(The article first appeared in the Men’s Health, July 2013 issue, for more click on: https://twitter.com/MensHealthPH)
BOBBY Ray Parks Jr. plans to take his talent to the biggest stage of them all. More than anything, he wants to achieve something no Filipino basketball player has done in more than three decades: represent the country in the NBA. Rather than be dispirited with the passing of his father, Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) legend Bobby Parks Sr., due to lung cancer last March, he’s more determined than ever in his quest for the sport’s Holy Grail.
“It was both our dream [to get into the NBA], so gusto ko lang talaga ituloy,” says the 20-year-old, whose father was a third-round pick in the 1984 draft but never played a single minute for the Atlanta Hawks. It was in the PBA, though, where the elder Parks made his mark — he was arguably the greatest reinforcement to ever grace the hardwood of Asia’s first professional league, having once averaged a mind-boggling 52.6 points per game in one season. But before he could think of playing abroad, the younger Parks knows he’s got an uphill battle in front of him. And he’s taking small but smart steps that will help him overcome the odds — starting with a humble mindset.
“That would be a blessing kung mangyari yun,” Parks says of becoming the first player with Pinoy roots to play in the NBA since Filipino-American Raymond Townsend, who played four years for the Golden State Warriors from 1978. “Sana by God’s grace, tulungan Niya ako, to put me in the right opportunities at the right time through the right people, and to get better every day.”
Born in the Philippines on February 19, 1993 to a Filipina mother, Parks lived in our basketball-crazy country before moving to Memphis at age 13. At the St. George’s Independent School, he honed his hoop skills and teamed up with cousin and current Portland Trailblazer shooting guard Elliot Williams, along with future NBA prospects Laurence Bowers and Adonis Thomas.
The 6-foot-3 lefty combo guard proved worthy of a scholarship offer from US NCAA Division 1 powerhouse Georgia Tech. Despite having signed a letter of intent, however, Parks decided against the move after the sudden firing of Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt, who had promised him a starting job. That prompted him to move back to the country in 2011, suiting up for UAAP cellar-dweller-turned title-contender National University.
Not a few eyebrows were raised over Parks’s decision not to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where he could’ve easily been scouted by NBA teams. But as far as he is concerned, he couldn’t have made a better move. “You live with the decisions that you make, and really, that’s what makes you who you are,” he says. “And I can say that I have no regrets because we made the decision as a family and [we believe] everything will come into place.”
And it did, especially with the personal battles Parks has been through of late. “I think may [reason] kung bakit ako nag-stay dito. Kasi kung hindi ako nag-stay dito sa Pilipinas, mag-isa lang ako sa States. Yung nangyari sa dad ko, biglaan lang. [Kung nandun ako,] wala kaming time na na-spend with each other,” he shares.
The decision to play in the Philippines has resulted in a number of achievements for Parks. In 2010, he was a member of the 3-on-3 national team for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. One year later, he won a gold medal with Sinag Pilipinas in the Southeast Asian Games.
Parks is likewise making a name for himself in the country’s premier collegiate league. He’s a two-time UAAP MVP, and last season, he led the NU Bulldogs to their first Final Four appearance in 10 years before bowing to the University of Santo Tomas. “He has his own identity,” Bobby Ray Sr. said in an interview last year. “We have the same name and his game is patterned after mine, but it’s still different — it’s new and improved.”
He’s doing just as well off the court. A fourth-year Information Technology student and consistent dean’s lister, Parks is bent on finishing his degree by next year. The ultimate dream remains, but for now, Parks is dead set on trying to lead NU to its first UAAP men’s basketball championship since 1954. “Yun naman ang goal ko coming in from day one,” he asserts. “Gusto ko i-change yung mentality ng school — from losing to winning with confidence.”
And what will it take to get there? “Just everybody being on the same page and buying into the system,” Parks responds. “Of course you need the talent, but you really need to fit the right pieces to the puzzle and [you] really just have to work hard kasi it’s not easy. UAAP’s not easy. Basketball’s not easy.”
Fully embracing his role as team leader, Parks knows constant improvement is key to any ballclub’s success. And he acknowledges that he’s got his work cut out for him — even more so now that he’s dealing with some emotional baggage. “Kailangan ko yung teammates ko maging ready. Kahit ako, personally, I don’t feel that I’m there yet in my game because of what happened to my father,” he says. “I’m still coping. I know that I will be prepared come the UAAP. I just have to get back to where I was and get better.”
After this season is when he will look into his other options. “I haven’t been thinking much about it,” he admits. “Puno pa yung plate ko. There are more options opening up, but my focus is really to bring that championship home. After that, I’ll be able to think more. Kasi parang may wall na ngayon eh. Yun lang ang iniisip ko.”
Come the real crunch time, his biggest challenge is to be able to look past the list of unsuccessful Pinoy NBA aspirants and keep his eyes on the prize. One generation ago, PBA legend Ricardo Brown was taken in the third round of the 1979 draft but never did set foot on an NBA court. More recently, Japeth Aguilar played NCAA Division I ball for Western Kentucky, but eventually missed out on a roster spot in the Golden State Warriors’ D-League team last November.
But Parks remains unfazed by the obstacles that will undoubtedly come with his NBA dream. After all, his very reason for pursuing it ensures that it shouldn’t be difficult at all to stay focused on the goal. “Gusto ko talaga maging extension [of my dad in the NBA] and not only in the PBA,” he says. “I want to make my father proud and continue his legacy.”
HOW TO BE AN MVP
Bobby Ray Parks Jr.’s strategies for winning in everything
Strong spirit means strong character. For Parks, having a well-founded belief system makes a difference whenever you’re at a crossroads in life. That’s why he gives praise where it’s due. His motto: “Make sure you honor, praise God in everything you do.”
Learning never stops. Parks’s training doesn’t stop when he steps off the court at practice, and he suggests you do the same: “Whatever sport you’re in, just make sure to be a student of the game and be willing to learn from anybody [to improve.]”
Your mindset matters. Trying to pattern your game after Parks’? It begins with the right attitude. “Try to be the best you can be, because every time you step on the floor, it’s an opportunity given to you,” he shares. His style of play is straightforward: “Outwork every player in every way you can.” Aim high. Setting high personal objectives has a valuable advantage. “Dream big because doing so gives you goals that’ll drive you,” says Parks.
Parks’s Power Plate
Parks picks more olive oil-based food for his meals. Rich in monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, olive oil helps reduce inflammation in your cells and joints.