LaVar Ball is nothing if not ambitious.
The most famous basketball dad has a new venture in mind: A basketball league for high school graduates that are looking for a place to get paid to play basketball other than college.
It would be called the Junior Basketball Association and, according to ESPN, pay the players a salary of $3,000-$10,000 a month. The goal is to land 80 players, put them on 10 different teams and play in NBA arenas in Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn and Atlanta. The catch is that the league would be sponsored by Big Baller Brand, meaning that all of the kids participating would be wearing BBB shoes, BBB jerseys, BBB warmups, BBB everything.
The idea is innovative, especially for a man with a sports apparel brand that he is building, but it’s not unique. Two years ago, there was a man – a con-man, it turned out – trying to launch something called the AmeriLeague. That fell through, as did his idea to create a team called the Las Vegas Dealers that would pay kids upwards of $700,000 to get them to play for a team that would scrimmage European clubs in Vegas and on a tour of Europe. Then there is the Historical Basketball League, a push made by a man named Andy Schwarz to circumvent the NCAA to create a collegiate league that will pay players money.
As always, I am skeptical about any potential success that these leagues will have. For starters, college stars do not truly get what they are worth when they are in college, but if the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball was any indication, they do get something beyond the scholarship money; more often than not, that something is more than what Ball is offering with the JBA.
And then there is the lifestyle. High-major college basketball players still have it pretty good. They are heroes on campus, play in front of raucous arenas, fly private and get the best facilities to work out in while, potentially, receiving some tax-free cash and getting a chance to build a brand and a name while playing on national television every night. The latter is a good thing for NBA teams and for the shoe companies that will eventually end up paying stars massive endorsement deals.
Think about it like this: Would Lonzo Ball be Lonzo Ball if he played in the JBA instead of at UCLA for a year?
And that’s before we even broach the subject of the NBA potentially eliminating the one-and-done rule. If they do that, it’s because they want to get these athletes into the NBA developmental system sooner rather than later. Have you not noticed the amount of resources the league is pouring into the G League?
Put another way, college isn’t the perfect answer when it comes to development, but I promise you NBA teams would prefer having future pros spend a year with Coach K or Coach Cal or Bill Self over having them spend a year playing in the JBA.
I applaud the ambition – truly, I do – but I cannot see this working.