It’s easy to dislike LaVar Ball — the loud, unflinching, loud, uncompromising, Loud, boisterous, loud, loud father of Lonzo Ball, as of Thursday’s NBA draft the point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. It is not, however, easy to ignore LaVar (this seems to be the entire point, really). And it is virtually impossible to talk about him without accidentally wandering into a conversation that’s far bigger and more existential than you were likely intending to find. Allow me to present to you three questions about LaVar Ball, and about Lonzo Ball, and about fatherhood voyeurism:
1. Can we argue against LaVar’s approach to public relations and career management anymore? Philosophically, sure, you can absolutely argue against it. A LaVar Ball interaction has the same nuance and charm as someone rubbing sandpaper across your forehead. He answers questions the way a jackhammer pounds its way into concrete, which is to say forcefully and without care — but also effectively. He villain-smirks when he thinks he’s made a good point, and he smiles in a way that’s louder than actual applause when he thinks he’s made a profound one. It can all just be extremely grating, especially if you’re looking for things to find grating. So, again: Sure, philosophically, you can absolutely argue with it.
But how could you ever argue with the results? Because he has turned all of this — Lonzo’s time in high school, and Lonzo’s time at UCLA, and Lonzo’s time heading into the draft, all of it with an overlay of LaVar commentary — very much into a scoreboard situation. LaVar said Lonzo was going to get drafted by the Lakers, and then he spent a couple of months saying a whole bunch of wild shit — about how he was interested in talking about a shoe deal with a company only if it was for $3 billion, about how Charles Barkley would’ve been an NBA champion if he thought more like LaVar Ball, about how his sons were literally born to be professional basketball players — on television and in interviews. And now Lonzo’s been drafted by the Lakers with the second pick. The wildly improbable thing that LaVar said was going to happen has happened, and it happened in exactly the way that he said it would. So, OK, fine: Everyone who cares about these things (or pretends to care about these things) gets to wrestle with whether it happened because of what LaVar was doing and saying, or if it happened despite what LaVar was doing and saying. But there’s just no getting around that: It happened. LaVar won.
2. Can we talk about LaVar Ball without qualifiers? No, right? It feels too much like a booby trap. Consider it this way: LaVar is the best-known draft-day basketball player’s dad of any of our lifetimes. The time he said Lonzo was better than Steph Curry, or the time he said Lonzo was better than LeBron James, or the time he said he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan in one-on-one — all of those things were just silly, dumb, dorky things, for sure, but also they were things that everybody talked about as soon as they happened. He parlayed tiny appearances on smaller shows into bigger appearances on bigger shows. He stretched seconds into minutes and minutes into hours and hours into days and days into shoes that cost nearly $500 a pair.
He is, in no uncertain terms, a brilliant marketer. He has a fantastic (and seemingly implicit) understanding of the way the internet-era world works. But he also seems a lot like a creep (I’m thinking of the exchange between him and Kristine Leahy on Fox Sports 1’s The Herd where he appeared to threaten her, and also the one where he started talking about Kyrie Irving’s mother dying when he was young, and also the one where he started talking about LeBron’s children …). Him and Lonzo being in Los Angeles with Lonzo on the Lakers is, as far as entertainment is concerned, an elite situation. But at least a sizable part of the reason is because the volume on everything LaVar and Lonzo are going to do there is going to be turned up to about a billion, and circuses are fun even though they’re kind of terrible. I don’t know. It’s a lot. It’s really a lot. And we’re not even into the really heavy lifting yet …
3. Does anyone think that this is what Lonzo wants for his dad to be doing? That’s a big question, and also one I’m not all the way convinced we’re allowed to ask (even though it feels like it’s impossible not to). Of all the things I’ve read about LaVar and Lonzo (and LaVar’s two other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo), this piece by Zach Baron for GQ did the best job of wiggling through that particular minefield without exploding off any body parts. Baron spent a few months with the Ball family and presents LaVar as, at once, a megalomaniac but also a loving father and husband.
There are two great examples of those two LaVars coexisting: (1) The way that each of his sons exists in LaVar’s boom as though it were totally, entirely, completely normal, because for each of them it is totally, entirely, completely normal. (2) At the end of the article, we find out that, during the most hectic and frenetic parts of the Ball kids’ basketball lives, Tina, LaVar’s wife and the boys’ mom, had suffered a stroke. Rather than let it disrupt anything, though, LaVar kept the situation quiet. So all of that is happening all the time, and I’m watching Lonzo in interviews with his dad, and Lonzo’s just standing there not saying anything at all while his dad goes and goes and goes and I can feel myself from the outside wondering how Lonzo feels, and what Lonzo thinks, what Lonzo wants their relationship to be. And then real quick I start to feel gross for wondering about that stuff. Did you know that after Lonzo was drafted they asked him fewer questions about being drafted than they asked his dad? Imagine that. Imagine you work your whole, whole, whole life toward a life-changing thing, achieve that life-changing thing, and you somehow are the afterthought in the situation. Imagine that. Or, more to the point here: Imagine seeing Lonzo Ball become the afterthought almost instantaneously, and then caring that Lonzo Ball was the afterthought in that situation. That’s not the thing to care about, and yet it is.
This whole shit is confusing. And fascinating. And terrible. And incredible. Please, God, let the Lakers make the playoffs next year.