Seldom has a non-athlete gotten more exposure and been a subject of constant discussion than Lavar Ball, the father of potential NBA draft pick Lonzo with two more highly skilled sons following him in the pipeline. For much of the college basketball season, Ball’s flamboyant, often quite debatable statements were in the news. At one point he said his son was better than two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry already, even before he joined the league. Then when Charles Barkley took umbrage at his comments, he claimed that had Barkley thought like him he would have won a championship. He also claimed that he could have taken down Michael Jordan in one-on-one competition while in college, although it was pointed out he was not even a starter during his college days.
Things took a rather ugly turn after UCLA’s elimination from the NCAA Tournament, when Ball was quoted blaming UCLA’s white players for the loss. He later tried to downplay that statement, saying he wasn’t attacking them on a racial basis but an athletic one. Still, much of the time the majority of people who’ve heard Lavar Ball’s comments have tended to take them more as comic relief than anything else.
However now it has surfaced that Lavar Ball may have cost his son some lucrative dollars. According to ESPN and backed up by multiple other sources, Lavar Ball told the nation’s three biggest sneaker brands that rather than accept any endorsement deals from them, they instead had to license his personal shoe brand Big Baller. He allegedly also showed them a shoe prototype that he planned on being the shoe introduced by Lonzo for whatever team chose him.
“We said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” Ball told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that, because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.” Now this approach can be viewed in two ways. Lavar Ball’s numerous detractors see it as just the latest step in a series of dubious and clumsy PR mistakes that are quickly turning Lonzo Ball into something less than desirable for many teams. Given that some have proclaimed him as not just a lottery pick but the number one overall pick of the entire 2017 draft, not already having a shoe contract in place is unprecedented.
But Ball’s defenders see this as a Black man trying to keep his son from being merely a commodity. In their view, Lavar Ball is maintaining control over his son’s future, trying to ensure that he have a lot more clout than just being another hired hand for Nike or Adidas or whoever. They also see the relentless attacks on Lavar Ball by mainstream sports media types as borderline racist, another example of mostly white broadcasters and writers wanting a Black man to do and act as they think he should, rather than display any independence or initiative.
The truth here is tricky. Indeed, if Lavar Ball could get a new shoe prototype approved and licensed, the potential payoff would be enormous. He could market the shoe not just to his own son, but numerous others who are fans of Lonzo and would gladly love to wear the same type shoe. In addition, rather than getting just a straight salary/endorsement bonus, he’d be getting steady profits and maybe even be in position to do more independent projects.
The negative end is that Lavar Ball is NOT going to be playing in the NBA, it’s Lonzo. Whatever bad feelings he engenders with his rhetoric, Lonzo then has to handle. He’s already told reporters that his father speaks for himself, always has, and that he shouldn’t be judged nor held responsible for what he says. That’s certainly accurate, but in today’s overheated, hot take world, it also doesn’t work that way.
Of course, should Lonzo Ball be a first round pick and become NBA Rookie of the Year, he will be highly sought by everyone. Who knows, Lavar Ball may end up having the last laugh here on both shoe companies and those media skeptics who proclaimed him a dunce and a hinderance to his son’s future success.