Friday, July 10, 2009
Unknown in the U.S., Parks has celebrity status in the Philippines
Luke Winn, SI.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The boys' varsity basketball team at St. George's Independent School in Collierville, Tenn., enjoys the luxury of having many of its games webcast on the site justin.tv, a channel run by a student named John Christian Williams. During breaks in the action, Williams will monitor the chat room that accompanies the live feed of the Gryphons' games, and typically, a few students and local fans drop by during road games or weekday games that they can't attend. The rest of the chatters, however, tend to be from a place with a 13-hour time difference: the Philippines.
Williams estimates that each of his webcasts is viewed by at least 10 Filipino fans; Filipinos also search out the highlight reels Williams posts on his Web site, gryphonsbasketball.com, on the days after games. If Williams is delayed in posting those compilations -- say, by homework, or an impending test -- he can expect an e-mail from someone in the Philippines. "Hey, John, I know you might be busy," it might read, "but if you have a chance to post last night's highlights, I'd love to see them."
What those Filipino fans are obsessing over, specifically, is a St. George's junior-to-be named Ray Parks.
Who is Ray Parks? In the U.S. recruiting scene, he's a left-handed, 6-foot-3 guard with no profile page on Rivals.com, and a meager profile with a two-star rating (as "Bobby Parks") on Scout.com -- a sleeper prospect with limited exposure. On the official roster for the Reebok All-America Camp this week at Philadelphia University, he's listed by his full name, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. "We use that name for events," explains his father, Bobby Ray Sr., who made the trip from Memphis to Philly to watch his son at the camp. "My name is recognizable, and you have to do everything you can to help him get noticed. After that, it's up to him to show his talent." Memphis fans, or at least older Memphis fans, know the name Bobby Ray Parks. He starred for the then-Memphis State Tigers from 1980-84 under coach Dana Kirk, and is currently the program's 15th-leading scorer of all-time.
The Atlanta Hawks selected him in the third round of the '84 draft, but his NBA career didn't make it past training camp. He was cut, then floated through a tryout with the Clippers, and stints in the CBA and France for a couple of years before settling in a country where his name now extremely well-known.
"My dad," Ray says, proudly, "is like the Michael Jordan of the Philippines."
That comparison isn't overly hyperbolical. In a 12-year career (1987-98) in the Philippines, where basketball is by far the most popular sport, Bobby Ray Sr. was named the Philippine Basketball Associate's Import of the Year -- the equivalent of the MVP award -- a record seven times, including after a season (1989) in which he averaged 52.6 points per game. In September he'll become just the second American (the other is Norman Black) to be inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame. Parks was Converse's main pitchman in the Philippines during his playing days, and also had roles in two Filipino films. The one the family owns a copy of, Wooly Bully 2, was a comedy released in 1990. "He was better than I expected," Ray says of his dad's acting chops. "I don't think anyone expects to see a giant black guy in a Filipino comedy, though."
Bobby Ray Sr. moved back to the U.S. from Manila in 2005, and Ray followed in 2006, before his eighth-grade year. Both Ray's mother (Marifer Celine Barbosa, who is divorced from Bobby Ray and now lives in Los Angeles) and stepmother (Jasmine, who lives with Ray in Memphis) are Filipino, and Ray fluently speaks Tagalog at home. Ray had been born and raised in Manila, where, because of his father's status as a pro athlete, the family had maids and a driver -- and therefore, Bobby Ray says, "the hardest part of bringing him to the U.S. was domesticating him.
"Ray had never seen a washing machine; he had never heard the words, 'Cut the grass,' because we had people doing everything. I had to keep nagging on him [to do chores]."
The main point of the move, though, was to expose Ray to better basketball competition so he could earn a Division I scholarship in the U.S., and pursue a potential pro future. Ray enrolled at St. George's because Elliot Williams, a first cousin of Bobby Ray's and a good friend of Ray's, was playing at the school. (Williams played a prominent role as a freshman for Duke last season, before transferring to Memphis this offseason to be closer to his mother, who's battling cancer.) Gryphons coach Jeff Ruffin says Ray can play nearly every position -- "He's a hard-nosed kid who can bring up the ball against pressure, or play on the wing, or even in the post as a five if we had a great matchup" -- and as a sophomore, he led the Gryphons to the Tennessee Division 2-A state title game, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a heartbreaking, last-second loss.
Filipino fans discussed Ray's sophomore season -- and the justin.tv webcasts -- in a 24-page thread on the message board InterBasket titled "Filipino Ballers in the US ... News and Updates." Much of the thread was devoted to Ray and Western Kentucky center Japeth Aguilar, who's also of Filipino descent, in hopes that both of them would eventually make significant contributions to the country's struggling national team, which is 63rd in FIBA's world rankings, one spot behind Estonia and one spot ahead of Indonesia.
Parks made news in the Philippines in January by returning there to try out for the Under-16 national team. He made the squad and was also told he'd likely have a place on the country's senior national team when it attempts to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.
There were also pleas for him play his final two years of high school in Manila, against college competition; Ray says there's only a slim chance of this happening, but that a few Filipinos have e-mailed him "essays" on why he should stay in the country. (In an article in the Philippine Star in January, national team executive director Noli Eala went as far as to say, "Ray-Ray [his nickname] has the perfect basketball body -- long-limbed, slim, just like his father. ...The kid is special. Bobby is open for Ray-Ray to play college in Manila and his godfather Norman [Black, now a coach there], I'm sure, is talking to Ray-Ray about the possibility.")
At the Reebok camp, the night before the games began on Wednesday, Bobby Ray received a call from a representative of the junior national team, who asked, "Can you bring Ray over in September?" Ray plans to play with the team in a tournament in November, but they want him to come two months early -- when his dad arrives for the Hall of Fame ceremony -- to begin training. "I want him to play for the national team, and he wants to play, too," says Bobby Ray, "but I don't know if I can pull him out of school for two months."
Given that Ray is already spending much of his summer away from home -- he went to elite camps at Virginia and Alabama, then the Reebok camp, and will be traveling with the Memphis-based Mike Miller AAU program to Las Vegas -- traveling for the entire fall as well is not ideal.
If Ray is considered high-major college material by next summer, Memphis and Virginia -- both of which already have some interest -- would be his two most likely destinations. The Tigers make sense because Bobby Ray played there, still lives there, and is currently on scholarship at the school -- at the invitation of the athletic department -- as he takes adult education classes in hopes of earning the degree he didn't finish while playing for the Tigers. The Cavaliers make sense because Bobby Ray is currently the personal assistant to John Paul "Jack" Jones, a wealthy Memphian and UVA alum for whom the school's new basketball arena is named.
Looking much further into the future, Bobby Ray makes a point of noting, "There's never been a Filipino to make the NBA, and if [Ray] did that, it would open up such a big market [of 92 million Filipinos] for the league. But" -- and this is his realistic addendum to NBA dreaming -- "Ray's only been here for a few years, and he's barely even had a chance to get on the radar yet."
Ray plans on following in his father's footsteps in some regard -- no matter whether he sticks on the radar as Ray Parks, or Ray-Ray Parks, or Bobby Parks, or Bobby Parks Jr.; or whether he ends up making a bigger name as a hoopster in Memphis or Manila. As he played in Philadelphia on Wednesday, his camp-issued Reeboks were covered in black-markered inscriptions. One line, in English, read "Got it from my pops," while another, in Tagalog, read "Pangalawang laro." That, Ray says, means "Second game."
"My dad was the first game," he says, "and I've gotta do good, because I'm what's next."