Just as Drake was stepping on stage at the inaugural NBA Awards in New York to spout edgy and topical jokes, LaVar Ball made this declaration, embracing his inner wrestling heel at the altar of such practice: WWE Raw in Los Angeles at Staples Center.
He clumsily busted into the ring with four mannequins wearing Big Baller Brand T-shirts and introduced his son Lonzo as "the face of the Lakers." LaVar, draped in an ill-fitting BBB T-shirt, verbally jousted with wrestler the Miz, while Lonzo and his brother LaMelo quietly stood next to LaVar. Within minutes, he had taken off his shirt, running aimlessly as the world GIF’d him into virality. The Staples crowd went wild.
Back across the country, Drake coerced laughs out of a tepid ballroom filled with NBA players that looked like they resented the offseason interruption. There was a red carpet, but stars like Russell Westbrook skipped it. The Inside the NBA crew was on hand to offer commentary, there were awkward in-the-crowd interviews with Draymond Green and James Harden, and there was a misplaced performance from Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz. Drake proved to be a tremendous, risqué host, but with a league that thrives off candid social media moments and authentic player personalities, the overdue NBA awards took itself too seriously. LaVar would have been unenthused.
There were a few meaningful moments. Bill Russell turned to Dikembe Mutombo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Shaq, and Alonzo Mourning and said "I would kick your ass." Mike D’Antoni got to claim a victory over Pop and delivered a long speech he must have been workshopping for years. And a genuinely touching moment came when Monty Williams received the Craig Sager Strong Award for what he endured after his wife’s tragic death last year.
But the undeniable reality was that it felt like an exhibition trying too hard to be prestigious and unnecessarily ornate. Neither LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, nor Most Improved Player Award winner Giannis Antetokounmpo showed up. By the time Russell Westbrook won his inevitable MVP award, the show had lost any cohesion. Russ, who gave a genuinely moving speech thanking his family and teammates, deserved more after a historic season.
Yet on Raw, all the necessary stars were there, because LaVar Ball is the only one the show needed. He instructed LaMelo to "handle his lightweight," he jokingly dismissed the Miz’s proposal for a partnership between BBB and WWE, and basked in the glory that the arena heaped upon him after he was reminded that he "spoke into existence" Lonzo’s Laker destiny.
The NBA won’t be handing out awards for compelling sports parents anytime soon. If we’re lucky, LaVar will be on hand to watch Lonzo win Rookie of the Year next year. But the NBA could use some of the Ball family dust on its new tradition. The NBA Awards inserted artificial clapping into its broadcast, while LaVar and Raw mutually and organically made each other more relevant and more raucous. LaVar was in his natural habitat, embracing the showman persona we’ve witnessed ever since he stepped into the national spotlight.
Even as the NBA Awards made jokes at his expense, LaVar gave NBA fans what they crave: a good time. He was the MVP of the night.