From the moment America discovered the Chino Hills High School basketball team, the Ball family has been scrutinized. Each time LaVar Ball has opened his mouth, and every time Lonzo has made a pass or taken a shot, the spotlight has widened to include more of the Ball-adjacent world.
Lonzo Ball was not the first overall pick in this NBA draft, but he’s a such a hotly debated topic that you would think he was the only pick in this draft. The public’s magnifying glass inches closer to his forehead with each day. On the surface, he looks unaffected. After all, because of both LaVar and his career choice, he’s been dealing with some form of this attention his entire life. The only problem now is that this is his entire life.
First, there was fuss about his shoes (Big Baller Brand, of course), then about the summer league game where he shot 2-of-15 from the field and 1-of-11 from 3, which was treated as either a doomsday sign or a needless point of contention, depending on who you asked. Then the game where he put up a triple-double, even if he still shot poorly, was considered a regression back to the expected. In between all of that, there was LaVar, claiming Lonzo had brought the Lakers culture back because the arena was packed. Later, he said that his son would be better than Magic Johnson. Light work for him. Everything in Lonzo’s orbit, as it has been for the last year or so, was all thoroughly covered and debated before he could even utter a word. Not that he would have wanted to. Ball seems to be more comfortable just playing basketball. And all the hoopla aside, he’s already shown flashes of star potential.
But if you don’t feed off the celebrity of Lonzo’s family or particularly care about the nuances of his on-court performance, chances are you have likely become frayed by the Ball phenomenon by now, put off by its indulgent nature and the hypercritical analyses that it incites. For you, there is De’Aaron Fox.
Whether intentionally or not, Fox, who was drafted by the Sacramento Kings in June, has placed himself in the perfect position to act as a Reverse Lonzo. He’s the underdog to Ball’s high-profile favorite.
They play the same position and were regarded as two of the best point guards in this year’s draft. They faced each other twice in college, with Fox getting the better of Lonzo each time. So when the Lakers decided to rest Ball for the duo’s anticipated matchup in Las Vegas on Monday night, you can connect the dots on what people thought of that.
While we cover every bit of Ball news like it pertains to the end of the world and stick a mic in LaVar’s face as if appeasing him with a lollipop, Fox is the one who has appeared independent from the media madness, repelling hot takes, and staying far enough from the spotlight to avoid heavy critique but close enough to garner praise for his off-the-cuff game and personality. His draft position — fifth overall — and his less boisterous rise to prominence affords him that advantageous option to be the preferred choice off the beaten path.
He is also just pretty damn good at basketball.
By my rough count, that was a five-second end-to-end drive and layup. Speed and aggressiveness are Fox’s game. He has a nimbleness to his dribble that makes it seem like he’s gliding on the court. Much like Lonzo, he captures your attention, albeit in a very different, and perhaps more emphatic way. While Ball is methodical and calculated on the court, Fox seems to be more free-flowing and casual. These differences translate to their off-court personalities too.
Fox acts, talks, and plays with the bravado of someone who knows that he is that good, but also that there is no need to shout it from the mountains. He already knows how the game should be played off the court. He talks happily with the media, wears visors with full confidence, and even makes public displays of friendliness toward his peers. He’s taken tips from Isaiah Thomas on cryptic tweets that will get people to go crazy. "I was hacked," he told reporters about his tweet after the Lonzo news. He couldn’t hold the facetious smile for more than two seconds before admitting he was joking.
Just three games into summer league, Fox is already playing the media like a fiddle. But he’s not doing it with a tough pose or in a standoffish manner. He has shown an affability and congenial nature that none of the other top picks have exhibited yet — definitely not Markelle Fultz, not Jayson Tatum, not Josh Jackson, and, until going on The Starters on Monday and looking like he was having fun, not Lonzo either. It’s part of why Fox — and not Fultz, who was drafted ahead of Ball — is the perfect foil for Lonzo.
Fox doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s relatable but he still acts just seriously enough to command respect and admiration. He’s been perfect at straddling his role as the prospect perpendicular to Lonzo, while simultaneously knowing when to pull back and be straight up. "No one is ducking anybody," he said Monday night.
The Ball Frenzy is continuing at full speed, but the Cult of Fox has just begun. Last night, in anticipation of what everyone thought would be the third installment of the Ball-Fox trilogy, more than 10,000 Kings fan showed up to a watch party at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center to see the game against the Lakers. Times are changing.
Lonzo and Fox will forever be linked, and for that I am grateful. Despite how quickly and often we tend to force teams and players against each other for the sake of the story lines we like to create, there’s no doubt that there’s a burgeoning — even if benign — rivalry between the two. They will now play in the same state, and division, and they’ll be pitted against each other four times a year.
Sure, Fox and Ball are different. They play contrasting games, have different personalities, and are supported by different yet geographically close fan bases. Yet they play the same position and come from the same crop of young athletes. Whether we get a full-fledged rivalry for years to come or a cautionary tale of premature conflict, the two players have already begun to section off factions of basketball fans everywhere.