LaVar Ball has created a monster. Its name is LaVar Ball.
Last week while he created (more) headlines, pulling middle son LiAngelo out of UCLA, saying he will take him and LaMelo, whom LaVar had already pulled out of Chino Hills High, to play together overseas, the Lakers began barring the press from the family area at Staples Center.
The press called it “the LaVar rule,” since it was clearly meant to keep them away from the out-of-control paterfamilias who had become increasingly critical of the Lakers.
If only silencing him was that easy, or possible …
They could have LAPD lock up the writers and LaVar would come to the jail and hold a press conference as soon as they got out to explain which Laker coaches, players, executives or opponents aren’t giving Lonzo his due.
The Lakers can’t hope to stop LaVar. They can’t even contain him if they keep being so nice, as opposed to having someone – Magic Johnson is the one he might listen to – tell him to shut up already.
From Jeanie Buss on down, the Lakers are gritting their teeth, increasingly unable to endure LaVar’s ceaseless jibes: Claiming they don’t know how to coach Lonzo; calling Luke Walton “soft” for “babying” him; belittling the organization’s commitment (“The Lakers should build around Lonzo. Why are they sitting him down and not starting him in the fourth quarter? This is why the record is raggedy”); zinging teammates like Julius Randle for missing Lonzo on a fast break in the loss to the Warriors since he “had a wide-open layup or a 3-pointer!”
Obnoxious as LaVar is, he’s irresistible to the press. The biggest story of the season hasn’t been Boston’s fast start or Cleveland’s issues. It was Lonzo falling on his face (relax, Laker fans, it’s way early) but mostly LaVar being LaVar.
Local writers would be happy to ignore LaVar, knowing most of their readers just want him to go away. Nevertheless, national outlets – primarily ESPN – cover the team with audiences that can’t get enough of the Balls’ drama as if they’re the Kardashians, just without sex appeal.
Coverage ripples through the internet fanned by social media, exploding in the mainstream press.
USA Today, a relatively sober outlet, has a “Lonzo Wire,” recycling news about the family, noting – droolingly – that the Balls “have more than 6 million followers on Instagram, 900,000 followers on Twitter and 700,000 likes on Facebook.”
Fill in your email and Lonzo Wire will send the latest developments to your account each morning!
“If it has any connection to the Ball family, you will find it on Lonzo Wire,” USA Today promises. “And if you’re a Big Baller, you should find yourself here every day, too.”
Gag me with a spoon.
This isn’t about a basketball-playing family but a loud-mouthed, attention-starved father who at 50 still thinks he could have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one. In lieu of Mike giving him his shot, LaVar runs his sons’ lives even as they become young men and, supposedly, prepare to leave home for the wider world.
In the bargain the kids are powerless to resist, LaVar is usurping their adolescence, taking them from mere fame into notoriety. So, good luck.
For all the fanfare, Lonzo is their lone NBA prospect to date, difficult as it has been with only occasional flashes that suggest immense potential, as in Thursday’s win in Philadelphia when he turned it up while 76ers fans booed him when he touched the ball.
“I think he’s not going to be good, he’s going to be great,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said recently. “I really believe that. I still think he affects their team in unscripted ways where you’ll never see it in the stats. Very few guys in the league have that disease, where just their actions bleed out to the entire game. …
“But it seems like he’s the target. … Sometimes I’m so happy I was such an awful basketball player as a rookie, I could just go out and play.”
LiAngelo, called “Gelo,” became infamous in his own right after his prank-gone-wrong in China.
Modestly talented on a pro scale, Gelo isn’t projected as an NBA prospect. Even LaVar says he informed his middle son bluntly that he doesn’t expect him to make the NBA, telling GQ – yes, the glossy men’s fashion magazine – “He’s going to be taken care of, either way.”
Thanks, Dad. Who knows, maybe at 19 Gelo should hope for more in life than being “taken care of” as the slug of the family empire?
LaMelo, who was to be a senior at Chino Hills, was highly ranked (No. 7 by ESPN, No. 17 by Rivals), although at his age and size – listed at a twiggy 6-foot-3 and 155 pounds with two or three inches seemingly made up of hair – the NBA is a long way off.
Unfortunately, where Lonzo’s selfless game is blissfully untouched by his father’s grandiosity, Melo shoots whenever he sees daylight, scoring 92 points in one Chino Hills game, missing 20 3-point attempts in another when they lost by 52.
Only 16, Melo is hardly best served by going overseas to play against grown men, much less being targeted by Euro-opponents who read Lonzo Wire, too.
(Yes, players still follow this saga with the same disdain. “Daddy rules so he probably had no say-so,” Houston Rockets guard Briante Weber said of Gelo leaving UCLA.)
Unfortunately for the Lakers, LaVar won’t ever be lucid, or gracious, or accept responsibility. Worst of all, he won’t ever go away.
If LaVar made all this noise with his kid scuffling, imagine how much breast-pounding he will do if Lonzo becomes a star.
Get ready for more: Whatever happens in Lakerdom for the next 10 years or so will be punctuated by LaVar’s self-serving comments about opponents’ unworthiness or Lakers clumsiness.
With the Lakers’ investment in Lonzo, he’s akin to family, making it painful for them to think about confronting LaVar.
That’s the danger. The Lakers will always be conflicted, hoping for the best. LaVar, who’s all about LaVar, never will be.
Mark Heisler has written an NBA column since 1991 and was honored with the Naismith Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award in 2006. His column is published weekly for the Southern California News Group.
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