Balls in Lithuania
December 17, 2017
I surrender. No longer can I pretend I’m uninterested in the Big Baller Ball Family. In fact, I sense I’m going to write about them whenever I get the urge. I don’t care father LaVar, aside from Donald Trump, is the most obnoxious man in the nation. It doesn’t matter he gets more publicity than each of his three sons and any other player in the world including LeBron James. Real ballers don’t much matter anymore nor do their coaches or parents. Only one man counts, the greatest promoter in history. Despite being virtually unknown a year ago, LaVar Ball has already dethroned P.T. Barnum and Don King, the man of electrified hair whose audacity and charisma dominated boxing for thirty years. But Don King was promoting the ultimate champion, Muhammad Ali, as well as big bomber George Foreman, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and a legion of other legendary titleholders.
LaVar Ball, at press time, is relegated to pumping up a Lakers rookie, eldest son Lonzo, who’s hitting thirty-three percent from the field and forty-eight from the foul line, and two kids he’s yanked out of school and thus off their basketball teams. Nevertheless, several thousand fans lined up long in front of a temporary store on a cold New York day, eager to buy five-hundred-dollar shoes or pay for autographs. Fanning the hysteria for several months, ESPN and Fox Sports and other national shows and blogs eagerly examine and opine about everything in the Ball universe from LiAngelo’s arrest for shoplifting in China, during an abrupt non-career at UCLA, to the brothers’ stylish cars to whether or not LaMelo has a girlfriend or what was LeBron, lifting his jersey in front of his mouth, saying to Lonzo after a recent game in Cleveland.
It’s time I admit what many already have and millions more must: LaVar’s got us hypnotized and emotionally invested in his sons and, even more, in the paterfamilias himself. Okay. Lonzo’s been playing better, slowly improving his shooting, and last week passed and rebounded well on the grand hardwood stages in Madison Square Garden and Cleveland. And the two youngest Balls, LiAngelo and recent high school junior LaMelo are going to play in Lithuania. Initially, I thought what a blunder. LaMelo could’ve starred two more years at Chino Hills High and graduated with his friends, and LiAngelo and his two suspended teammates probably would’ve been reinstated early in 2018, and the Ball brother who isn’t considered an NBA prospect could’ve played four years at UCLA and gotten a degree that most observers believe would earn him more money than he will on any professional court.
But all that is anachronistic drivel. It’s obviously not what happens on the court that matters or the Balls would be an obscure family except for Lonzo, who’d be fairly low profile like most rookies. What’s the best NBA newcomer, Ben Simmons, been doing at home and in the community? How about Donovan Mitchell or Dennis Smith or Kyle Kuzma? And what are their parents saying? Have you seen them interviewed scores of times? No, but you’ve seen and heard LaVar Ball, and that’s why his performance art and absurd claims – in his prime he’d have beaten Michael Jordan one on one; Lonzo last year was already better than Steph Curry – are the stuff of a marketing wizard. So Charles Barkley’s wrong. LaVar Ball isn’t a man without talent who’s taking advantage of his kids. He’s a strategist leading his sons and himself to millions of dollars long before the sons actually have to prove themselves stars on the court.
In three weeks LaMelo and LiAngelo will play their first game for Prienu Vytautas, on the Neman River running amid green banks through Prienai, a picturesque town of ten thousand. When they step into a gray and frigid winter far from home, they’ll stay at the luxurious Vytautas Mineral Spa and should be comfortable there before playing in the lower Baltic League, which won’t be as rigorous as the Lithuanian League for older and more developed players. LaMelo handles, passes, and shoots the ball very well but is still slight and may get pushed around some, but his husky brother will be ready to back him up, and so will teammates who understand the Balls potentially bring big bucks to town and team. And their new coach, Virginijus Seskus, check him out on YouTube. He’s more hyper than LaVar Ball.