How LaVar Ball went from failed athlete to the most hated father in basketball and the latest Trump antagonist

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty

NBA rookies Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum have been impressive in their first professional season, but if there’s one newcomer who has left his mark on the American basketball scene, it’s LaVar Ball.

After falling short in his own quest to attain fame as a professional athlete, Ball made it his life’s mission to get his three sons to the NBA. So far, the plan has worked – the oldest, Lonzo Ball, is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and his younger brothers may follow behind him.

Intense training is one aspect of Ball’s strategy to vault his sons into superstardom, but so is attention-seeking behaviour. Over the past year, he has made numerous inflammatory comments, sparred with some of the game’s foremost figures, and drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, all while relentlessly promoting his business venture: Big Baller Brand.

Below, read up on the rapid rise of one of the most intriguing families in all of sports.

Despite having less than a season’s worth of NBA experience between them, the Balls have become some of the biggest names in basketball.

Joshua Blanchard/Getty

There’s Lonzo Ball, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft and rookie point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers…

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

…LiAngelo Ball, a freshman guard at UCLA…

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty

…and LaMelo Ball, who was recently pulled out of Chino Hills High School in California in favour of an intense training and a homeschooling regimen.

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty

Then there’s the patriarch and the architect of the family’s fame: LaVar Ball.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

LaVar was a multi-sport athlete growing up. He played basketball at Washington State during the 1987-88 season, averaging 2.2 points per game. He also played for West Los Angeles College and Cal State Los Angeles.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

He found slightly more success on the gridiron. LaVar was the starting quarterback for Canoga Park High School before returning to the sport after college. He played on the Jets and Panthers practice squads and even returned kicks for the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football.


LaVar soon washed out of professional football, but he had a backup plan. He and his wife, Tina, had Lonzo in 1997, and soon enough, LaVar was teaching his son the fundamentals of basketball.

LaVar and Tina met at Cal State, where he was initially attracted to her height. According to Tina, “He always had a master plan.”

Source: The Mercury News

LaVar and Tina had LiAngelo in 1998, followed by LaMelo in 2001. Each of their sons began training with LaVar before reaching preschool.

And train them he did. Lonzo did his first pull-up at age 4 and began doing sprints up mile-long hills at age 12.

Christian Petersen/Getty

Source: Stack

“I started introducing my boys [to working out] when they were 4 or 5 years old, doing pull-ups and dips and hanging on the bars for fun,” LaVar said. “They was into it because they would see who could do one, and then the other one would try and do two, and as they got older, they’d say ‘Dad, let me go in there, I can do them by myself.’ It was like a competition thing for all of them.”

Source: Stack

In addition to pushing them to their physical limits, LaVar instilled in his sons the confidence necessary to succeed in professional sports. He would tell them, “Your mum’s a PE teacher. I’m a trainer. She’s big. I’m big. You guys are big. Your last name is Ball. What else you gonna do?”

Joshua Blanchard/Getty

Source: GQ

The boys showed promise from an early age. “When the boys were seven, nine, and ten, they’d play against the eighth graders and they’d run ’em into the ground,” he told Los Angeles Magazine. “Soon kids would want them to sign their backpacks or their basketballs.”

Source: Los Angeles Magazine

Their work eventually paid off in a big way, as all three Ball sons became high school and AAU phenoms. Lonzo and LiAngelo committed to UCLA after their sophomore years, while LaMelo did so the summer after leaving middle school.

Tim Bradbury/Getty

Source: Los Angeles Magazine

In a high school basketball scene dominated by Catholic schools and prep powerhouses, the three brothers led the public Chino Hills High School to an undefeated record in 2015-16, defeating De La Salle in the state championship.

Source: MaxPreps

That fall, Lonzo headed off to UCLA as a prominent prospect. He had a solid season, averaging 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists in just over 35 minutes per game. Despite a bizarre shooting motion, he made over 55% of his shots from the field.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty

While Lonzo put himself on the map with his productive play, LaVar’s outspoken nature and penchant for exaggeration earned him a reputation as a master promoter.

Ethan Miller/Getty

In February 2017, LaMelo, then a high school sophomore, scored 92 points on 61 shots in a Chino Hills victory. LaVar was proud. “He loves to score,” he told ESPN. “That’s the type of things he’s going to do next year on a daily basis. It’s easy for him.”

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty

Source: ESPN

The outsized stat line drew a number of reactions, including a negative one from Charles Barkley. “You know, the kid was waiting at half court most of the game. Never went back on defence. So I had a problem with it, to be honest with you,” he said.

Frederick Breedon/Getty

Source: Mike & Mike

In March, LaVar took his trash talk to the next level, confidently asserting that he could outplay one of the greatest players to ever take the court. “Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one…He better make every shot ’cause he can’t go around me,” he said. “He’s not fast enough.”

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

Source: USA Today

Jordan responded, saying, “You’ve got to understand the source…I don’t think he could beat me if I was one-legged.”

Streeter Lecka/Getty

Read more: Michael Jordan responds to LaVar Ball: ‘I don’t think he could beat me if I was one-legged’

In college, Lonzo led the Bruins to a 29-4 record, good for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But he was flummoxed by eventual rookie classmate De’Aaron Fox and the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16, and UCLA lost 86-75.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty

LaVar blamed the loss on Lonzo’s teammates. “Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow,” he told the Orange County Register. Three players out of UCLA’s starting five — TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford, and Thomas Welsh — were white.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty

Read more: LaVar Ball on UCLA losing in March Madness: ‘You can’t win no championship with 3 white guys’

Soon after, Lonzo declared for the 2017 NBA draft in a widely anticipated move. For months, LaVar had been predicting that his eldest son would go to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, telling ESPN that “I’m going to speak it into existence.”

Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Source: ESPN

Speculation surged when Los Angeles left the draft lottery with the second overall pick. The Washington guard Markelle Fultz was the consensus No. 1, meaning the Lakers would get their pick of the remaining litter.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

On draft night, the Lakers took Lonzo with their top pick, fulfilling LaVar’s prophecy. Less than a month later, they traded their incumbent point guard, the former No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell, to the Brooklyn Nets, signalling a full commitment to Lonzo.

Mike Stobe/Getty

All the while, LaVar was touting his latest business venture: Big Baller Brand.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

Big Baller Brand was launched in 2016 as a sports apparel and lifestyle company. In May of this year, LaVar announced that basketball fans could buy a pair of Lonzo’s signature shoes, the ZO2s — for the low price of $US495.

Christian Petersen/Getty

Source: Big Baller Brand

People were outraged at what appeared to be a display of unfettered greed. LaVar defended the shoes on Twitter, saying, “If you can’t afford the ZO2’S, you’re NOT a BIG BALLER!”

Joshua Blanchard/Getty

Source: Twitter

Shaq had a great response: “real big baller brands don’t over charge kids for shoes.”

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Source: Twitter

LaVar continued his antics over the summer. In June, he appeared alongside Lonzo and LaMelo on an episode of “WWE Monday Night Raw.”

Read more: LaVar Ball made his WWE debut and it was just as crazy as you would imagine

But in addition to controversy in the ring, there was controversy on the court. With thousands of fans in the stands, LaVar pulled his AAU team off the court after being called for a technical and cussing at the referee.

Read more: LaVar Ball took his AAU team off the court and forfeited a game after getting called for a technical foul

In August, LaMelo got his own signature shoe from Big Baller Brand. LaVar brushed aside eligibility concerns, saying, “NCAA ain’t going to tell me s—. Because they’re not my boss.”

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

Read more: LaMelo Ball now has his own $US400 Big Baller Brand shoes raising concerns about college eligibility

Weeks later, LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills over disagreements with the school’s new basketball coach.

Ethan Miller/Getty

Read more: LaVar Ball is pulling youngest son LaMelo out of high school after disputes with new coach

While LaVar has helped his sons in many ways, he has hindered them in others. In Lonzo’s NBA debut against the Los Angeles Clippers, he was shut down and taunted by Patrick Beverley. “I just had to set the tone. I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him,” Beverley said.

Harry How/Getty

Read more: Clippers guard who harassed Lonzo Ball in his NBA debut also offered him a grave warning

In November, it was LiAngelo’s turn to make headlines. The UCLA basketball team travelled to China to take part in an exhibition against Georgia Tech, where LiAngelo and two of his teammates were arrested for shoplifting several items from a Hangzhou mall.

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty

Read more: Lonzo Ball’s brother reportedly among UCLA players arrested in China

While on a visit to Beijing, President Donald Trump asked the Chinese president Xi Jinping to intervene in the case. Days later, the players were headed home.

Thomas Peter/Getty

Read more: Trump asked the Chinese government to intervene in the case involving UCLA basketball players arrested in China

Trump took to Twitter to wonder if the players would thank him, and while LiAngelo did just that, LaVar dismissed the president’s help. “Maybe we were doing some talking with some other people before he even got there,” he told Fox News. “There is a lot of other matters going around for the president to deal with that’s political. As far as me, let me deal with my son.”


Read more: CNN interview with LaVar Ball goes off the rails as he tries to explain why he dismissed Trump’s help

But despite his brash public persona, there is another side to LaVar. For one thing, his devotion to his family is undeniable.

Tina suffered a stroke back in February, spending over two months in the hospital. In a trailer for the family’s Facebook reality series “Ball in the Family,” LaVar is seen taking care of her as she works to regain her mobility.

Joshua Blanchard/Getty

Source: YouTube

On Father’s Day, Lonzo penned a touching letter to his father. “Thank you for teaching me how to play this game,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “Thank you for teaching me how to be a man. And thank you for never apologizing for being you.”

Michael Owen Baker/Getty

Source: The Players’ Tribune

LaVar isn’t finished making headlines. In June, he told ESPN that his plan is to have LiAngelo declare for the 2018 draft, go unselected, and join Lonzo with the Lakers as a rookie free agent.

LiAngelo Ball

What’s more, LaMelo is considered a top-20 prospect in the Class of 2019, and he might be the most famous high school basketball player in the country.

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty

Source: Rivals

As for Lonzo, he’s keeping his head above water in his first NBA season, averaging 7.1 assists in 33.1 minutes per game for a Lakers on pace for an eight-win improvement.

Christian Petersen/Getty

Between the dominant performances on the court, the self-inflicted controversies, and the public feuds with just about everyone, it’s been an interesting year for the Ball family…

Sean M. Haffey

…but ultimately, it’s been a successful one, and it looks like they’re just getting started.

Joshua Blanchard/Getty

Now check out the schools with the best football programs.

Samantha Lee/Business Insider

The 30 most dominant college football programs

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.