LaVar Ball has three sons. All of them play basketball. The oldest, Lonzo, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of our local professional basketball teams. LiAngelo, the second son, briefly played for UCLA before he left under a cloud due to a petty theft issue in China. The youngest, LaMelo, is still a high school student.
LaVar has a long and checkered past. He has built a reputation over the years as being an over-involved parent, often harassing the coaches of the basketball programs where his sons are playing. Chino, the city where the Balls are from, could not see him leave fast enough.
LaVar is a frequent guest on ESPN morning and other sports talk programs, often presenting a highly opinionated and larger-than-life persona. His arrogance is legendary. He once told a sports reporter on-air who questioned a financial deal to “stay in your lane.” And we all laughed.
LaVar created his own shoe line and called it the “Big Baller Brand.” The shoes were selling at one point for something short of $600. Ball can often be seen walking around with the company logo “BBB” emblazoned on his hat and shirt. And we all laughed.
After LiAngelo was disciplined for the China incident, LaVar withdrew his son from UCLA. Claiming that his son was a victim of injustice, he even got into a twitter battle with Donald Trump over the issue. And we all laughed.
But then something happened. The news broke in September that many NCAA Division I basketball programs were under investigation by the FBI for a massive culture of bribery, payoffs, and corruption in connection with a leading shoe manufacturer, Adidas.
Major college programs such as Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Notre Dame, and USC are now being scrutinized. Conspicuously absent is UCLA. It makes one wonder if UCLA was truly innocent (we hope) or that a special case is being put together just for the folks in Westwood. Time will tell.
Where were LaVar Ball’s kids during all of this when the scandal was breaking? He had sent LiAngelo and LaMelo to play ball in eastern Europe, far away from the problems in the NCAA. These Ball kids are untainted by the corruption. Smart.
While Adidas and their agents were allegedly pushing large sums of cash into the hands of impoverished inner city kids to wear their shoes, what did LaVar do? He created his own shoe brand.
How did he know to do this? Did he see the writing on the wall and realize that the fall of Adidas would create a market vacuum that he could occupy? Smart.
LaVar also is working on his own amateur basketball league. We all laughed at that as well. But, if the NCAA is leveled by the FBI in the coming months, there may be no college basketball season.
In fact, some have whispered that major programs may be receiving the “death penalty” from the NCAA for violations- a complete shutting down of the sports program. This penalty has only been enacted once (SMU football).
There are roughly 10 programs that could be in this danger but if the probe extends further, potentially dozens of NCAA Division I and II programs could be shut down. Where will basketball fans go to watch their beloved sport? LaVar Ball is waiting for them. Again, smart.
We also hear that LeBron James may be setting up a league of his own. With a thawing of relations between Ball and James, could the leagues fuse together to create a new “minor league” system for the NBA and skip the NCAA altogether?
And the commissioner of such a league would be… LaVar Ball.
One last thing to contemplate. LaVar’s boorish and obnoxious behavior may have had a completely different purpose. While we were all busy reacting to his behavior, the attention and potential pressure were completely removed from his sons.
In some ways, Ball deflected and protected his sons from potentially distracting and damaging questions from the media and the basketball community, thereby allowing them to focus on basketball skill-building and preparing for professional careers.
It seems at every step, LaVar Ball is one or two steps ahead. One might even call him forward-thinking and prescient. Is LaVar Ball really the smartest guy in the room? And what does that make the rest of us?
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and his Big Baller Brand shoes should be arriving this weekend. He (Steve) can be reached at [email protected].