As Jordan prepares for its 16th Jordan Brand Classic basketball tournament in Brooklyn on Friday, we speak with JBC alumni Jabari Parker about the unique experiences the tournament brings, on and off-court, to participants.

Diversity is a hallmark of Jabari Parker’s game.

The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward, who this season averaged approximately 20 points, six rebounds and three assists per game, can use his quickness and handles to drive past bigger opponents or his strength to overpower smaller defenders with equal ease. He’s done this kind of damage at all levels, from the NBA, to his All-American season at Duke to the high school ranks, where as a junior he earned a Sports Illustrated cover spot and a year later snagged co-MVP honors at the 2013 Jordan Brand Classic (JBC).

Parker relished the trip from his home in the South Side neighborhood of Chicago to New York City’s Madison Square Garden to play in the Classic. “It meant more to me than any other all-star game I played in,” he says. He picked up practice tips from future teammates and opponents and appreciated the fact Jordan Brand Classic organizers and coaches “treated you like a professional at the amateur level” without trying to micromanage players’ time.

Practices didn’t drag on. “You get in and get out, and that’s what I liked about it,” Parker says. “They didn’t try to overdo it.” Instead, the 2013 players got to broaden their horizons by touring the city, meeting some of its most interesting celebrity residents and getting their takes on branding in the modern entertainment world. “They give you your space, they allow you to be free,” Parker said of the JBC in 2015. “They do so much for you before you head back to high school, head out to college. I appreciated that because a lot of all-star games, they don’t focus on your brand. The Jordan Brand, they help allow that and enhance it.”

At a roundtable function, Parker and the other JBC alumni met director Spike Lee, with whom he’s stayed in touch ever since. They discussed the themes and imagery of Lee’s films, which delve into various aspects of African-American life. Parker continued his study of the subject the following year at Duke in a class about Lee’s films. Through conversations with Lee, and the study of films such as 4 Little Girls, Do the Right Thing and When the Levees Broke, Parker has become more confident in speaking up for the race and social justice issues which matter to him.

Parker and Lee have remained in each other’s orbits. “That’s a relationship that I’m proud of and that I’m happy to have,” Parker says. Last year, for instance, both men participated in the Peace Basketball Tournament in Chicago’s Gresham neighborhood. The goal was to promote peace over gun violence by putting gang members of five neighborhood factions on the same teams. Lee joined the audience, while Parker served as both a volunteer and player.

Parker’s Jordan Brand Classic experience wasn’t just another notch on a belt of accomplishments. It produced more than a 102-98 win for his team, and another trophy on an overflowing shelf. Instead, the JBC helped provide connections which have served as a portal to wider worlds beyond the court — as rich as the worlds so artistically portrayed in Lee’s films. Parker says the Jordan Brand helped with exposure “not only to people in the basketball field, but [other] people who have been successful in life, so that you can be diverse.”

In the next year, Parker will draw upon lessons of some of those diverse influences to inform his approach to the game, from his faith to his family, friends and teammates. Lee’s example resonates long beyond their initial meeting. “It took him a long time to get where he wanted to be. It didn’t happen overnight,” Parker says. “It’s gonna take time for me to break out, just like Spike wanted to.”

The 16th Jordan Brand Classic will take place Friday 4/14 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. For more information visit: jordanbrandclassic.com