Cool or Drool: NBA’s Newest Basketball Dad on the Block

Dan Bisno, Columnist

For many basketball fans, March Madness and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is an annual rite of passage. While rumor has it that Pisces and Aries fans tend to have more successful brackets, March is generally a bloodbath in a sudden-death style tournament. Media coverage typically focuses on the basketball, but former NFL player LaVar Ball has caused a departure from usual coverage and seized the opportunity to launch a massive campaign to make millions, if not billions, of dollars off of his sons’ success in youth basketball.

LaVar and his wife Tina are the parents of three rising stars in high school and college hoops. Their oldest son, Lonzo, just declared for the NBA draft after finishing up his first year at University of California, Los Angeles. Many expect him to be the No. 1 draft pick for his unique combination of size, scoring and passing ability. Lonzo’s younger brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, both play for the Chino Hills high school team and have committed to UCLA at remarkably young ages. LaMelo has already added a 92-point game to his repertoire this season.

There is no question that these are three great talents, but no fan or critic is looking to tactlessly embellish the future of these three young boys — that is, except for LaVar. When LaVar first came on the media scene, he had a series of humorous, egotistical comments that led to some harmless banter on popular sports commentary shows. Then in early March, he began to leverage media attention to demand that one of the major shoe-marketing brands give him and his sons $1 billion for a lifelong marketing deal — approximately the same amount that Lebron James signed with Nike for a lifelong deal. He made it explicitly clear that this was for him and his sons. Still, Nike co-founder Phil Knight expressed interest this past week in a less costly arrangement.

With no time to waste, LaVar took to the limelight, accepting interview after interview to shock the sports world with his confidence and disrespect. Among the many outlandish remarks that he has made in March, some of the highlights include that he could have beaten Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, in a game of one-on-one, and that his children are in far better shape than Lebron James’ for the future. Lebron responded, “Keep my kids’ names out of your mouth. … This is dad to dad — it’s a problem now.”

LaVar jumps at every opportunity to get under people’s skin. While the media could shun him and return to talking about basketball, there is something infectious about LaVar’s comments. They challenge the prowess of others, resulting in hypermasculine feuds on First Take and other shows. LaVar has repeatedly stated that Lonzo is better than the two-time, reigning MVP point guard Steph Curry. He has also said that Lonzo is better than all-time greats Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd. As brash as his comments sound, he is not joking. He appears to believe every bit of nonsense that comes out of his mouth.

Over-the-top sports parents are nothing new. Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams, also had an unusual role in his children’s successful careers. Like LaVar, Williams believed that he deserved financial rewards for his role in their success. Similarly, LaVar has been selling expensive basketball apparel under the name “Big Baller Brand” since his sons became recognized in the basketball community. This past week he has begun shopping a reality television show.

LaVar has proudly stated, “The main setup is basically for my boys to be wealthy. I want their kids’ kids to be trust-fund babies.” LaVar’s mission, as he describes it, is more than commendable. The basketball branch of the NCAA, a largely white organization, reaps major rewards from their players, mostly Black, without compensation. In a sense, Big Baller Brand is LaVar’s loophole through the greed of the NCAA. But Lonzo and his brothers are not allowed to profit from LaVar’s sales. Instead, LaVar gets more media time than his sons and more financial compensation for their hard work on the court.

The Los Angeles Times recently featured a column examining the impact that obsessive sports parents have on their children. Sports dad Mark Cullen pushed his son to participate in an excessive amount of athletics. As a result, his son developed a painful neurological disorder called Central Pain Syndrome. Cullen tried to live vicariously through his son, which ultimately ripped apart his family and caused his son a lot of pain.

LaVar is not too different. He averaged 2.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.0 assist at Washington State, yet he boasts of his unparalleled athleticism. Stephan Gilling, coach of the Chino Hills basketball team where LiAngelo and LaMelo currently play, has complained of LaVar’s incessant demands and contradictions to his coaching. LaVar reportedly refuses to leave the locker room when asked and tells players to make plays that complement his children’s success.

As much as LaVar may be a loving dad with the best intentions for his boys’ future — and maybe his own — his media campaign has gone too far. Instead of focusing on his children, he twists narratives to insult famous athletes. With LaVar’s comments regularly discussed on sports commentary shows, the actual sports are being ignored and these shows are beginning to look like TMZ. Many critics fear that LaVar could even be detrimentally affecting Lonzo’s draft stock, as no NBA franchise wants such a controlling parent invested in their team’s management. However, LaVar’s three sons ensure that we may be hearing about him for decades to come. Despite his hopes, LaVar’s March 2017 campaign was a drool for the unnecessary insults and mockeries that made him famous.