Back in August, I wrote an article applauding Lavar Ball for the presence and role he has obviously played in the life of his three sons. Though I may not have agreed with all of his tactics, I had started to transform my thinking to believe that his goal was ultimately to uplift his sons and create Big Baller Brand legacy in the mold that he sees fit, so I gave him a bit of a pass. Despite signs pointing to the contrary, I figured he wanted to build the brand, then fall back (some) to let his boys eat off the successful path he paved for them. After all, his first born is a pro now, and BBB is an actual thing. Ball had navigated the high wire of delusion and genius, and made it safely to the other side. Everything was going great, right? No need to keep rattling the fence. It worked. You’ve won. Right…right? Not so much.
The interest in Lavar Ball continued to grow as his actions became increasingly questionable. His parenting and decision making being what it is, the circus that has followed is what has been the most divisive as of late. Ball had sons playing for Chino Hills, UCLA, and the Los Angeles Lakers at the time of the previously mentioned article. Since then, Lavar has publicly admonished the coaches of Chino Hills, UCLA, and the LA Lakers. It appears that Mr. Ball doesn’t think anyone – other than him – is suited to rear the Ball brothers’ basketball abilities. In fact, he doesn’t even think certain referees are equipped enough to call their games, and he said as much during the summer, as he pulled his Big Baller AAU team off the court during a tournament game.
In two unprecedented moves, he pulled the younger Ball boys from their respective teams, and took them to the doldrums of a Lithuania ‘B’ League to play for a team on the brink of bankruptcy. In true BBB fashion, the Ball trio showed up to flashing cameras and ESPN reporters. To add to the spectacle, the otherwise nondescript game was live streamed and there was ‘BBB’ logos everywhere. Literally everywhere.
But how do we know all of this? Why do we care if LiAngelo has 19 for a middle-of-nowhere Lithuanian team? Why do we care what Lavar Ball has to say about Lakers Coach Luke Walton? Is it too much coverage? Is he bad for basketball? What is this fascination? Why is he the lead topic on numerous sports talk shows, both on radio and TV? Why is Steve Kerr and Rick Carlisle, coaches of the Golden State Warrior and Dallas Mavericks, respectively (also known as not the Lakers), being asked for their thoughts on Lavar Ball? Who the hell is he? What has he done to garner all of this?
These are the questions that have become recent banter. Sports media, specifically ESPN, has been casted as an overzealous entity that has little interest in things that matter, such as sports. They have been characterized as no more than some grocery store tabloid that panders to the celebrity crazed, social media star struck society that has devolved into a people that value reality shows over reality. Stan Van Gundy, coach of the Detroit Pistons (again, not the Lakers) has gone as far as to boycott ESPN by not giving them interviews or access due to their seemingly insatiable coverage of Lavar Ball. Has it gone that far?
On one hand, I applaud the fraternity of NBA coaches for standing in unity, but this is a classic chicken or egg argument. Is the media to blame for covering Lavar so much or is Lavar so much that the media is obligated to cover him? The answer, as always, is yes. Both ideas are correct. Lavar is the first AAU generation parent that has taken their act to the big screen. He has found a way to monetize the helicopter parent. He knew what he was doing the whole time. He is a college educated man that understands how to function within the desire of immediacy in today’s human race. He understands that division is marketing. Pitting himself as the maniacal genius against some of the most famous sports figures, such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, and people, such as Donald Trump, allows for his name to be mentioned in sentences that are unfathomable otherwise.
On the other hand, this is also a tale of the fame monster stalking another morsel of prey. The lights of fame – or infamy for that matter – can get bright. Some melt under them, and some flourish and bask in the glow of those lights. Then there are some, more than what we would like to admit, that become addicted to it. The show replaces substance. What the people want invades the initial goal until the two become one entity. Fame is an untamable beast. It chews at some and swallows others whole. I, personally, believe that Lavar is behaving how he always has. I also believe that he has fallen victim to the lustful allure of all eyes being on him. He performs when the cameras are on; embellishing his character. The narrative has changed from “my boys” to “me.”
I don’t blame the media. It is certainly a sight to behold. The meteoric rise and possible subsequent fall of a previous unknown is the very foundation of what current fame is built on. Of course, we would like our famous people to be ones we can get behind wholeheartedly and make us feel good about being fans, but Keeping Up with the Kardashians has been on television for a decade. We have asked, “What do they do?” and “What is their talent?” since the shows inception, and yet it remains. Lavar Ball is no different. He has woven himself into the very fabric of sports and entertainment. He is the poster boy of what sports have become, a place where the line between sports and entertainment is unrecognizable and branding has taken precedence over balling. Like it or not, he is news. More poignantly, he is sports news, and he is certainly sports entertainment. Therefore, he will be covered. Is it too much? Maybe. But how much is truly too much? Kyle Kuzma is the best rookie on the Lakers, but who gets the billing? Lonzo, son of Lavar, does. No one is to blame for the inordinate amount of coverage Lavar Ball receives. As cliché as it sounds, it truly is what it is. This is the current climate sports and entertainment, and we’ve made it that way.