LaMelo Ball and the Sins of the Father
A little over six months ago, I set out to write about Lavar Ball as we neared the NBA draft. It was an exercise to talk myself into the idea of him, an effort that was (at the time) fairly successful. This was back when people were still reeling from every word he said, from the outlandish claims to the inherent arrogance that danced around his mouth. It was all innocuous enough, and we collectively forgot about the last thing he said as we got ready to be outraged at the next. It was cute then. He was proud and savvy, with a touch of self-awareness. I was excited because his son was good at basketball and he was going to play for the Lakers. I was ready for Lavar Ball to be a part of my life.
And it seemed like a good decision for a while after that. Lonzo was the MVP of the summer league (is there even a trophy for that?), which was accomplishment enough to get a full season's worth of quotes from Lavar. The Lakers started 0-1, which Lavar defended by saying that it was the same record as the reigning champion Warriors (facts). He even had an adorable "you look to the side, your daddy gonna be with you all the time whether you do good or bad" tidbit after a bad Lonzo shooting night. It was cute. His actions didn't (really) have net consequences – sure, he might have painted a target on his son's back, but that was the price of elevating his public profile so high in the first place.
It's not cute anymore.
If you could unite Lavar with some truth serum, you'd find out that he doesn't genuinely think he can beat Michael Jordan. He doesn't sincerely believe that Lonzo Ball was better than Steph Curry. He doesn't truly consider a one billion dollar shoe deal with Nike to be within the realm of possibility. He wouldn't stand behind his statement that Charles Barkley should stop eating donuts. *Thinking* Well, maybe the last one. These were all things that Lavar Ball said that you could file under the category of 'crazy', but the 'mostly-over-the-top-and-to-keep-his-name-in-the-headlines' type of crazy. You can't fault someone for wanting to turn fifteen minutes of fame into a lifetime's worth of financial stability.
The one caveat to Lavar Ball's antics, the one thing that would always be mentioned as a sort of disclaimer, the one grudging concession that even his harshest critics always prefaced their statements with was that Lavar was a good father. After all, Lonzo was quiet, humble, and preferred to pass the ball – something of a rarity for a game where the best players and alphas are so often determined by points scored. He was the golden child of the 'plays the game the right way' crowd. After all, Lavar had coached Lonzo his entire life, so he must have been directly responsible for the person Lonzo had become. Right?
It feels like an appropriate time to revisit that sentiment. Since then, his second son LiAngelo stole some sunglasses from a Louis Vutton store in China, and his youngest son LaMelo cursed a couple times on live television (okay, one is worse than the other). Do any of those events reflect on Lavar's character, or the values that he instilled in them? Is he like God, where he only gets credit for the good and none of the bad? Since those events, he's pulled both of his kids from school and has signed them up to play for a Lithuanian team with an inordinate amount of vowels in its name. They're set to make around $500 a month, and will probably declare for the NBA draft when they're first eligible.
Quick Tangent: What the fuck happened in China? There were three UCLA players arrested (Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill), which means they all collectively stole one pair of sunglasses (inefficient) or each stole one pair of sunglasses (weirdly consistent). Why are the details of this still unclear? Why didn't they steal the sunglasses in the US? Why did they even need to steal… doesn't LiAngelo drive a Ferrari? Did they not think that high-end stores would have security cameras? Did they strategically plan this when Donald Trump was set to be there so he could get them out of it? Were they trying to cut out the middleman since the sunglasses were probably made in China? Why would they even need sunglasses during Winter in China? Did they already have an inside joke of who could get the most steals per game?
Here's the problem: none of these actions belong in the same subfolder of crazy we mentioned above. These go in the one that just says 'crazy'. No modifiers. Because it's crazy to pull your son from college, where he'll get a (one-year long kinda sorta) education, and the best shot to make it into the league. Only three other players in recent memory – Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Terrance Ferguson – have made that choice, and all three of them were five-star recruits coming out of high school, each with ratings of at least 94 out of 100. LiAngelo's always been considered a longshot, even by his own father to it into the league. The scouts seem to agree, as he's just a three-star recruit with a rating of 79. That roughly translates to a C+, which LiAngelo might have been aware of if, you know, he went to college.
By the way, none of this happens if LiAngelo doesn't steal the sunglasses. He would have stayed at UCLA, come off the bench, and probably get drafted in the second round. LaMelo would have stayed in school and gone to UCLA like the rest of them. So spare the 'they're doing this for the love of the game' or 'they want to get paid to play basketball'. Lavar did it because UCLA chose to suspend LiAngelo (the correct decision) and he pulled out the classic five-year old tactic 'you can't fire me, I quit!'
The real tragedy, however, is LaMelo. He's considered to be the best of the group, and the most like his father in terms of personality. He was also in high school, set to graduate in 2019. Let me say that again – he was a junior in HIGH SCHOOL. And now he won't be in high school for the last year and a half because of his dumbass dad. And now he's thrown into a foreign country that no American can point out on a map, with a coach who doesn't speak English (I doubt LaMelo got too many years of a foreign language in), and an environment that likely reeks of toxic masculinity. And we know that when (not if, but when) this whole Lithuania experiment doesn't work out, he'll never go back to high school because his dad is too stubborn to admit that he made a mistake (see: Lonzo's shot, Lavar's misogynistic remarks, among other things). So he'll never get a semblance of an education. He'll never even have a diploma. He'll never learn what it's like to actually experience the most important years of adolescence. And most importantly, he'll never learn that there's accountability for your actions, because you can just go halfway around the world to prove a point. He'll probably still get into the NBA because of his name and because teams are susceptible to flashes of potential. He'll be financially fine because people buy his brother's 700-dollar shoes. But it'll be at the cost of his youth, his literacy, and his mental development – the combined lack of which are the perfect stew for a child of privilege. At least he'll have daddy's pride to show for it.
In the immortal words of one LaMelo Ball, "beat that n***a ass."