If smiles bought cheeseburgers, Salesian High senior guard Jabari Bird could sell a lot of Happy Meals. Bird, one of the nation’s top guards and a 2013 McDonald’s All American, donned an apron, stood behind a cash register and took Extra Value Meal orders from friends, family, teachers and teammates in San Pablo Wednesday. The restaurant’s owner and operator, Rachel Wong, donated $1,000 to the high school.
Bird is one of 24 players selected from a field of more than 800 nominees to play in the famous basketball game on April 3 in Chicago, Ill. Previous McDonald’s All Americans include Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. The game was initiated in 1977.
According to Salesian High head coach Bill Mellis, prior to Bird’s nomination there had only been nine boys from the Bay Area to be selected as a McDonald’s All Americans. This year the 6’6″ Cal-bound player will join Aaron Gordon of Archbishop Mitty High in San Jose, and Marcus Lee of Deer Valley High in Antioch, as they expand the Bay Area’s distinguished basketball alumni to 12.
After the basketball star made a brief speech, shook hands and received a basketball and hat with the McDonald’s All American High School logo on it, Bird stood under a studio light for some grip-and-grins, while everyone else got down to business eating fries and drinking Cokes.
“It’s a blessing,” Bird said of his selection to the All American team. “But school is part of my daily job. For me to be successful in basketball I need to be successful in school first. That’s just a part of everything I do.”
Tonya Bird said it wasn’t hard raising her son. On the first day of kindergarten when she dropped off her boy in the classroom she half expected him to be home sick or maybe cry, but instead her future basketball star just turned around and looked her in the eye and said, “Mom, you can go. I’ll be OK,” she said.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Bird said of her son playing so close to home. “To be very honest we thought at one point he’d be going away. And at the last minute, that last visit to Cal Berkeley, the love that he felt from everybody sealed the deal for him.”
Salesian High head coach Bill Mellis said Bird, who helped the Pride win a state Division IV championship by scoring 24 points in the title game last year, had scholarship offers from around the country. But once Bird made it known early in the commitment process that he wanted to stay close to home to play those offers dropped off, he said.
Bird will join Matt Beeuwsaert (1984), Jason Kidd (1992), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1995) and Leon Powe (2003) as the only McDonald’s All Americans to play basketball at Cal.
“Basically I wanted to stay home and have all my friends and family be able to see me on a regular basis,” Bird said of his decision to play at Cal. “It hit me around the eighth and ninth grade [about my talent] when I started dunking the ball with ease and got a couple looks from colleges here-and-there. I got my first offer from Cal in the ninth grade and it kind of went off in my head that I was kind of good at this sport.”
Salesian High classmate Xavier McClenton said he had economics and history through film classes with Bird, and that the big man on campus was a “great student” and “cool person.” But what he’ll cherish most about Bird is what he did at a pep rally. “One time for Halloween he came in a [PBS Kids] Teletubby costume,” he said with a laugh. “He was dancing around during the rally. It was really funny.”