As always, LaVar Ball was impossible to miss.
The NBA’s most famous father sat courtside on Tuesday wearing a bright red Big Baller Brand T-shirt for his son Lonzo’s debut at Madison Square Garden. Director Spike Lee sat eight seats away, and NBA legend Magic Johnson was in the same row.
It was Ball, however, who found himself being swarmed by selfie-taking teenagers at halftime. And it was Ball who was shown on television high-fiving every fan within reach as his son scored 10 points in the third quarter in what ended up being a 113-109 Knicks overtime win.
The Garden has had its fair share of circuses over the years, but I’m not sure it’s ever seen anything like the one the Ball family has brought to the Lakers.
During his first two months in the league, Lonzo has had to learn on the fly how to be a starting point guard for one of its most storied franchises. And that may have been his easiest challenge. During the same period, he has seen his brother LiAngelo get arrested for shoplifting in China, his father get into a Twitter war with President Donald Trump and an entire nation of basketball fans scratch their heads after his father announced that LiAngelo and youngest brother LaMelo had signed a contract to play with a little-known professional team in Lithuania.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He’s got a lot of pressure and that’s just from being a starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s a lot of responsibility. And obviously with how big he is in the social media world and the fact everything he does gets scrutinized by everybody. I think he’s handled himself very well.
“We don’t try to coddle him. We’re here to help him on and off the court. It’s our responsibility as a coaching staff to give him an environment where he feels comfortable in trying to push himself, knowing we have his back.”
Walton was careful not to mention LaVar when talking about the pressures on his point guard. Make no mistake, though. Coaching a player with a helicopter parent on steroids has to be exhausting, especially when that parent is constantly holding court with reporters and criticizing your decisions.
ESPN reported Monday that Ball had met with Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka. They asked LaVar to tone down the criticism.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said not only has he never met a NBA parent like LaVar, but he has never really had a parent reach out to talk to him about a player he was coaching.
Hornacek, whose father was a high school coach, said he grew up in a different time.
“My dad was great. He would talk basketball if I wanted to,” Hornacek said. “There were never film sessions. I don’t even know if there was film back then. It was just basic talk.”
The Ball family was definitely excited for Lonzo’s Garden debut, and he produced a pretty respectable game. Ball flirted with a triple-double — 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists and only one turnover. He also displayed some highlight-worthy moves, including a one-handed alley-oop dunk in the third quarter that practically sent his father running out on the court.
Lonzo said he was too busy getting back on defense to notice what his dad was doing. He also said he really doesn’t look at his father during the game. For some, LaVar Ball may be a polarizing figure. But to Lonzo, he’s just a supportive father.
“I know how he is,’’ Lonzo said after the game. “Regardless, he’s always going to be turned up. I like his energy. Some people don’t.”