Trail Blazers rookie Jabari Walker remembers quite well when he realized his father Samaki, who played 10 seasons in the NBA after being selected with the ninth overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, was preparing him to go into the family business.
It was Jabari’s freshman year at Campbell High School in North Hollywood, CA. While participating in an open run, the younger Walker, posted up in the corner waiting for a pass, failed to hit the glass after a missed shot attempt, drawing the elder Walker’s ire. Afterward, Samaki made if clear that, if Jabari was going to play that way, there would be consequences.
“Afterwards he’s like ‘Okay, you don’t want to go crash and get the offensive rebound? Alright, we’re gonna run after this open run,’” recalled Jabari. “He was making me run for not being active, just rebounding and stuff like that. He wasn’t making me run for not shooting the ball, stuff like that, he made me run for the little stuff.”
So it was almost poetic to see Jabari crash the glass from the corner after a missed shot and outwork a defender to secure an offensive rebound and score on the putback late in the third quarter of Portland’s 88-77 victory versus the Knicks Monday night in Las Vegas, roughly 24 hours after recounting that story.
“I was kind of taught how to be a pro before playing at the pro level, just playing off of superstars,” said Jabari. “And it wasn’t the greatest to watch in high school or college but it kind of complements at the highest level. It’s a role that not everybody knows how to play and it’s a role that you can develop and earn more respect in. My dad kind of instilled that in me early.”
Jabari credits that approach for the success he’s had in the very early days of his professional career. After being selected with the second-to-last pick of the 2022 Draft, Walker has averaged 13.0 points on 68 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent shooting from three, 8.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists and has been arguably the best player on Portland’s 2022 Las Vegas Summer League roster.
“The expectations, like, nobody knows my name coming here really, so I don’t really have any expectations,” said Jabari. “The way I look at it, everything I do is a plus. I know who I am as a player; a lot of people don’t know who I am as a player, so it just makes it even better. So there’s no pressure for me.”
He’s yet to start a game in Las Vegas and is averaging less than 20 minutes of playing time in those contests, though that hasn’t seemed to dull his impact. In fact, by some metrics, he’s been one of the most efficient and effective players thus far in Las Vegas.
“I’ve always preached the little things -- you see me rebounding, putback dunks, that’s what’s part of a winning team,” said the younger Walker. “A lot of guys don’t do that, a lot of guys focus on the main things. I could be a guy that works my way from the bottom and then earns a bigger role where I’m trusted more. I just want to do it the organic way, earn my way, earn my trust and then there’s still skill sets that I have that a lot of people haven’t seen. Whenever it comes it, it comes out.”
But until then, Jabari is more than content to simply do what is asked, just as Samaki taught him. He’s been trained to take pride in filling a role, even if it might not be that of the star player, while also realizing one can make quite a career out of the “little things.” After all, it worked out pretty well for dad, and has already resulted in a guaranteed contract.
“He just kind of taught me earlier that a role player isn’t a bad thing," said Jabari. "If my dad was a star player, I probably wouldn’t understand the rebounding, the blocking, the timing, finding areas to get open,” said Jabari. “I thank him a lot for that. With him being a role player, that helped a lot. In the NBA, everyone is a role player, everyone has different roles. I feel like the quicker I learn what my role is, the quicker I’m able to impact. I try to look at it from a mature aspect and just complement the stars, earn my way.
"People think like ‘Oh, you’re not the star.’ You can make a lot of money being a role player and you can be a starter being a role player. It’s so important, a lot of people don’t embrace that. There’s some stigma behind being a role player that a lot of people don’t like. Everybody is going to play a role eventually in the NBA."
While it’s apt to consider the benefits of a player having a father who also played in the NBA, we should also note the importance of mothers as well. And in Jabari’s case, he gives a huge amount of credit for who he is to his mother, Jo Dudley.
“I can’t say enough about my mom,” said Jabari. “She’s in the Bureau. The people you see on TV, FBI agents, that’s what she does. She’s the intelligent side off the court. My dad is very intelligent, too, but my mom just has a different feel for communication with people. I don’t even know how to explain it, I can’t talk enough about my mom... I learned not to really talk about her as much because for years she had a job to where I couldn’t even talk about it. Now her job is a little less dangerous and more people know her, so I can say it on camera, but before I couldn’t even tell you what my mom did just because you don’t hear too many people like that because it can be a dangerous job.”