If ever there was a moment made for LaVar Ball, it is the made-for-television spectacle that is the NBA Draft.
Ball, the most famous sports parent in America, has been preparing for this day since the late Eighties when he was a no-name forward at Washington State averaging 2.2 points a game. He has pushed, planned and plotted his way onto the center stage of the basketball world. And now, it is all going to pay off.
Lonzo Ball, the oldest of Ball’s three basketball playing sons, officially will take the family pro Thursday night when his name is called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver at Barclays Center. And if there was any doubt that the UCLA guard was going to end up with his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers, it was pretty much erased on Tuesday when word leaked that the team was planning to trade guard D’Angelo Russell to the Nets.
Suffice it to say, it was one happy Ball family — dressed, of course, in the family-owned Big Baller Brand apparel — that descended upon Manhattan this week. Middle brother LiAngelo is going to be a freshman at UCLA in the fall and the youngest, LaMelo, has already committed to UCLA despite having two more years at Chino Hills High School.
Yet it is 48-year-old LaVar who has turned the most heads. The family patriarch can’t walk the streets of Manhattan without being recognized — not that he would have it any other way.
“Everyone knows he’s going to be a Laker,” LaVar said with a smile about Lonzo as he walked past Grand Central Station.
While LaVar was getting stopped for autographs out on the sidewalk Thursday, his soft-spoken oldest son was trying to explain the family dynamic to a scrum of reporters at his pre-draft news conference. A hint of a smile crossed his face when he was asked how he ended up being so different from his father.
“He was raised in South Central and I was raised in Chino Hills,” Lonzo Ball said with a smile. “It was a lot easier where I’m from. I think that plays a big part in it.”
LaVar Ball’s own athletic career was anything but orchestrated. He played only one year of Division I basketball at Washington State and eventually finished his career at Division II Cal State Los Angeles. He had brief stints on the practice squads of both the Jets and Carolina Panthers before heading to London to play in the World League of American Football.
That goes a long way toward explaining why Ball has been so intricately involved in every facet of his three sons’ lives. Ball was close enough to being a professional athlete that he could smell it, touch it and taste it. But he never figured out how to get to the big time. He got to float around the margins of a pro athlete’s life, got to see what it was like up close. But, tall tales of his being able to beat Michael Jordan in one-on-one aside, Ball’s own athletic career was insignificant.
And this is why I’m somewhat reluctant to jump on the Ball-bashing bandwagon. Sure, it’s irritating that his Big Baller Brand company decided to charge $495 for Lonzo’s signature sneakers, even though he has never played an NBA game. Sure, some of the stuff he has said about his sons’ opponents and even his own wife is in poor taste and embarrassing. But it’s hard to fault a man who clearly loves his sons and wants them to have a better life than the one he had.
Lonzo said his family is everything. His father’s outspokenness is the only thing he has ever known and he wouldn’t want him to be any other way.
Said Lonzo: “He wants what’s best for all of us.”