LaVar Ball is the story that won’t go away, While We’re Waiting


Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

We can ignore the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers supposedly played a basketball game last night. It seems the Cavaliers are doing their annual post-Christmas hibernation act. It’s nice to know some things never change. They are simply awful to watch right now. It can be annoying and frustrating, but they’ll probably turn it around at some point and once the playoffs come around and they actually care again, they’ll probably roll through the Eastern Conference again. So, whatever.

I’m sure some want to talk about last night’s college football National Championship Game last night as well. However, I do not. And this is my podium, so tough! All joking aside, though, it was a classic game and Nick Saban showed why he’s the best coach in college football in that game. Nobody is grandfathered into a starting spot under Saban. You earn your playing time and the second you let up, he’s more than happy to let someone else do the job. They epitomize the “next man up” mantra. Yet, I have such Alabama fatigue1 that I just don’t have it in me to talk any more about that game.

Instead, I’ll talk a little about LaVar Ball. I know, I know, talk about fatigue over a subject. I think almost all fans are sick and tired of hearing about Ball. I truly wonder, how many people are actually fans of the Ball family? I’m sure they’re out there, but literally (and I mean literally in the literal sense of the word…..literally) every single person I talk to about this expresses their disgust that the Ball family gets too much media attention. It seems like it’s truly all coming to a head right now.

Over the weekend, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, who is in Lithuania right now simply to cover the Ball family for ESPN, posted a story in which he quotes LaVar Ball saying the Lakers players don’t want to play for Luke Walton anymore and that the Lakers should get rid of Walton.

“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” Ball said from a spa resort in Birstonas, where he is staying while his two youngest sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, get ready to make their professional debuts with Lithuanian team Prienu Vytautas. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”

“That’s a good team,” he added of the Lakers, who have lost nine straight games. “Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. … He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he’s not connecting with not one player.”

This comes after Ball had met with Lakers representatives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka and promised to tone down his criticism of Walton and to not be a distraction, as reported by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. Ball’s comments sent some ripples through the NBA. Rick Carlisle, as Carlisle is known to do, came out strong in support of his fellow coach, blasting ESPN for giving Ball a platform. Steve Kerr likened ESPN’s coverage of LaVar Ball to the Kardashians, saying this is a societal issue where we are covering nonsense as entertainment.

First things first, by all accounts Jeff Goodman is a really good reporter. I have no clue if it was his idea to go to Lithuania to cover the Balls or if it was ESPN’s decision, but either way, he’s there to do a job and he’s going to do it well. That involves talking to Ball and then reporting what he says. The bigger issue, as Kerr alluded to, is why anyone cares what LaVar Ball says to begin with.

This is where it gets tricky. Some have argued that this has all been ESPN making their own news and entertainment story from day one. There’s no question ESPN has long served as its own echo chamber, creating storylines and then distributing these lines across all its various platforms. It definitely makes some sense in this context, that this is simply ESPN forcing us to digest news on the Ball family despite how disgusted and sick of it we all are. Yet, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. At some level, people just can’t help themselves. If nobody ever clicked on an article about the Ball family or turned the channel as soon as one of them was on TV, ESPN would quickly bring Goodman home and stop covering them. Indeed, make no mistake, the Ball family is good ratings.

And yes, there’s even an irony in this piece being written right now. By even addressing it at all, I am feeding into the machine2 and I am well aware of that. But I do find myself wondering if all this coverage will have an impact on the actual sports world itself on the court.

We’ve already seen some opposing players go at Lonzo Ball with a little extra intensity, most notable of them being Patrick Beverley. Beverley likes to make life hard for everyone he plays, but Lonzo faced a little extra pressure because of his father’s mouth.

Now the Lakers find themselves entrenched in controversy and distraction. You have Lonzo being asked about his father’s comments, forcing him to choose sides between his coach and his dad. It could potentially drive a wedge in the locker room as well, where you have fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma sticking up for Walton and defending his coach while Lonzo can only sheepily state that he will play for any coach. On one hand, that includes Walton since he said any coach, but it also implies he would be fine with the Lakers giving him a different coach to play for.

You have to wonder if GMs across the NBA will be more hesitant to sign, draft, or trade for one of the Balls after watching this thing go up in flames in LA. How good do these kids have to be at basketball to be worth this amount of headache? Having LeBron on your team isn’t always easy as he can add pressure and scrutiny, he can sometimes be a little moody and passive-aggressive toward the franchises he plays for, and there is always speculation about his future swirling. But those distractions are nothing like what all comes with having LaVar Ball’s children on your team, and LeBron is a significantly better player than any of them. I cannot imagine being a GM of a team and wanting any part of this circus.

Of course, we can tie all this together and make it topical to this site by bringing the Cavaliers into the discussion. Yes, what happens with the Lakers could potentially impact the Cavaliers. Going back to Goodman’s original interview with LaVar, Ball ended by bringing LeBron into the conversation:

“LeBron’s coming to L.A. I know he’s coming to L.A.,” Ball said. “LeBron is not a fool. What’s the only way he can beat Jordan? You can’t get more championships. Only one way, to say every team I’ve gone to I’ve won a championship. Go to Lakers and win a championship, then you’re better than Jordan.

“You can’t give my son the best player in the league, and don’t expect them not to win. Get rid of everybody. Give him LeBron and Gelo [LiAngelo Ball]. You got a 2 and a 3. And it’s a win. It’s a wrap. Then all you need are two rebounders — [Julius] Randle and [Larry] Nance Jr.”
But even with James, Ball doesn’t feel that Walton is the right man to lead the Lakers to a title.

“Even if you bring in a LeBron or a [Paul] George, he can’t coach them guys,” he said. “What is he gonna tell them? He’s too young. He has no control.”

I do think the Lakers are a serious threat to the Cavs for LeBron’s future services. If the Cavaliers don’t make any moves to improve and the team limps into the playoffs again, I could see LeBron looking to go somewhere else again, and the Lakers would be an enticing landing spot. But it’s also hard to imagine LeBron wanting any part of the LaVar Ball show.

I think there is a pretty limited number of spots LeBron would leave Cleveland for. The prestige of the Los Angeles Lakers makes them one of those spots, but LaVar Ball could actually be doing Cleveland a huge favor by taking the Lakers out of consideration.

Coverage of the Ball family is unquestionably exhausting, but there’s an inexplicable element to it that seems to draw people in. It’s inescapable and it seems like it is everywhere we turn in sports coverage. I don’t know how this will all end, but it’s been incredibly strange to watch this story develop and consume everything in basketball over the last year.

  1. We live in a simply horrible time for neutral fans of sports. The NBA is so anti-climatic if you’re not a Cavs fan or Golden State Warriors fan. The New England Patriots are seemingly in the Super Bowl just about every season. Alabama is in the playoffs every year in college football. It seems like we have to look to the college basketball tournament or baseball to get any sense of parity these days. []
  2. To be clear, I know this is a niche site and in no way am I saying this is adding to the national conversation. []