The Professional Dynamic of Lavar Ball
It's not easy to be a loudmouth. When you count on what you say to keep you relevant, you have to keep rolling out the hits without fail. Plus, you have to be cautious about what you say – not in the 'back your car out of the driveway without hitting a small child' kind of cautious, but rather a curatorial kind of cautious. Everything you say has to be tailored for maximum public impact, and there are few that have such natural talent like Lavar Ball.
If you haven't heard of him – which would mean that he's is bad at his job – Lavar Ball is a basketball coach. And his most successful project is a 19-year old kid named Lonzo, who after a year of college, is on track to be drafted to the NBA in just a few weeks. He also coincidentally happens to also have the last name Ball – along with two of his former teammates, LiAngelo and LaMelo. Lavar Ball is just as much father as coach, and he's used his own talent to manage his sons' talent in a not-too-unorthodox way.
I have a personal investment in Lonzo Ball. My beloved Los Angeles Lakers have earned the second overall pick in the draft by virtue of being one of the shittiest teams in the league over the past year, and the general consensus is that Lonzo is the second-best player in this draft. Which is great, right? Lonzo is a LA-area native, went to UCLA for a year, and has said that he wanted to play for the Lakers! Unfortunately, this means that I also have a personal investment in loudmouth Lavar himself. And the reason that Lavar is polarizing is because he always mixes something smart with something that's twice as dumb.
A quick run-through: he guaranteed that UCLA would win a national title at the start of the college season (healthy confidence), but when UCLA lost he said it was because they had too many slow white guys (they're not slow, they just can't jump). He wanted a billion-dollar shoe deal from Nike (funny), but then started his own merchandising company which he has full ownership of (smart), and then named that company 'Big Baller Brand' (gross). He priced Lonzo's shoes at $500 and sold a few hundred pairs in a couple weeks (revolutionary) but then said that they don't care about marketing to women (myopic). He said that he would beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one (the ceiling is the roof), said that Stephen Curry would make UCLA worse if he swapped places with Lonzo (dumb), and then said that Charles Barkley should stop eating donuts (valid). He talked about LeBron James' kids (unnecessary), which got LeBron pissed off (which always makes me happy). He earned his own meme #LavarBallSays which invaded the internet (viral), even showing up on places like the PornHub comment section (the wrong kind of viral).
Naturally, this has brought about the question 'Is Lavar Ball Worth It?' Which, as questions do, has brought about even more questions.
Big Baller Burden #1: Where do we separate the father from the son? Most people have worked with someone who initially doesn't seem to belong in that workplace, until you realize that they're related to the boss. And while you may lose respect for that person, you don't really lose that much respect for the boss if they're a good boss. Lonzo's the boss in this situation. He's the talent. Lavar doesn't get a check from the team. Lavar might as well shout into a void, for all the good it does him. Also, Lonzo is over 18, and he makes his own money. In that sense, he's independent from Dad.
Big Baller Burden #2: Does Lavar put a target on Lonzo's back? Even though Lavar might be shouting into a void, people who want to hear him still will (see: LeBron, Barkley). When Lonzo and LeBron share the court for the first time, does LeBron put his head down and barrel into the kid, or does he make an offhand comment like 'your dad is kind of a dick, huh' when they're standing at the free throw line together?
Big Baller Burden #3: Would Lonzo even be this hyped without Lavar? That is, the evaluation of his talent could be biased because there are more people evaluating him than normal. He'd be a top pick, sure, but maybe he wouldn't be getting shadows of comparisons to Magic Johnson. Then again, Lavar was his actual coach in high school, and a pretty good one at that.
Big Baller Burden #4: Would we look at it differently if Lonzo's mother was the outspoken one? There's a history of crazy sports parents – Earl Woods, who trained Tiger at golf but also probably broke him mentally by cheating on Tiger's mom. Or Richard Williams, who started training his daughters Venus and Serena at 4 years old with the pros in mind. A.P. Indy, who never went to see a race of his over 1000 children (yes, that's a horse). But most of the ones who are seen as 'crazy' are the fathers. Remember when LeBron's mom yelled at Paul Pierce, and LeBron had to tell her to 'sit the fuck down'? Or the 'real MVP' that was Kevin Durant's mom? They were both outspoken, but not really outspoken in the same way, right?
Big Baller Burden #5: Has Lavar really caused any damage? The shoe is going to sell eventually if Lonzo is good, but that was going to be true whether he signed with a big company or not. Lonzo is going to be a top-five draft pick. The UCLA coach said he wasn't a big deal. He's stupid, sure, but not relevant.
Big Baller Burden #6: Have you actually ever heard Lonzo's voice? Do you know what he sounds like? Because I'm sure you can hear the exact way that Lavar says the word 'billion' in your head. In case you haven't, this is it. In that clip, he's actually asked whether his father's words mean anything, and whether he listens to him in the media. His answers? "I'm the one playing" and "no".
Big Baller Burden #7: Is Lavar Ball actually a good parent? It seems to be the one thing that people fall back on when they have to find something good to say about Lavar – that he did a great job raising three sons. The jury's still out on two of them, and we're not even sure of how Lonzo is going to turn out. Because in a sense, Richard Williams did a 'great' job of raising the sisters, but you wouldn't really call that normal parenting. Which brings us to…
Big Baller Burden #8: Would you want Lavar Ball as your dad? As embarrassing at it might be sometimes, wouldn't you want someone who believes in you regardless of the fact that you just lost the biggest game of your life on national television, says you're better than the greatest players in the world, and wants you to set out on your own instead of paying up to the man? Moreover, wouldn't you want someone who's vocal about it, instead of someone that you have to seek quiet validation from?
Big Baller Burden #9: Does Lavar Ball own a toothbrush? Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be a real Big Baller.
So maybe it's time to put the responsibility and the attention on the boss, not the dude who's just hanging around the office because of blood. Maybe we should judge Lavar by all the things he says that don't appear in sound bytes. Maybe I'm preemptively talking myself into Lonzo because that's probably what's going to happen. Maybe we should all pay $200 for a pair of WalMart flip flops with some gold spray paint. And maybe, just maybe, it's time to look a little harder at the big baller instead of the brand.