Dressed in a sharp, fitted grey suit with a white dress shirt and white Air Jordans, Jabari Parker leaned against the brick of the BMO Harris Bradley Center Wednesday night, and bowed his head.
Gatorade, an iconic sports drink (and now recovery food) company was hours away from rolling out its newest campaign for its Gatorade Recover product line, centered around the Milwaukee Bucks rookie forward.
Even though Parker has been in the public eye since his freshman year at Simeon High School in Chicago, and Gatorade is a global brand with deep roots in the NBA, you wouldn’t know that its newest pitchman was about to make his commercial debut as he spoke with OnMilwaukee.com.
"Ah, just … I’m grateful for the opportunity, grateful for the chance, but I don’t really let it get to me so much," he said, softly, looking down at the floor through thin, black rimmed glasses.
Parker has been affiliated with the company, in some capacity, through his amateur career and formally since turning professional.
He made a brief appearance in the company’s 50th anniversary commercial just before the end of last year, representing the No. 14 in a top 50 moment countdown for the 14 points he scored in his NBA debut at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
"They’re a charitable brand, too," Parker said. "They give back to schools, local schools, like my high school, other schools. I’m supportive of that. They really help other environments. That’s what really attracted me to Gatorade. Not only are they a multi-billion (dollar) brand, a part of Pepsi(Co), they also help, and I stand behind it."
This new ad is his first as the focal point, as it quickly chronicles his "basketball life" from his time at Simeon, his freshman campaign at Duke University, the beginning of his career in Milwaukee – and then through the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in Phoenix on Dec. 15.
Scenes were filmed at the Bucks’ Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin Training Center in St. Francis and New Berlin West High School, with crews outfitting the facilities to give it the look of Parker’s high school and college gyms.
The commercial then gives viewers a brief glimpse into Parker’s current rehab process, a window he wasn’t sure about opening.
"You can take it in two approaches – yes and no," he said. "Partially no because I’m a person that works in the shadows. The less people know, the better for me because your worst enemy is the one who knows you the best. So I kind of want ‘em to feel a little bit comfortable, to know that I’m not doing as much as they perceive.
"But, kind of yes, for the fans, just to see and to keep up with me."
Parker underwent surgery to repair his damaged ACL on Jan. 5 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and has largely remained out of the public eye since.
"You know what, I’m trying to stay as positive as possible," he said of the recovery process. "I’m not really trying to consume so much of basketball right now. Just trying to get what I need to do and most importantly learn. Learn the game."
The organization said in January a timeline for his return would be established at a later date, and Parker is taking the days as they come.
"Whatever they do, I do," he said of the doctor’s prescribed rehabilitation schedule.
"Just, you know, just trying to be patient."
As for the ad itself, being in front of the camera was enough.
"I liked the script," he said. "I didn’t watch it yet. Probably not going to watch it. Just because it’s my superstition. But I liked the idea of it."
He also knows the reality of the ad is that it’s another small step forward for the organization, which has been trying to re-insert itself in the national basketball conversation after co-owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry purchased the team nearly one year ago.
"Actually it is pretty good for the city," Parker said. "It brings a lot of good feedback, a lot of good vibe to know that this is a place of basketball. A little bit of baseball, but (for) the majority (it) is our sport here in the wintertime. We’re just glad that we can have it."
You can watch the ad here:
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.