LaVar Ball has inspired plenty of two-word declarations in his time as America’s Reigning Sports Dad — “You’re crazy” and “Please leave” come to mind, along with others we can’t print on a family website. But today, as two of his sons square off for the first time in the NBA, only two specific words will suffice:
Friday night, Lonzo Ball’s Pelicans will take on LaMelo Ball’s Hornets in New Orleans. In the grand scheme of the NBA, it means very little; neither team is above .500 at the moment. But for the Ball family, it’s a pinnacle, a realization of dreams and a testament to the power of determination … even if that determination ticks off pretty much the entire basketball world.
“Everything my dad does is definitely planned,” Lonzo Ball once said on the premiere of the family’s reality TV show “Ball in the Family,” “so even if people think he's crazy, he knows what he's doing.”
Knowing what you’re doing is one thing. Actually getting it done against astronomical odds … well, that’s something else entirely.
I know, I know. LaVar Ball needs to hear more praise like a bonfire needs more gasoline. Complimenting the man only feeds his three-sizes-too-large ego. But sometimes, the people who always tell you they’re right actually turn out to be right.
Just for a moment, put aside LaVar’s braying and boasting, the absurd my-sons-will-own-the-world declarations, the sputtering attempts to create a full-service family brand.
Think for a second about how many Sports Dads and Moms there are out there screaming in the stands of America’s ballparks, courts and football fields. Every single one of them believes their little gem is going to make it to the big leagues, cashing seven-figure checks and garnering seven-figure follower counts.
Now think about how many of those Lil’ LeBrons and Tiny Taurasis actually make it to the pros. One out of a hundred thousand? One out of a million? Each year in the NCAA, for instance, only 1.2 percent of men’s basketball players on NCAA teams actually reach a major pro (i.e. NBA) level … and that’s for players good enough to make a college team.
Now think about how many players each year go in the top three of the NBA draft. (You probably don’t need advanced statistics to figure this one out.)
And now, think about a family that’s done that not just once, but twice in the last four years.
The Ball brothers took wildly different routes to the same endpoint, Lonzo pursuing a typical one-and-done college path, LaMelo literally wandering the world thanks in part to LaVar’s detonation of his eligibility. But the whole way, they had their father serving as hype man, laying groundwork and setting off fireworks overhead.
“I've told them this since Day 1,” LaVar once told TMZ, “since they've been babies: ‘Somebody's gotta be better than Jordan, why not you?’”
That hasn’t quite happened, but failure to attain immortality isn’t necessarily a failure to succeed on more human terms. Lonzo’s now a reliable pro, a key cog in the Pelicans’ machine, an effective supporting player while Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram command the spotlight. Through three years, he’s on a performance arc similar to longtime “That Guys” like Tony Allen and Iman Shumpert, players who fit systems well enough to stick around in the league for a decade-plus.
LaMelo’s tougher to chart, since he’s only played eight games in his entire pro career. He’s already lit up Twitter with some of the wildest passes this side of Patrick Mahomes, though it remains to be seen if the rest of his game will warrant those kinds of hallelujahs.
And let’s throw a bit of love to the middle Ball brother, LiAngelo, who — while not presently in the NBA itself — has enough game to earn a brief invite to the Pistons camp earlier this season, and a reported G League slot. That, in turn, prompted a tweet from LaVar that, let’s be honest, any parent would be proud to post:
PROUD‼️ We’re just getting started. pic.twitter.com/WmcCOAsUot
— Lavar Ball (@Lavarbigballer) December 3, 2020
At this point LaVar can’t realistically take credit for the ongoing success of either Lonzo or LaMelo; they’re their own men now, in the hands of teams that have a vested interest in furthering their growth as players and as brands. What got them to this point won’t get them to the next level.
Matter of fact, you could make the argument that LaVar’s incessant boasting made the road that much harder for Lonzo and LaMelo. Critics took every chance to roast their games from any possible angle, and teams knew that the Balls were a package deal … getting one of the children meant putting your team’s every decision under the father’s hypercritical eye and megaphone judgment.
“I've been living with him since I've been born. He's always been like that,” Lonzo told reporters in 2017, sounding as weary as one can in text form. “I let him do all the talking and I just try to play.”
Tunnel vision only lasts so long, though, and the strain of living up to LaVar’s grandiose vision has worn on the family. Lonzo, the trailblazer, has had some public splits with LaVar over the management of his own personal brand relative to LaVar’s Big Baller endeavor. All three Ball sons have, at times, sported the gear of other shoe and equipment companies.
Big Baller Brand itself has flourished, floundered and relaunched, rife with allegations of embezzlement and corruption. LaVar, chastened and more quiet these days, insisted last year that BBB is worth a billion dollars, but nobody’s really listening to him on that score anymore.
The big picture, though, is this: the gyms of America are littered with guys who think they were good enough to play in the League. Talent alone isn’t enough. You need drive and motivation, and you need a champion in your corner, too. And whatever else you can say about LaVar Ball, the man can champion the hell out of a cause he believes in.
So for one night, at least, LaVar Ball can take a well-earned victory lap. We’re sure it won’t go to his head at all.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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