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.
There’s Lonzo Ball, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft and rookie point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers…
…LiAngelo Ball, a freshman guard at UCLA…
…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.
Then there’s the patriarch and the architect of the family’s fame: LaVar Ball.
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.
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.
“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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
All the while, LaVar was touting his latest business venture: Big Baller Brand.
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.
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!”
Shaq had a great response: “real big baller brands don’t over charge kids for shoes.”
LaVar continued his antics over the summer. In June, he appeared alongside Lonzo and LaMelo on an episode of “WWE Monday Night Raw.”
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.
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.”
Weeks later, LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills over disagreements with the school’s new basketball 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
…but ultimately, it’s been a successful one, and it looks like they’re just getting started.
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