I don’t really like LaVar Ball. I also don’t know LaVar Ball, but I’ve been witness – and co-conspirator – to the way he’s carved out a sizable portion of the discussion of sports and the culture of sports for himself, his sons and, most brazenly, his brand. That’s more my issue than LaVar Ball, the man, someone I’ve never met and assume is probably a fine dude and an attentive dad.
LaVar Ball, the public figure, though, represents an exhausting strain of persona that’s finely-tuned to be entertaining on television and discussion-driving on the Internet, which is to say he’s loud, brash, arrogant, uncouth and nakedly ambitious.
To be fair, and honest, it’s not easy to gain a foothold in media, or America, without most – if not all – of those traits. If Ball utilized those characteristics with a little subtlety or cleverness, I’d probably find him a lot more fun. Instead, we’re getting apparel looking to cash in on – or more likely, keep the news cycle spinning – a misogynist scolding of a female broadcaster. You can laugh at or with the other out-sized things Ball has said over the last year, but I can’t do anything but shudder with the ‘Stay In Yo Lane’ business.
Which is all to say, LaVar Ball has earned much of whatever distaste, dislike and dissatisfaction there is with him and his actions. He probably knows that, and he almost certainly doesn’t care.
His 15-year old son, though?
Nah, that kid doesn’t deserve the public’s scorn.
He especially doesn’t deserve a public-shaming in the form of the two-plus minute lowlight tape that found its way to the Internet this weekend. It is unequivocally cruel to do that to a kid not old enough to drive himself to his AAU games. It’s hard to fathom the jealousy, contempt and smallness it takes from a person to displace their dislike of an adult to his teenage son.
Laughing at LaMelo Ball’s now-infamous “mixtape” also missed the forest for the trees.
When it comes to basketball and his kids, LaVar Ball has been explicitly clear that he’s uninterested in raising or coaching traditional basketball players, and guess what, we’re out of a traditional age of basketball. Watching Lonzo Ball at UCLA this past season or LaMelo pull up from half-court, it’s obvious this family cares not for basketball norms, which are bending in their direction anyway. The 3-point line is further becoming a starting point rather than a threshold for range. Letting loose as many 3s as possible is a strategy that is becoming more mainstream. Playing with a certain flair, well that’s always been cool as hell.
Squeezing off 3-pointers at a rapid rate isn’t easy, either. You’ve got to do it from deep and off the dribble, two moves that are difficult for pros to get a handle on. A 15-year-old? If he’s trying to do it, he’s going to look silly sometimes. He’s going to have airballs and outtakes, bricks and bloopers. Steph Curry can do what he does because he’s mastered the fundamental steps that build his wild capabilities. LaMelo, obviously by a basketball philosophy extension of LaVar, looks to be pushing the boundaries of a style that no teenager could utilized in any sort of refined manner. That’s exactly what he’s been building toward his whole life, though.
“[LaMelo] never played against kids his own age,” LaVar told The Ringer last year. “That’s why it’s so easy for him in high school. He’s been playing 17U since he was 11 years old. I had him playing against eighth-graders when he was 6 and 7. It’s nothing new to him. He’s always seen people’s stomachs. He ain’t never been face-to-face with nobody.”
LaMelo’s game is being built to push limits – his own, the sport’s, convention. Those are lofty goals for any player, especially a 15-year old. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t. Whatever pause LaVar Ball gives you, it’s hard to argue his vision for his sons hasn’t paid dividends. One is on his way to being a top-three pick in the NBA draft, a second is on scholarship at UCLA and the third is a top-15 recruit in his class. By whatever curved system you want to grade those accomplishments, they are astounding for a single family.
LaVar Ball has invited – and welcomed – ridicule. He’s a grown man who knows what he’s doing. He deserves credit for raising sons who have achieved on the floor and been solid kids off it. It’s also fair to be less-than-amused with some of his words and actions, and to be wary of a style of game he’s preaching that looks to eschew the team aspects of a decidedly team game.
Even more fair is to be uncomfortable with the way he’s seeming to be leveraging his children’s achievements to create a brand and business that appears to be less centered on his sons’ talents than on himself.
Who knows how LaMelo Ball’s future plays out, but it’s unfair and wrong for the public to hold a 15-year old high school sophomore that still sports a wispy, mid-puberty mustache and braces accountable for their feelings toward his father, even if LaVar is determined to test that resolve.