Opinion: Believe the hype
LaVar Ball has turned himself into a Media sensation by being obnoxious, controversial and colorful. A closer look at his behavior shows how well he learned from Donald Trump’s Presidential run
“Fortune always favors the brave and never helps a man who does not help himself” – P.T. Barnum
In recent years, the legacy of the storied NBA franchise Los Angeles Lakers has fallen upon tough times. The retirement of Kobe Bryant, the departure of Pau Gasol and legendary Head Coach Phil Jackson, old age and mismanagement has taken the Lakers to the bottom of the league. Young, inexperienced players learning on the job, instability in the front office and at Head Coach and bad decisions have led to some of the most dismal records in franchise history. BUT… there is now reason for hope….and it comes in the form of a 19-year-old local phenom named Lonzo Ball.
Lonzo was born and raised in the L.A. suburb of Chino Hills, played at UCLA, and was hand-picked by Magic himself as the team’s new savior. Lonzo’s size, passing ability, court sense and maturity is certainly reminiscent of Magic, and it was a no-brainer that he should be selected. However, there is one key aspect associated with Lonzo that made teams (including the Lakers) hesitant to select him…. his hyper-aggressive, trash talking, controversial father, LaVar.
LaVar Ball has become the poster child for the overbearing, meddlesome sports parent. His constant stream of outrageous comments has turned him into a sports villain and Media darling at the same time. As a result, Ball has become a household name and his persona transcends the NBA and sports in general. Amongst a growing and entertaining list of “Ball-isms”, he has said that he could have defeated Michael Jordan in a one-on -one game (Ball was a marginal professional Football player and never played pro Basketball), suggested that all 3 of his sons would be “One and done” (play 1 year of college basketball, then go professional), said (predicted?) that Lonzo would only play for the Lakers, said that Lonzo was already better than NBA MVP Steph Curry, and made disparaging remarks about LeBron James and Charles Barkley.
In addition, LaVar has branded himself and his sons with entrepreneurial zeal the likes of which the sports world has never seen. He rejected a deal with Nike to manufacture his “Big Baller Brand” Basketball shoes, instead striking a deal with an independent Chinese firm to create and sell the shoes for $495.00 a pair, more than twice what top of the line Jordans cost.
Of course, LaVar’s antics have overshadowed Lonzo to some degree and this is where things get tricky. LaVar’s braggadocio and brash approach to marketing himself and his sons is critically dependent on Lonzo’s success on the court. So far, Lonzo seems to be handling this tremendous pressure in stride, but clearly the whole thing could also blow up in their faces if Lonzo doesn’t produce on the court. And that aspect has turned LaVar into a symbol of the dark side of what happens when parental ambitions dominate and ultimately consume a promising athlete.
But the interesting thing about what else LaVar Ball represents is a revelation about the type of society we live in and how to achieve fame and success. Because LaVar Ball is the sporting world’s version of Donald Trump.
Ball has used the same formula to get attention for himself that Trump used to get elected President. Say something outrageous, get coverage, rinse, repeat.
After all, what is the difference between Ball saying that he could beat Jordan one-on one and Trump saying he knows more about ISIS than our top military generals? What’s the difference between Ball guaranteeing that UCLA would win the NCAA Championship and Trump saying that we will build a wall between ourselves and Mexico and that they would pay for it?
The road to success for anyone in the public eye nowadays is through controversy. With the impact of the internet and social media, the key factor to becoming a pop icon is to be seen and heard by the Media, no matter if the coverage is positive or negative. Truth be told, it was Madonna who laid the blueprint for this trend. An average singer, she quickly figured out that she would need to be outrageous to stand out in the crowded world of pop music, and that shrewd tactic has created an empire any entertainer would be envious of. Dennis Rodman, after his short relationship with her, learned that no matter how great a player he was, he needed some neon hair, tattoos, multiple piercings and eccentric behavior to really become a legend. Kanye West set himself apart from other rappers by criticizing George Bush, embarrassing Taylor Swift at the Grammys (then Beck), and marrying a Kardashian. Even Miley Cyrus, the sweet little Disney girl, expanded her brand and sold millions of records when she started twerking and exhibited sexually suggestive behavior and comments. And then, of course, is the master of it all, our 45th President.
So, the moral of this story? Just like P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. And it seems that in our culture, it pays to be noticed, period. So, can we really blame LaVar Ball for using the Media to promote himself and his son? Ironically, Ball has been portrayed privately as a caring dad and devoted husband, tending to his wife who recently suffered a stroke. But nobody really wants to hear about that and Ball knows it. He recently said in a Rolling Stone interview: “Like I said, I’m going to speak it into existence and guess what? It’s gonna happen. It just is what it is. Now, all this other stuff that goes along with it, it’s entertaining”(3). And if any statement truly sums up how well LaVar Ball understands what he is doing, it is that one. He is playing the Media and the public all the way to the bank, just like Trump did with the Presidential Election. And somewhere, P.T. Barnum is smiling. More to come….