Dave Hannigan: Bombastic LaVar Ball cashing in on sons’ basketball talents

Most Trumpian of fathers says he always knew his kids would be hotshots on the court

 LaVar Ball:  continues to boast  about his sons  in a (usually) successful quest to garner yet more headlines and perhaps boost sales of BBB products.  Photograph:  Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

LaVar Ball: continues to boast about his sons in a (usually) successful quest to garner yet more headlines and perhaps boost sales of BBB products. Photograph: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

 

When the Chicago Bulls entertained the Charlotte Hornets last month, LaVar Ball took a prominent seat courtside wearing a permanent grin and a baseball cap that read, “I told you so!”

The most braggadocious sports parent in America, Ball had come to town to watch two of his three sons, Lonzo and LaMelo, starting for a pair of NBA teams with genuine play-off ambitions. And to gloat.

Years after he first began very loudly proclaiming his children’s future greatness and cashing in on their fame via his BBB (Big Baller Brand) apparel, nobody thinks his grandiloquent predictions quite so ridiculous anymore.

Of course, that doesn’t stop this most Trumpian of fathers from continuing to shoot his mouth off in a (usually) successful quest to garner yet more headlines and perhaps boost sales of BBB products.

The distinctive hat he wore to the Bulls-Hornets game just happens to be available on the website for $50 a pop, a bargain compared to his line of shoes retailing for 10 times that amount. All of which might explain his witless response when asked recently if LaMelo, who already looks a genuine superstar, ever got any specific advice from Michael Jordan, owner of the Hornets and the best to ever play the game.

“You tell me what advice he’s gonna give him,” said Ball. “Do you ever have milk in your refrigerator, man? When the damn thing expires, I hope you throw it away. When was the last time Jordan won a championship? The game has changed. What’s he gonna tell him?”

Aside from evincing an astonishing blend of ignorance and arrogance, imagine thinking it was a good idea to throw shade at the owner of the club where your 20-year-old is now considered the face and the future of the franchise.

In just his second campaign with the Hornets, LaMelo has averaged almost 20 points and eight assists per game, piecing together a burgeoning highlight reel of wonder shots and incisive passes. Recently voted Sports Illustrated’s Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, he is reckoned to be nailed on to make his first NBA All-Star team this February.

Everything is going smoothly apart from his father publicly dissing the owner. Not just any owner either. Jordan has proven to be a man as good at bearing grudges as he was at playing basketball. Then again, when he signed off on the decision to select LaMelo with the third pick in the 2020 draft, he already knew the father’s delusionary tendencies.

A character whose own sporting career peaked with a season as tight end with the London Monarchs of the World Football League and stints on NFL training squads, père Ball once tried to claim he could defeat Jordan in a game of one-on-one.

“You’ve to understand the source,” said Jordan when asked about that boast. “I think he played college, maybe? He averaged 2.2 points a game. Really? It doesn’t deserve a response but I’m gonna give it to you because you asked the question. I don’t think he could beat me if I was one-legged.”

Tiresome schtick

By now, the Ball children are no doubt used to their father’s guff. How could they not be? If the rest of America was first introduced to his tiresome schtick about five years ago, these kids have endured it their whole lives.

They’ve seen him expound in interviews about the fact he courted their mother, his future wife Tina, a former college basketball player herself, at Cal State because of “her length, height and breeding hips”. An apparent expert on amateur genetic engineering, he knew the moment they married that she would deliver him “three killers” on the basketball court.

Before Lonzo, the eldest of the three brothers, ever reached the NBA, his father declared he was going to be better than Stephen Curry. The teenager was in UCLA still trying to make a name for himself and his old man was bloviating about how he would surpass an icon who has redefined the art of shooting and changed the sport.

He won’t ever reach Curry’s heights, yet, after false starts with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, Lonzo is good enough for the Bulls to be paying him $84m for four years. That he made the league at all after the unnecessary pressure heaped upon him by his dad is itself quite the achievement.

The ratcheting up of the hype hasn’t and won’t stop. During his visit to Chicago LaVar talked up the possibility of Lonzo, LaMelo and LiAngelo (the middle child currently plying his trade with the Greensboro Swarm, a Hornets’ minor league outfit) one day coming together in the Midwest to bulwark a super team.

He wanted Bulls’ fans to know that while each son is very good, the three together would be great. It only needs some visionary club to listen to the blowhard patriarch of the family and a championship will be theirs.

In the same vein, he’s also been pointing out the Los Angeles Clippers could solve a lot of its problems by signing LiAngelo. That the 23-year-old has never played a minute in the NBA didn’t prevent his father from suggesting he could immediately improve a team full of long-established stars.

The very idea sounds preposterous and far-fetched. Yet, there’s also the possibility, however slender, that he might actually be right. After all, he has been before. He told us so.

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