LaVar Ball, who played sparingly in 36 college basketball games in the early 1990s, remains in 2017 one of the biggest newsmakers in the basketball world.
He’s the overbearing father of three of the best young basketball players in the country who’s made more news for what he’s said than what his sons have done on the court. He’s made absurd claims about Michael Jordan, traded verbal jabs with Charles Barkley and seemingly made life hell for his sons’ high school basketball coach.
Yet we seemingly can’t get enough.
LaVar’s 15 minutes of fame should be up by now, especially now that his oldest son, Lonzo, and his UCLA Bruins were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament on Friday night. But as the news cycle came back to life Monday, there was LaVar making a return to ESPN’s “First Take.”
Only this time, he didn’t come alone, as Lonzo joined him — sort of. It was more like LaVar let him tag along to Dad’s TV spot, literally letting him hang in the shadows.
And that is the LaVar Ball experience in a nutshell right there. Loud and over the top, heavy on arrogance and light on substance … all while overshadowing the real star: his son.
LaVar flocks to interviews and TV appearances like a bug drawn to light, and because people like this often appeal to the lowest common denominator, they get the spotlight they so desperately crave. When LaVar Ball goes on ESPN, people watch. When you write stories on the internet about LaVar Ball, people click. Everyone’s guilty of that, as evidenced, well, by this story itself.
The only way to get people like LaVar Ball to go away is to stop giving them a platform, but that’s not going to happen because as embarrassing at is, he’s good for business. That’s not entirely his fault, but his boorish bravado doesn’t help. But at this point, LaVar Ball sees he can say something ridiculous, it goes viral and then he’s invited to come back to try to one-up himself.
Like on Monday, when Stephen A. Smith asked Lonzo whether opponents trash-talked him at any point during the season regarding stuff his old man said. Lonzo responded with a diplomatic (boring) answer that no one will remember, in part because it was boring and because his father cut him off mid sentence.
“Nobody worried about that. They wanna play against me, that’s right. They too small!” he boasted.
Rinse and repeat.
Oh, and just because Lonzo is on his way to the NBA doesn’t mean LaVar’s going away. He’s actually just getting started, and as he reminded the ESPN crew Monday, “I got two more shots at (winning the NCAA championship),” referring to LiAngelo and LaMelo who will also play at UCLA. That’s pretty much the definition of living vicariously through someone.
And if you think LaVar Ball is a once-in-a-generation type, you’d better think again. There are going to be even more parents like this in the near future, because other parents are going to see what LaVar Ball has done and say he’s doing a masterful job of marketing his sons and putting them in a position to further capitalize on athletic ability. He’s built the Ball brand before any of them even step foot on an NBA court. Surely there will be more who try to follow in his footsteps.
The reaction toward Ball hasn’t been completely negative, as some argue he’s just a loving, caring parent who wants what best for his kids. There’s some truth to that, sure, but there are plenty of parents who have the same desires and can do so without hogging the attention. And you could also argue there’s some benefit to what LaVar Ball is doing, as he’s taking the pressure off of his kids. If everyone’s talking about LaVar Ball, no one’s talking about Lonzo making just four of 10 shots and committing four turnovers while being thoroughly outplayed by Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (39 points) on Friday night.
The irony is Ball’s also drowning out himself, overshadowing the times where he, quite frankly, comes off grounded and somewhat likable.
“Watching the game, I was watching Zo do his thing, and I love to watch him, and it was just a joy to watch him play,” LaVar gushed Monday morning. “Just like basketball, you gotta understand the good with the bad.”
Thumbnail photo via Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports Images