Jun. 13, 2017
On LaVar Ball
I had the good fortune of being born into an athletic family. Brothers of grandparents were breaking New York City track records. On top of that, every Luciano man was a baseball player. Getting a player of the game award was a right of passage in my family. I like to think I somewhat kept the tradition alive by playing baseball since I could crawl and running varsity cross country and track for 3 years. Not to toot my own horn, but I did come in 2nd and 3rd in back-to-back years in state level races. My dad was an athlete as well, playing high school basketball and baseball. He could have relished in my success, latched on to me, and ride the coattails of my achievements. He instead kept to the background. You know who else does this today? Almost every other parent. One of these deviants has risen to simultaneous national praise and infamy. LaVar Ball.
Ball is the father of 3 boys. His oldest, Lonzo, is going to be a best the #1 overall pick and at worst a top 5 selection. His two younger sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, are UCLA commits for the classes of 2017 and 2019, respectively. It's a good thing that all 3 of his sons have had success in either high school or college, because his performance pales in comparison. Ball attended Washington State, averaging a sliver over 2 points per game. While playing D-1 basketball is a phenomenal achievement in it's own right, it doesn't take a Ph.d to figure out that his sons' achievements dwarf his own. What that created was a textbook example of someone living vicariously through his children, trying to taste the success he never had via his sons.
Originally, Ball was known as a goofy, intense team dad who loved his sons. Occasionally, he would say some outrageous things on TV, like comparing Lonzo favorably to Steph Curry and LeBron James. These were quickly dismissed by many as the intentionally ridiculous rumblings of a passionate father glowing with pride about his sun. Though Lonzo was always a prized recruit, he was not well known on a national scale until UCLA ascended to the top of college basketball's rankings. As Lonzo gained more and more acclaim for his achievements on the court, LaVar's quotes became more and more unhinged. At this point, it became clear that he may have a plan beyond talking up his son. A plan to make LaVar Ball bigger than his boys.
Ball rejected the idea of allowing Lonzo to sign with a shoe company like Nike or Adidas like many top picks do. Instead, he created Big Baller Brand, a company he believes will compete with the larger ones in a short amount of time. It seems as if he wants Big Baller Brand to serve as the American Express to Nike or Adidas' MasterCard; a high end, luxury athletic wear company. His hubris was tested exponentially when he released the ZO2 Prime, Lonzo's first signature shoe. Glossing over how the shoes are carbon copies of Kobe Bryant's, the original retail price was $495. This rose to $695 for those with a shoe size over 13. In addition, he sells flip flops that retail for over $200 dollars, more than Gucci. Reports from several websites have ballparked the sales for the shows at around 400-500 pairs, which fell dramatically short of prior estimates.
The problems seem obvious in hindsight. First off, shoes from established stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant rarely, if ever, exceed even $200, 40% of Lonzo's. Second, no one is buying the signature shoes of someone who has as much NBA experience as you or I at this moment. Third, if LaVar is indeed the face of the brand, few would support purchasing the shoe of an the equivalent of an angry soccer mom or baseball dad wondering why they're son isn't playing goalie or pitching multiplied by a considerable degree. Lastly, LaVar has said the people who can't afford his shoes are not "Big Ballers", whatever the hell that means. It's certainly not a statement that entices lower-income families to buy his shoes. While I would be supportive of LaVar turning around and using BBB as a proof of concept to Nike, Adidas, Reebok etc., his absurd request for a 3 billion dollar shoe deal for his sons seems as though that particular request of mine won't come true anytime soon. Throw that on top his recent statement that he doesn't care about women buying his clothing and this his company is not a woman's company, and I start to have doubts about his business acumen. Alienating women who want to buy your product and not realizing that women, mothers of children who want your shoes, make up a large chunk of athletic wear sales is not a sound strategy. I'm reminded of a soda called Dr. Pepper 10, which advertised itself as a ten calorie soda for guys, because I guess having 10 more calories than diet soda was that important. They put out an ad featuring laser wielding commandos, explosions, and the now infamous tagline "Dr. Pepper 10. It's not for women." That soda is no longer produced. If Big Baller Brand adheres to those principles, it may find itself alongside Dr. Pepper 10 sooner than anticipated.
Then they're were the ridiculous quotes on TV an radio. Oh, good Lord above, the quotes. It all started with "I could beat Michael Jordan 1 on 1", a quote everyone knew was complete bull but everyone jumped on him for. After UCLA, and Lonzo in particular was spanked by De'Aaron Fox and Kentucky, he put the blame on "slow white guys". After this quote, Lonzo declared for the draft, and his dad took on an active role in his pre-draft business. However, everything he has done so far is working against Lonzo, painting the target that was already on his back as the hot shot, ass kicking rookie ever so wider and thicker.
The Ball family has made it clear that they want Lonzo to be selected #2 overall by the Lakers. Considering they might move D'Angelo Russell or switch him to shooting guard, the culture and history of the franchise, and its' proximity to home, it makes sense on several levels. However, LaVar is doing Lonzo no favors by not letting him work out for any other team except the Lakers. Lakers brass has reportedly floated the idea of a De'Aaron Fox/Lonzo Ball dual workout. If Fox impresses more so than Ball, he may slide in the draft, and he would have his dad to partially blame. Many thought that this could be the incident that topples LaVar and turns some of his surprisingly rabid fanbase against him. That incident, however, may have just transpired on the Herd, Colin Cowherd's radio show. Ball recently got into a confrontation with co-host Kristine Leahy. Leahy asked a completely legitimate question that many would like to hear the answer to, that question being how many shoes had he sold so far. LaVar told Leahy to "stay in your lane", that he was "thinking about assault", that Kristine "scared him", and that she "would get whats coming to her", just to name a few of the quotes from that cringeworthy interview. With these words, LaVar has just crossed the proverbial Rubicon. There was no going back.
This rant was unquestionably inappropriate, disrespectful, and unprofessional, bordering on sexist. LaVar's ridiculous fanbase threw every excuse in the book out. Some claimed that Kristine's previous comments on Lonzo's "robotic" behavior around his father spurred LaVar, thus leaving him justified in attacking her. First, having seen interviews of Lonzo with his father present and without, the tone is totally different. Lonzo changes from the most normal, outgoing 19 year old into someone who gives only one word answers that seemed to be preplanned. Second, Lonzo and LaVar are both going to be criticized heavily in the coming years. Lonzo will be for his play on the court, while LaVar will be through his own promotion of himself into the public eye to the same degree as Lonzo. That does not give LaVar carte blanche to disrespect and belittle media personalities for doing their job. Some claimed that Leahy was being unprofessional. As mentioned previously, she asked a legitimate journalistic question. Some claimed racism, which is so stupid I'm not even going to dignify it with a response.
Perhaps the most frightening part of Ball is how unwilling he is to repent. Many expected that post-Leahy, Ball would come out with his tail between his legs and apologize. Instead, he was up to his old tricks. After Kyrie Irving urged for him to lay off and let Lonzo speak for himself, Ball took aim at him, insinuating he couldn't understand what a father's relationship with his son is like. He then remarked how him and Lonzo's relationship is different because his mother was around. First, Irving is a father himself. Second, the reason Kyrie's mother wasn't around is she died when he was 4. This is only going to get worse and worse. ESPN and FS1 aren't going to stop bringing him on. On top of that, his bloviations about his sons will get worse. Lonzo, on top of being the consensus best of the 3 boys, is also the most soft spoken. LiAngelo can run his mouth from time to time, while LaMelo is a legit show-off in a way that mirrors his dad. He isn't going to stop. He never made the NBA, and now he wants all the spoils of NBA stardom at the expense of his children. LaVar should theoretically be as visible as Malik Monk's dad. Who is Malik Monk's dad anyway?
Strap in, LaVar isn't shutting up any time soon.
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