometers west of Tokyo in Japan’s third most populous urban area.
“I love the culture here in Japan. People are very genuine. Basketball in Japan is definitely growing right now,” he told Rappler. “To be an Asian import played a huge role in my decision because then I can play the whole game. Compare that to the three regular international imports who would have to rotate for the two slots allowed for them to play.”
Nagoya was the first club to make Parks a solid offer after he made himself available in the market. Interest from other B. League teams followed. There were also opportunities on the table for Parks to play in Australia and Europe.
He discussed the thought process behind his choice. “Everything in the pitch was great. From the team support to the location to how the team is composed,” he said. “Management gave us a great practice facility and they are very professional. Of course, there is also Shawn Dennis.”
Dennis is the new head coach for Nagoya who previously handled the Shiga Lakestars, the team Kiefer Ravena will be joining.
A native of Melbourne, Dennis was the Australian National Basketball League Coach of the Year in 2016. Parks then added with a laugh as he highlighted Nagoya’s team colors: “I also love black and red. These were my favorite colors growing up.”
That last quip, perhaps, encapsulates the current state of the 6-foot-4 wingman. He appears refreshed and more relaxed, a picture of someone who has reconnected with himself and the game he loves.
Detours and humps
Being in Japan for Parks is like being set loose in a playground that allows him to rekindle the child in him and at the same time, enables him to explore being a man of the world who is constantly seeking to learn new things.
“Nagoya is rich in culture. The castle here is where Oda Nobunaga started. As a kid, I watched anime – Samurai X, Kenshin Himura. The presence of honor and respect is great,” he said.
He recognizes the language barrier, but he has taken steps to learn to communicate with people in the country that would be his home in the next seven months.
“I was at the airport, trying to talk to everybody, telling them ‘koko ni ite shiawase desu.’” Translated to English, it meant Parks was happy to be there.
His career trajectory has been anything but a straight line to Japan. The path adorned with MVP awards, a championship, and scoring titles was also littered with detours and humps that have made the ride meandering.
He shunned the US NCAA despite being recruited by Division 1 school Georgia Tech and came back to the country to play for the National University and be with his ailing father, PBA legend Bobby Parks.
Before he could max out his eligibility with NU, he packed his bags and chased the NBA dream he shared with his father, a dream fully supported by NU’s main backer Hans Sy.
Parks could have gone straight to the PBA after coming back from the States. Instead, he signed with Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) where he won the title in 2018 and was a three-time local MVP.
He broke ground by becoming the first homegrown Filipino to play in the NBA Summer League and in the NBA G League. Along the way, he discovered there was a lot more about the game that he had to grasp.
“I knew coming from high school that I was a slasher and I could shoot. Then I realized I had to work on a mid-range game and a post-game,” said Parks.
“When I transitioned to the G League, I had a trainer, Tyrone Gordon, who changed my game completely. I owe so much to him. He taught me footwork, how to stay in control, to play at my own pace. When I looked back at my game in college, I was like ‘Damn, I was terrible.’”
Having witnessed the kind of sacrifice and discipline needed to compete at the highest level, Parks never ceases to push himself to get better.
“During the pandemic, I was lucky I had a close family friend who owned a court so I was there practicing every single day,” he bared.
“The goal for me, and this was coach Jimmy Alapag’s challenge to me, has always been to be the best two guard on both ends of the floor. I want to be a great defender and a great scorer who will make the right reads. I embrace the challenge of guarding the best player and making the correct plays for my team.”
Parks is leaving behind a local basketball scene where he never stopped trying to fit in and finding his own place, some corner of respect where he would be needed and appreciated. It came to a point, though, when he felt that the very game which brought him home to the Philippines was pushing him away when he allowed off-court issues to seep into the playing arena.
Although he tries his earnest to block off the bad press written about him, particularly in the aftermath of the controversy brought about by his departure from the PBA, he admitted that it still takes a toll on him.
“I’m only human. I do feel it, especially when I am being crucified by people who do not know my full story. But I can only control what I can control. What I do on the court, how I perform, those are the things I can control” Parks reflected.
“I have tried doing interviews. I have tried not doing interviews. I tried just focusing on basketball, and I am still being painted as this character. I know I was raised better than that. At the end of the day, I can’t do much about it. I know my heart is in the right place when I make decisions. All I ask is that people give me the benefit of the doubt and try to know me rather than just rely on what others write about me.”
When asked what he thinks his father would have advised if he saw what his son has had to go through, Parks replied: “My dad told me whether or not I pursued basketball, he would always love me. I think he would have allowed me to make my own decisions.”
“Not everything I did was perfect,” he said. “My dad would have allowed me to make those mistakes because he would see that I am doing the best that I can with what I have.”
Parks was 20 years old when his father died. Fourteen months prior to that, Parks lost his girlfriend, former courtside report Maan Panganiban, to lymphoma. These painful losses have fortified his inner resolve and strengthened his faith.
Parks is a Born Again Christian. He also has learned to make what he called “grown man decisions” at a young age. This explains his heightened sense of responsibility towards his family.
“I am proud of my sister (Celine). She’s a nurse now. I got her through college,” he shared. “My mom (Marifer) is doing well. I pray for her health and safety. Filipino moms are so hardworking and they just want to continue working, especially if they live abroad.”
“I want her to be in a place where she is financially stable and would not have to worry about anything. Everybody’s dream is to say. ‘Mom, retire now. I got you.’ That’s the Pinoy in us.”
Parks dispels misconceptions that he came from a privileged background. “We were never rich as I was growing up,” he said. “My dad is from the country. My mom is from Batangas.”
When Parks was in high school in Memphis, he would join his dad who worked as a truck driver delivering baked goods to groceries. Father and son would be stacking bread starting at 3 in the morning.
That is why Parks has already started investing for the future. His face lights up when asked about the business he and his friends Victor Castillo and Zel Bautista started, Biotect PH, an ISSA-member professional disinfection services company.
One would think Parks was discussing the intricacies of some offensive or defensive scheme given how passionately he talks about the services his company offers. But that is Parks in his element, doing his homework and trying to master a new field of knowledge.
This stint in Japan affords Parks the chance to press restart as he sets foot in an environment where the sole focus will be the game of basketball. Minimal off-court distractions. Less intrigues. More privacy which he has always valued. More time to devote to improving his game. More opportunities to set his family up for the future. More time to find himself.
There will be some epic battles that await him, intriguing matchups that fans will surely be following. Parks versus Thirdy Ravena of the San-En NeoPhoenix. Parks versus last season’s top Japanese scorer Kosuke Kanamaru of the Shimane Susanoo Magic. Parks versus Indonesia’s Brandon Jawato who will suit up for the Utsunomiya Brex. Parks versus Japanese national team veteran Makoto Hiejima also of Utsunomiya.
Expect Parks to be ready. He is in a good place right now, physically and mentally. That spells a dangerous Parks who will be a nightmare for any defender tasked to guard him. He knows what he brings to his club. Wait for him to unleash the full arsenal when the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins open their season on October 2.
One can only wish that this change in scenery for Parks will also make people revisit their perception of him. Parks never projected himself as a hero. For him to be portrayed as a villain simply is unwarranted.
Here is a guy who values family and loyalty. He sticks to his principles and plays the game the right way. He is also someone who carries the country’s flag with pride and honor.
“Pinoy talaga ako. Sa Pilipinas ako lumaki (I’m a Filipino, I grew up in the Philippines),” said Parks. “I love the Philippines and wherever I go, I will always be proud to represent the country.” – Rappler.com