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With the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets selected 19-year-old LaMelo Ball and the basketball world braced themselves for the inevitable – LaVar Ball. The loquacious “Dadager” had yet another lottery pick. The elder Ball burst onto the national scene back in 2017 when his oldest son Lonzo was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the second pick of the draft. That left middle son LiAngelo, who signed with the Detroit Pistons before being waived without playing in any of the team’s preseason games. Although it was a bit short-lived, LaVar had all three sons in the NBA — a feat that made him feel like the “luckiest man in the world.”
It’s So Hard to Be Humble
No matter who you speak to, you would be hard pressed to hear the word “humble” in reference to LaVar. For years, he would tell anyone within earshot how all three of his offspring were NBA-caliber players. While Lonzo was showcasing his talent as a one-and-done at UCLA, LaVar’s claims seemed a little lofty for his other two sons. However, if anyone knew of the Ball brothers’ talent, it was their dad. After all, he trained all three boys since they could walk. The rest of the country began to take notice when the Balls played together at Chino Hills High School and LaVar made sure of that. Never one to shy away from the limelight, he took every opportunity presented to promote his talented trio.
The existence of social media only sped up the growth of his notoriety. There was always a headline, always a soundbite, and each and every occurrence lent fervor to the Ball family fire. From LaVar’s claims that he basically scouted his wife for her “length, height, and breeding hips” to his declaration that he could beat living legend Michael Jordan in a one-on-one basketball matchup, LaVar has made for good TV. His unconventional path to success for his boys has been met with both criticism and skepticism, but the proud father never wavered and 2020 suggested that maybe he wasn’t so crazy after all.
It’s Only Crazy Until You Do It
When one is challenging the status quo, it often throws things into a tail spin – and that’s putting it lightly when it comes to the Ball family business. While oldest son Lonzo took the conventional route – high school to college to NBA – it’s what the younger Ball boys did that made people look at LaVar with even more scrutiny. For instance, both LiAngelo and LaMelo found themselves playing in Lithuania. LaMelo became reportedly the youngest American to sign a professional basketball contract after a coaching dispute led from his departure from Chino Hills High after his junior year. LiAngelo’s trek to the European country followed his suspension from the UCLA program after a highly publicized shoplifting case.
Both brothers then left Lithuania to join the Junior Basketball Association league started by their father. Signing in that country ruined LaMelo’s college eligibility leading him to play one season at a prep school before heading to Australian-based National Basketball League prior to entering the 2020 NBA Draft. LiAngelo made a stop at the NBA G-League prior to signing an Exhibit 10 contract with the Detroit Pistons. He’s since been waived, prompting LaVar to call the franchise “raggedy as hell.”
“The people in Detroit are great. I love the fans, but the franchise over there is raggedy as hell. They don’t know a good player. I was giving them a lottery pick for free! [He] has the skills to play and the notoriety to bring everyone to the game,” the dad told Bleacher Report.
Notoriety is something the Ball patriarch is no stranger to and it seems to be the fuel that has kept the Ball family train moving full speed ahead. LaVar never seems to meet a microphone or camera that he doesn’t like. When the spotlight is on, you can fully expect comments and declarations as entertaining as they are outlandish. For instance, before Lonzo ever played in an NBA game, LaVar claimed he was better than Steph Curry, who was coming off an MVP season. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that LaVar was unhappy when the Lakers traded Lonzo to the New Orleans Pelicans after two seasons. He declared the Lakers would never win another championship and the lie detector determined — that was a lie. From doubling down that he would beat Michael Jordan one-on-one to claiming that the family business, Big Baller Brand, is worth a billion dollars, LaVar knows what to say to get, and keep, the people talking.
“I made you guys superstars for a reason”
The Ball brothers have been household names since high school — a hybrid result of social media and on-court talent. Fans can’t seem to look away from the highly talented family and its walking news cycle of a patriarch. Of course, everyone knows of Big Baller Brand — the athletic shoe and apparel brand created by LaVar back in 2016. BBB had just as many advocates as critics. While he should certainly be applauded for his efforts in going up against giants like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and Puma; there have been kinks in the plan. From the lofty price tag of the brand’s first release, Lonzo’s ZO2, to the overstated and unproven valuations, BBB has been a lesson in controversy rather than triumph. A year after the ZO2 release, the price was dropped from $495 to $200 and Lonzo would later admit that the original ZO2s were defective. With LaMelo choosing to sign with Puma ahead of this year’s draft, the Ball boys have continued to distance themselves from the family brand.
For what it’s worth, one can argue that LaVar’s public methods have been questionable. However, the man did make history. He and his wife Tina became the first parents to have two sons drafted in the top 3. Both parents played basketball at California State Los Angeles, so they were born with the height and body composition. The talent was honed from disciplined rigorous workouts. The three brothers played together for the Big Ballers team coached by their dad. They routinely played against older opponents and dominated.
What remains to be seen is what impact the Balls will have on the NBA. But, if history is any indication, LaVar’s boys could be the catalysts needed to propel their respective franchises into routinely competitive seasons. Prior to Lonzo hitting the hardwood for Chino Hills, the program was just another high school hoops team. By the time he left, his two younger brothers had joined him and catapulted the Huskies to a perfect 35-0 record and a legacy as arguably the best high school boys basketball team in history. The Balls’ dominance continued after Lonzo departed for UCLA as LaMelo scored 92 points in one game as a sophomore. Now the oldest and youngest Ball brothers will attempt to resurrect the New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Hornets franchises — two teams that have struggled to establish consistency in recent seasons. LiAngelo is the odd brother out at the moment, but I’m sure the intrigue surrounding the high-profile family will net him another opportunity in the near future.
I’m a Business, Man
Agree or disagree, something that LaVar has done is working. His wild words and exclamations draw you in; Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo’s talent makes you stay. While Big Baller Brand may not pan out the way he envisioned it, he dared to take on the giants that the ordinary athlete or manager wouldn’t dream of challenging. Perhaps the most propelling thing about the still developing Ball legacy is that he could have possibly changed the scope of the NCAA and its hold on amateur athletes. LaMelo became the highest-selected American-born draftee to bypass college ball for overseas play. The NBA policy that raised the age of entry from 18 to 19 all but wiped out the high school to NBA route that gave us talents such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett to name a few. The move basically made it mandatory for American basketball players to have to play college basketball even if just for one year. LaMelo’s case could change that. While his route was unconventional, it shows that there are indeed other alternatives than playing for free in the NCAA. For those reasons, LaVar should be applauded as much as he is criticized for his outside-the-box thought process.