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No More Sympathy for LaVar Ball

December 4th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers, NBA, UCLA

For a time, I could not help but feel some sympathy, and a little admiration, for LaVar Bell and his big plans for his sons and for himself.

Here was a father deeply (very, very deeply) involved with his sons’ lives, overseeing their training and practice in an effort to see all three of them as college basketball stars and then NBA players.

He seemed to be fighting, successfully, against the the long, sad history of American basketball development, which is riddled with cases of kids used and abandoned by amateur coaches and skeezy agents in the long and perilous journey from mini-stars up to the NBA.

Here was a father who decided he knew what was best for his sons, and had a plan for them — and, for a time, seemed to be pulling it off.

But LaVar has lost me since the mess involving his second son, who was arrested for shoplifting in China (pretty much the definition of “international incident”), which was amplified today when the elder Ball revealed he is pulling that son, LiAngelo, out of UCLA.

First problem? LaVar Ball refused to acknowledge the significance of his son’s shoplifting incident in China. This was a crime in an authoritarian country known for long jail sentences, and without the intervention of administrators and government officials LiAngelo could be in a Chinese prison right this minute.

LaVar rejected it as real news, suggesting “the media” had made the incident into a bigger deal than it was.

Second problem? Pulling LiAngelo out of school. What little chance the kid had to impress NBA people was to become a significant contributor for a major-college program, and LaVar just walked him away from that. Will LiAngelo go to another school? Sounds like maybe not, which indicates even further that LaVar is losing touch with reality.

Admittedly, UCLA seems to have allowed LiAngelo and his two “caught shoplifting” teammates to twist in the wind, with the trio barred from team activities, including meals, with no end in sight.

But if LaVar thought he could jolt UCLA into action, he thought wrong. The Bruins seem to be just fine with LiAngelo leaving school and “wished him well” today — administrative speak for “good riddance”.

Third problem? LaMelo, the third son, who perhaps has a chance to play at a high level, has been pulled out of high school, in Chino Hills, Calif., and now LaVar has two of his kids no longer in the “system”.

Perhaps he can train them and put them through something resembling practice sessions, but invaluable game experience against other top players their age is being lost. It is impossible to imagine five-on-five in the backyard at Chez Ball is the best way to get the kids ready for a professional basketball career.

Fourth problem? Eldest son Lonzo, who had one fine season at UCLA and now is with the Lakers, is off to a historically bad start as an NBA rookie, particularly as a shooter, extending even to the free-throw line, as noted by Deadspin.

It is too early to give up on Lonzo as the centerpiece of the Lakers rebuild, but he did arrive with that horrendous shooting motion that LaVar should have fixed when the kid was in junior high school and LaVar oversaw his every move.

Fifth problem? LiAngelo is, by most accounts, Just Not Very Good. In his brief time with UCLA, which included an exhibition game, it looked like the Bruins planned to use him off the bench. And now NBA people are telling ESPN that LiAngelo is not on their radar. Not even for the development league.

Sixth problem? LaVar’s marketing of Big Baller Brand shoes in the names of his two younger sons could fatally compromise their chances of playing college ball and, in LaMelo’s case, high school ball, too. (If he ever returns to high school, that is.)

Back at the time, I liked that LaVar Ball seemed to have a plan for cutting out a lot of the rapacious characters who hover at the periphery of basketball and, instead, keeping it all in the family. I liked that Someone’s Dad took it upon himself to create a pathway for his sons to get to the upper levels of basketball.

However, by ignoring the serious nature of LiAngelo’s incident in China and jumping the gun on branding he is hurting his younger sons’ chances to play important games in organized settings like high school playoffs and college ball.

Thus, LaVar has a string going of obnoxious and potentially harmful (to his sons’ careers) decisions. The man is trying to orchestrate careers in tandem with a brand, and of late, he is doing it badly.

Ultimately, somebody in the family is going to have to back up all the blather with significant production in a professional setting. Lonzo is staggering under that load, while his younger brothers have dropped out of school.

LaVar has lost his way, aside from his being able to attract attention, and that will wane, too, if the kids don’t deliver on the court.


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