ESPN sent a reporter to Lithuania this week on an assignment many thought foolhardy at worst and eccentric at best.
The topic? The professional debuts of LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball.
And oh yes, there would be a lot of LaVar Ball thrown in as well.
Many know the results by now. The younger and less celebrated Ball brothers made their debut, but the father stole the show. He called out the Los Angeles Lakers, where his son Lonzo is a celebrated rookie point guard. He accused Los Angeles coach Luke Walton of losing the locker room and insinuated the Lakers aren’t handling his son properly.
In other words, LaVar Ball was being Lavar Ball.
We know what that entails. Ball is outrageous both in his comments and actions. He is a show-stealer, a braggart, a high school parent run amok. And it’s taken less than three months for many in the NBA to tire of his antics.
Me? I’m torn on basketball’s most famous father.
This is the conundrum of LaVar Ball. The man clearly does good for his sons. Fathers often take a beating in society for not being present for their children, especially African-American fathers, and Ball is as hands-on as you can get. He’s been there for his three boys each step of the way. He’s guided them. He’s molded them. And the end result is one son becoming a lottery pick, getting drafted by his hometown team and flashing the skill set that’s drawn comparisons to hall of famer Jason Kidd. And there’s a good chance Lonzo won’t end up as the only NBA player among his siblings. LaMelo is 16, a 6-foot-4 point guard and has at the very least a fighting shot to make the NBA.
LaVar Ball clearly can take credit for that. So what if he’s loud and boisterous? So what if he’s ruffled a few feathers along the way? He’s a man who knows the value of marketability. And like it or not, he’s created a ton of that for himself and his children.
That being said, he went too far with his comments about Walton. He put the Lakers in a bad spot and put Walton in a worse spot. He put Lonzo Ball in an impossible position.
First, he’s inaccurate. Walton hasn’t lost the locker room or the faith of the front office. If anything, Walton is to be commended for keeping a ship afloat in a locker room that would be difficult for any coach in the league to manage. The Lakers are filled with players on short-term contracts, guys who know they won’t be long for Los Angeles and are playing for their next deals.
Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all free agents in some fashion at the end of the season. That’s half the rotation. Ball and Kyle Kuzma are rookies. Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. are in their sophomore seasons.
You aren’t going to win much with that kind of uncertainty, youth and inexperience on a roster. And LaVar Ball isn’t helping anyone by opening his mouth and accusing a coach of losing his team.
This isn’t new for Ball. He clashed with his sons’ high school coach. The problem is the NBA is another level, another entity all together. For once, Ball bit off more than he could chew. He’s not going to win that battle.
A day will come when the Ball brothers, for the sake of their careers, are going to have to tell their dad to chill or break away from his grip. Watching Lonzo Ball in a subsequent interview attempt to give a diplomatic answer was sad. He was in such a tough spot. He either was going to throw his father or his coach under the bus. I sympathized. At the end of the day, Lonzo Ball is still a teenager. He shouldn’t have been in that position. And for that, LaVar Ball needs to gain a bit of self-awareness.
LaVar Ball is approaching a thin line. He’s been a great parent in getting his sons to a point where they all can have a successful career. Because of his ability to market himself and his sons, money shouldn’t be an issue for the Ball family, even if basketball doesn’t work out. At this point, LaVar Ball has gotten his family to the level of the Kardashians. They are famous for being famous.
But if his sons are to have those successful careers, LaVar Ball has to ease up on the throttle. He has to stop publicly calling out the coach. He has to let the Lakers be the Lakers. Most importantly, it’s time to let Lonzo have the room to grow. He has a chance to be a terrific point guard. By all accounts, he’s a quiet and humble kid and a good teammate.
LaVar Ball can take credit for a lot of that. Now it’s his time to ease up. Or he runs the risk of undoing all of that good.
NBA POWER RANKINGS
1. Golden State Warriors • Steph Curry dealing with another sprained ankle. This one isn’t thought to be as serious.
2. Boston Celtics • Gordon Hayward is out of the ankle brace. Boston fans are dreaming of a quick return.
3. Toronto Raptors • DeMar DeRozan’s season may be worthy of fringe MVP consideration.
4. Houston Rockets • Have slipped some, but James Harden will be back soon from injury.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves • Clearly are the third best team in the Western Conference right now.
6. San Antonio Spurs • Kawhi Leonard still isn’t himself halfway through January. That has to be concerning.
7. Miami Heat • Starting shooting guard Dion Waiters may have season-ending surgery.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers • Have fallen into a funk, and LeBron hasn’t been enough to bail them out.
9. Milwaukee Bucks • Jabari Parker targeting a mid-February return from his torn ACL.
10. Washington Wizards • John Wall inks five-year shoe deal with Adidas.
11. Portland Trail Blazers • Shabazz Napier played best basketball of his career with Damian Lillard out because of a calf strain.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder • They’ve missed Andre Roberson’s defense more than anyone could have imagined.
13. Detroit Pistons • Have also expressed trade interest in Nikola Mirotic.
14. Denver Nuggets • Suffered a horrible home loss to Atlanta.
15. Indiana Pacers • Lost Myles Turner for a few games to an elbow injury.
16. New Orleans Pelicans • Going out east next week for three games.
17. Los Angeles Clippers • Lou Williams drops 50 in a win over the Warriors.
18. Philadelphia 76ers • Developing a bad habit of blowing big leads.
19. New York Knicks • Trey Burke is back. The former Jazz lotto pick lands in the Big Apple.
20. Utah Jazz • Rudy Gobert, Raul Neto, best friends nearing a return to the court.
21. Charlotte Hornets • Good news — Steve Clifford medically cleared to return to coaching.
22. Brooklyn Nets • Cavs rooting for Nets to lose every game to sweeten their draft pick.
23. Chicago Bulls • Rookie Lauri Markkanen drops 33 in win over the Knicks against Kristaps Porzingis, his closest comparison.
24. Phoenix Suns • Contributed to OKC’s recent slide with 114-100 win over Thunder.
25. Dallas Mavericks • Are 6-3 in last nine games. Dirk Nowitzki drops 20 in victory over the Magic.
26. Los Angeles Lakers • Beat Spurs for first three-game win streak of the season.
27. Memphis Grizzlies • Police charge ex-wife of former Grizzly center Lorenzen Wright for his murder.
28. Sacramento Kings • Frank Mason will miss 4 to 6 weeks with partial plantar fascia tear.
29. Atlanta Hawks • Win over Nuggets snaps a 10-game road losing streak. Dennis Schroder had 19 and 10 assists in the victory.
30. Orlando Magic • Have lost 15 of their last 16 games. The bottom truly has fallen out.