• Ian Koska

Do We Owe Lavar Ball An Apology? I Think So

$495 FOR SKETCHERS?? Oh sorry those are the Z02’s..... 2’s? We haven’t even seen the Z0’s or the Z01+‘s yet, but here we are asking for $495 for what???! Obnoxious, arrogant, loud, crude, delusional, are all appropriate descriptions of Lavar Ball. The man, seemingly perfect for the social media click bait culture we live into today, will write your pieces himself with his outlandish remarks. Like the time in February 2017 after Lonzo was just finishing his one and only year at UCLA, Lavar claimed Lonzo was a better player “straight up than Steph Curry.” An absolute silly thing to say. There’s no actual way he believed that right? A month later Lavar said “back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one”. This one has always been my favorite. Lavar’s “Heyday” he averaged 2 points per game at Washington state, meanwhile Mike was averaging over 35 points in the NBA. Here’s the thing: Whether Mr. Ball was been completely out of his mind or living on his own planet, the man has raised three uber successful sons. All while garnering the attention of millions and talking 99% of his “beliefs” into reality. 

Lonzo Ball was a star at Chino Hills high school in California, long before any of us knew who the Ball family was. He averaged 25 points, 11 boards, 9.1 assist, 5 blocks, and 5 steals a game. Leading Chino Hills to an undefeated 35-0 record and a state title. All of this was good for rating Lonzo as a five star recruit, the number one overall player in California and the 4th overall player in the nation. Lonzo then agreed to go to play college basketball at UCLA on a full scholarship. UCLA is their hometown team, being just over 40 miles from where the Balls were raised. 

 Whether it was another example of Lavar speaking things into existence, or sheer dumb luck. In late 2016 Lonzo was in the midst of a fantastic freshman season at UCLA, the LA Lakers were conveniently having one of their worst seasons. This was the first year since 95’-96’ that the Laker’s were without the long time great and heavily missed, Kobe Bryant. LA finished 26-56 on the year. Only Brooklyn and Phoenix finished with worse overall records. Being bad in the NBA isn’t always a bad thing, because the Lakers finished with the third worst record that season that gave them the third best chances of winning the NBA draft lottery. Luckily for both sides there was a LA kid, who was a consensus top 3 player on anyone’s board. And who was it that guaranteed his son would only play for the Lakers? That’s right, Lavar Ball. He somehow spoke this into reality. He spoke early and often about how his son Lonzo will be the next Magic Johnson, and “Showtime Lakers” great. Sure as hell, LA ended up with the number two overall pick and drafted Lonzo. Whether it was destiny or somehow manifested, Lonzo was set to begin his career as a professional basketball player for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. 

The story should end here, right? What a beautiful sequence of events! But it doesn’t of course. Lavar has two more boys, LiAngelo and Lamelo. LiAngelo was one year the junior to Lonzo so the immediate season after Lonzo left to go to the NBA, UCLA was importing another Ball. LiAngelo was a 3 star recruit. Before the season started UCLA was visting China to play in exhibitions game when Gelo, and two of his Bruin teammates were accused of shoplifting and were held in China for a number of days. Once returning to the US, all three were suspended indefinitely by UCLA. Predictably, Lavar has some rash thoughts on the situation. Lavar would go on to blame the coaches saying “they need to take some responsibilities too, they make enough money.”, Lavar later said while talking about the indefinite suspension “ You shouldn't hang them on the cross for this long for that," Ball said. "A kid wants to play basketball all his life. You take that away, that's worse than jail. Why should we as parents and adults keep jumping on them? It's not like we're going through life without making mistakes. ... China already forgave the boys. They returned it. Why keep them from playing sports and take their meal passes? You already sent a message. They already apologized. What's the big deal?”  As it became evident that Gelo wasn’t going to be playing basketball for the Bruins, Lavar made his most daring decision yet. He decided to remove LiAngelo from UCLA all together and had him begin training for the 2018 NBA DRAFT. The problem? Gelo wasn’t seen in the same light as Lonzo and wasn’t viewed as an NBA prospect yet. 

This decision leads us to the most interesting saga of Lavar Balls genius. A couple weeks after Liangelo’s China fiasco, the Balls made a huge decision. Not only was LiAngelo hiring an agent thus ending any chance of him playing in the NCAA again, but their youngest son Lamelo was too. A 16 year-old Lamelo Ball would forgo his NCAA eligibility AND withdraw from high school a year and a half early! 

I remember the day this happened, I couldn’t believe a parent would be so corrosive to a child. Whether you’re a superstar athlete or someone like me, there’s 3 things drilled into us growing up. 1) stay in school, 2) go to college, 3) be successful. To me the idea of pulling your son out of high school mid-way through his junior year was cruel. Even more the kid had a full ride scholarship already in place to the family’s “dream” college, UCLA. It seemed at the time that Lavar Ball ruined Lamelo’s future. Allowing him to withdraw from school and go play professional in..... Lithuanian?!?!! Give me a map, and a thousand guesses there’s no way in hell I could find Lithuanian. I would never have guessed it would become the new home of a young, charismatic, basketball superstar.

The summer before the Ball’s embarked on their Lithuanian adventure, Lamelo was a main in the most viewed AAU game of all time. At a sold out gym in Las Vegas in late July 2017, the big baller brand AAU team was facing off against SC supreme. That’s right. Lamelo vs Zion. This was obviously well before Zion became the Zion that we know now. This was the Zion that we all had only seen highlight tapes of him slam dunking on the heads of overmatched children in South Carolina. To be fair, at the time I thought Zion was ungodly thicc and way to athletic to be any good. I also thought Lamelo was incredibly overrated. He struck me as soft, a ball hog, a show-off and a bad teammate that shouldn’t be taken seriously. This was the first AAU game I ever streamed live. Me and 77,000 Others. Not only was this the largest streamed AAU game, but basketball superstars were actually there live to watch. The likes of Damien Lillard, Andrew Wiggins, and Bill self we're all there in person for the showdown. Ultimately Sc supreme won 104-92. Ball and Williamson put on an epic show. Zion finished with 28 points and 8 rebounds, Ball finished with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. The game went viral. Highlight play after highlight play. Zion fast break jams vs Lamelo’s half court shots. The game was insane. And not to be forgotten, Lavar ball was manning the sideline of team BBB. The Youtube video of this game has more than 10 million views alone. While Zion became the newest Duke Blue Devil and stayed in the nations eye, you wouldn’t see or hear anything about Lamelo.

While Zion was the most hyped freshman in college basketball history, he couldn’t use his own “brand” to make himself a dime until he officially declared for the draft. While Zion was making nothing, Lamelo was making money. At 17 years old Lamelo became the youngest American professional basketball player ever. He was the youngest basketball player to have his own signature shoe. He also owns his own clothing line and has 5.3 million Instagram followers. In their 4-month tenure in Lithuanian, Lamelo and Liangelo got drastically better. Before they left for good Lavar Ball organized a five-game exhibition game tournament for his son’s team. They went against the lower tier competition in Lithuanian. In the final game before Gelo was declaring for the 2018 NBA draft, he scored 72 points. There’s some trickery and a conspiracy on how he achieved this, but nonetheless the box score still shows 72 points for the Ball’s middle son. This became the most talked about performance in all of basketball.

Flash forward to June 17, 2019, Melo signs a two-year contract with the illwarra Hawks of the Australian NBL. Which is commonly thought of as the second or third best league in the world. Lamelo, now 18 years old, has his second professional contract. This time in a league/situation that would rival the competition he would have gotten had he played in college. To the surprise of no one, LaMelo flourished in his time in Australia averaging 17 points, 7.5 assist and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He became a top NBA prospect despite not taking the traditional route to do so. And he had already signed two professional contracts. Fast forward to January 2020, LaMelo was regarded as a top 5 pick and many scouts viewed him as the number one overall player. 

In the meantime, Lamelo and the rest of the Ball family became an internet sensation. The reality show from 2017-present “Ball In The Family” has 106 episodes which gives you a behind the scenes look into what was once thought of as a chaotic family. What you actually see is Lavar being an incredible father to many, not only his sons but to to the youth in the community. The Lavar you get in snippets of things he says on ESPN to the one you see on the show is a world of difference. He seems caring, driven, and grounded vs the arrogant, boisterous, cringey Lavar on television. You see a father, and an outright brilliant leader of the family. 

The Ball’s just signed a deal with Roc Nation to support all three brothers. While this past offseason we saw Lonzo packaged from LA to NOLA in part of the Anthony Davis trade, Lonzo is thriving in his new situation. Becoming one of the best two-way players in the league. Gelo, who many never thought would make it in American professional basketball is now on the G league team affiliates of the Oklahoma City thunder. LaMelo just purchased the NBL’s Illwarra Hawks and is a projected top 5 pick in this year’s upcoming draft (whenever that will be).

Lavar has won. All of his sons are where he always said they would be. Somehow Lavar talked everything into reality. It wasn’t as smooth or as eloquent as we would have liked, but he lived up to his word. Because of that, he may be one of the most successful fathers in history. I hated and doubted him every step of the way, but he proved me wrong in the end. Lavar, this is my apology to you.