The National Basketball Association Playoffs are currently ongoing and, to be honest, to say that they have been a bit dull would be the understatement of the year. The two best teams in each conference – the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers with “next evolution in human existence” LeBron James and the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors with smooth-as-silk shooter Steph Curry (among others) – have literally steamrolled past their opposition, with both sides only losing one game so far (did anyone see that decimation the Cavaliers laid on the Boston Celtics in Game 2? On their home floor? That the Celts came back for a squeaker win on Sunday in Cleveland was shocking). Sometime next week, these two teams will meet for the third year in a row (never done previously) to determine the NBA Finals championship.
But the collision course these teams are on hasn’t been the big story in the Association…not by a long shot.
The NBA Draft, like its cousin with the National Football League, has become almost as big a deal as its pro football brethren. Players from around the world and the best “one-and-doners (players who went to college to meet the NBA requirement that they be one year removed from high school)” vie for one of the 60 slots (the draft is two rounds, with the first-round picks guaranteed to be on an NBA roster) in the draft. With these stakes, players are trying to make their best impressions…except for one.
Lonzo Ball is, giving the player his due, one of the better prospects in this year’s NBA draft. If it weren’t for the idiotic “one year” rule that the NBA has implemented to prevent kids from going straight from high school, it is thought that Ball would have been one of the success stories to come straight from the high school ranks. After winning several high school Player of the Year awards across the country, Ball enrolled at UCLA, looking to improve his resume with the one year he plainly told everyone he would be there for.
In his one season with the Bruins, Ball’s statistics were nice but not mind blowing. He averaged 14.6 points per game, shot 55% from the field (and 41% from three-point territory), averaged six rebounds a game and almost eight assists as a guard/forward with UCLA. The 6’ 6” Ball was duly awarded many post-season honors, including the Wayman Tisdale Award for best college freshman and was first-team All-American (the team made the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament), as he held to his promise to only stick for one year on the campus of Westwood by declaring for the draft almost as soon as his Bruins team heard the final buzzer and was defeated in the NCAA Tournament.
With such accolades and achievements, you would figure that Ball would be the talk of the draft. Unfortunately (for him), he has been overshadowed by his father, LaVar, who will tell anyone that will listen that his son(s) (that’s right, there’s two more following Lonzo) are going to change the basketball world. What the senior doesn’t realize is that he is writing checks that none of the Ball brothers will be able to cash.
Who is LaVar Ball? A quick look at his college life shows that he was a basketball player of no renown (averaged 2.2 points per game at Washington State over two seasons in the late 1980s) and found even less success when attempts were made to turn him into a football player. Ball would play in the World League of American Football (appropriate acronym of WLAF) as a tight end. In one season, he played with the London Monarchs and found time on the practice squads of both the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers. Other than this, there was absolutely nothing that would mark him as a “game changing” athlete, although even having the proverbial cup of coffee with a professional sports franchise is quite an achievement.
Apparently, this is about the time when Ball had his epiphany, even to the point of picking his wife for the express breeding purposes of creating basketball players. Don’t believe me? Ball himself said, “I see this tall girl, very attractive, walking down a hallway and I go, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re gonna be doing something!’ Once that was in her head, I had her. I picked a big girl who was beautiful. A big stallion.”
When’s the last time you called your significant other a “big stallion” – and you were SERIOUS about it?
This wasn’t the end of it for Ball. He’s has said that Lonzo is better than Curry, who was only the Most Valuable Player in the NBA for the past two seasons. Ball has trashed Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving for coming from a single parent home, ignoring the fact that Irving’s mother passed away when he was four. Ball has said that, in his heyday, he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one. Ball criticized Lonzo’s UCLA teammates, saying they were “too white” to win the championship (and, forgetting the fact that his wife is white, there’s a mixed heritage to Lonzo). He’s also created the family company “Big Baller Brand” and is currently marketing Lonzo’s signature shoe to the tune of $459 (you want them autographed by Lonzo? Make it $759…) – only after the three major shoe brands Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, turned down his BILLION dollar demands for shoe deals with all three of his sons.
Having overbearing parents in sports is nothing new. You can see it pretty much every weekend when you go to a Little League baseball game or watch Friday Night Tykes (about PeeWee football) on television. It’s when those overbearing parents actually think they are doing their child(ren) a favor by pushing them hard does it usually blow up in their faces. One only should look at the career of former quarterback Todd Marinovich – basically engineered by his father to be an NFL quarterback, to the point that the senior Marinovich said that Todd had never eaten at a McDonald’s – or the up-and-down career of tennis player Jennifer Capriati (pushed by her mother) to see the down side of these types of actions.
There has been at least one success story. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, were driven by their father Richard to excel at tennis, while at the same time inciting similar vitriol from the public for comments that he made regarding taking his girls from South Central Los Angeles to the pinnacle of tennis greatness. It is arguable, however, that the Williams sisters didn’t really reach their peak form until after they removed themselves from Richard’s tutelage and began to think and act for themselves.
The elder Ball may think that he’s helping his children achieve their goals and wants to take the family along for the ride. And that is something that all mothers and fathers want to ensure for their kids. At a certain point, however, that assistance becomes an overbearing, maniacal obsession and needs to be ended. That is where the elder Ball finds himself right now.
While Lonzo may be a high draft pick in this year’s NBA draft (the Celtics have the first pick and the Los Angeles Lakers – whom LaVar Ball has said he wants all three of his kids to play for – have the second), there is still a very close-knit professional community of athletes that will not take kindly to LaVar’s statements. Lonzo, through no fault of his own, is going to be targeted by these professionals for retribution. You don’t think that LeBron James won’t light him up for some of the things that LaVar has said about him? You don’t think that Curry or his teammates, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, won’t smoke Lonzo at every opportunity? The utter failure of Lonzo Ball – and the “Big Baller Brand” – is a very realistic possibility and it would be a warning to others coming down the road that they aren’t bigger than the game, something that LaVar seems to think his family is.
Where Lonzo Ball goes in the draft – publicly NBA general managers and scouts are saying that Ball’s father isn’t going to affect his draft status – is still up in the air, but even he recognizes that his father rubs people the wrong way. “My dad’s a funny guy,” Lonzo said to Bleacher Report in an interview. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘Are you embarrassed? Your dad said you’re going to win the championship.’ No, I’m not embarrassed. I know how he’s going to act. I just go out there and play. Let him be him.” There will come a point, however, where the junior Ball – and, if not him, one of his two brothers (who haven’t done jack shit yet) – will have to tell the senior Ball when enough is enough and cut ties with him if they are to reach their true success in professional basketball, just like Serena and Venus did in their pursuit of greatness.