LaVar Ball Isn’t Helping His Sons

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Lonzo and his brothers do not need the added pressures

The marvel isn’t that Lavar Ball has been unleashed upon the world with all his arrogance and bombast, it is rather that it has taken this long. We have lived in a society that values what one says more than what one does since before the dawn of this century. In that context, it is surprising that there have been over five hundred players drafted into the NBA since 2000 and none had a father who used the occasion to promote himself quite like this.

The shame of this isn’t that the elder Ball is getting more attention than he may deserve, but rather his son is getting less. Not less as a person, but definitely less as a basketball player. Through three games, Lonzo is leading the Lakers in rebounds and assists. With a few growing pains notwithstanding, he is showing every sign of becoming a player that the Lakers can build a contender around.

But we can’t enjoy that without enduring the sideshow. We don’t need Lavar’s boasting to recognize that Lonzo is a special talent. Guys with Lonzo’s basketball savvy and charisma don’t need anyone telling the world how special they are. The camera finds them, the stats find them, and sooner or later the moment finds them. It will find Lonzo even sooner because he has landed with a franchise with the history and glamour to shine attention on anyone associated with it. This is especially so because Lonzo has arrived at a point where he is positioned to be the main cog in the next Laker resurgence. When that happens, Lavar’s hype machine will seem understated.

But if it doesn’t happen, or if it takes longer to happen than we expect it to, or longer than Lavar predicts it will, all he is doing is setting his son up for a public flogging. Because of Lavar, every mistake Lonzo makes, every time he fails in a clutch moment, will be magnified and dissected by peers and a public eager to see him fail. The sports world is full of folks who have withered under that sort of pressure. Ever heard of Todd Marinovich? How about Jennifer Capriati? They were the next big thing, and they had dads, too. And Lonzo’s two brothers, who have yet to prove themselves as capable of handling the spotlight as Lonzo, are probably in for something even worse.

You may say that there are those who applaud Lavar, who admire him for bucking the system that says who can say what and when they can say it. He is taking a status quo that enables people like shoe company executives and college coaches who enrich themselves on the talent of young men and is making that system work for him. You may say that in today’s world, Lonzo’s brand matters more than his game. Comparing him — or his father — to Michael Jordan or even LeBron James is irrelevant, even naïve because he is operating in a different world than they did when they first started.

All of that may be true, even if it does discount the indications of misogyny and other character flaws of Lavar’s that are likely to hinder his efforts to market his family. There’s little doubt in any case that the Ball family will be worth insane amounts of money by the time all of them are done playing basketball, regardless of how much success they have on the court. But Michael and LeBron are billionaires, and they got there by what they achieved on the court and the choices they made off of it. Unless Lonzo screws up in some unimaginable way, by the end of his rookie contract he will have teams climbing over each other to offer him deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with endorsement opportunities worth even more. That will happen whether or not his father ever utters another word in public. The endorsement opportunities, in fact, would likely be greater if Lavar would shut up.

Lavar may have his fans, but the vast majority of the basketball establishment is not among them. Those folks prefer that sports continue to be a meritocracy like it always has been. That your fame be somewhat proportionate to your achievement. The shame is that Lonzo Ball would thrive under those rules, but since his dad has chosen to flaunt those rules, Lonzo will be swimming against the tide his whole career.

This begs the question: what exactly is Lavar gaining by inserting himself into his son’s story like this? He may think he is maximizing his return on the investment he had made in his sons, but that is debatable. He may make money from a reality show or by selling his $500 shoes, but if all the notoriety that comes with that hinders Lonzo’s development or marketability, are they ahead in the long run? Even if they are, is it worth it if it comes at the cost of letting Lonzo live a normal life, at least by NBA standards? There is simply no upside for Lonzo in any of this. At the end of the day, the only way any parent wants to be judged is whether they are making things better for their kids. Lavar deserves credit for creating an environment in which is sons could develop into extraordinary basketball players, but now he’s doing them more harm than good.

The only conclusion that makes sense is that the main beneficiary from all of this is Lavar’s ego. There would be plenty of ways to capitalize on Lonzo’s talent while remaining in the background, if that was the goal. If Lavar simply wanted the world to realize that he is a good parent, he could do what dozens of other sports parents do and let the camera find him cheering for his son at games, followed by allowing Lonzo to praise him whenever the opportunity arises. But that’s not enough for Lavar. He’s not content to revel in his son’s glory; rather, he has to be the story himself.

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