“People who think my dad’s a bully: You should probably just hang out with him one day.”
That’s LaMelo Ball, not two minutes into the premiere of Ball in the Family, Facebook Watch’s reality-TV-esque show on the Ball family, which gives us a chance to do just that—hang with the infamous LaVar Ball.
The first two episodes of Ball dropped on Thursday. From the beginning, as it introduces the three Ball sons, 19-year-old Lonzo, 18-year-old LiAngelo (who goes by Gelo), and 15-year-old Melo, the show appears to be an extension of what we already know of the family. Lonzo appears poised and thoughtful; Gelo, who is starting at UCLA in the fall, is the biggest of the three (or according to LaVar, “the fashionable, sex-symbol-type guy”); and Melo is skinny and goofy, laughing in every interview. Everyone on the show is wearing Big Baller Brand gear. The on-screen graphics are loud, bright, and big; the quotes from the family are no different.
With a giant, popping font, the show introduces LaVar fourth—though he truly needs no introduction; without him, there would be no show—by asking the question so many have about him before: Who the hell is this guy?
LaVar does his usual shtick to open his interview: “[My sons] were born to go pro!” And upon the introduction of his father, “Yank,” how LaVar came to be so bombastic starts to make sense. “Three from the same daddy?” Grandpa Yank asks, “and they all superstars? That’s unbelievable.” He pauses, then goes in for the kill: “Un-BALL-lieveable.”
The trio’s mom, Tina, and her parents give those who have followed the Chino Hills, California, family closely this past year (read: Lakers Nation) a look at the lesser seen—and heard—side of the Balls. Robert and “Noni,” Lonzo and his brothers’ other grandparents, sit decked out in Big Baller Brand gear on a couch for their confessionals.
“My daughter said that she had a boyfriend,” says Grandpa Robert, white, with slicked-back white hair, and a beard to match, “and being I’m white, and he’s black, I didn’t know how to take that at first. I probably didn’t take it very well.” And for all the charges of ridiculousness and showboating and yes, even sexism, that have been levied against LaVar, it is impossible not to be sympathetic with him in this moment—the first of several such moments that paint LaVar as more than just a basketball-branding machine. Noni gives him credit for waiting, and never pushing, for the self-proclaimed “bullheaded” parents to come around.
LaVar returns to the caricature of himself before long, though, for a scene during the NBA’s draft when he points the cameras toward a hotel closet. “When Lonzo puts on his hat,” he says, “everyone’s gonna look at me—cause I’m gonna put on my goddamn hat!” He pulls out a Lakers-themed, yellow and purple BBB hat, and the crowd in the room erupts with laughter. Before Lonzo leaves that evening for the big event, LaVar tells his three sons how proud he is of the oldest, not just for making it, but for doing so in a way that the younger two have a way to follow.
“Y’all get a look at it,” LaVar tells Gelo and Melo, “we gotta do this two more times.”
Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson make a cameo that night, calling Lonzo on the phone moments before Adam Silver announces his selection as the second overall draft pick. Pelinka says hello, then hands the phone to Magic, who, in appropriate Showtime fashion, bellows out, “Lonzo Ball, welcome to the Lakers, baby!”
Tina, during all of this, is home with her parents in Chino Hills, tearing up. Back in February, she suffered a massive stroke, just before Lonzo and UCLA headed to Sacramento for the NCAA tournament. Even months later, as was true during the draft, she was restrained by her recovery during major moments in her kids’ lives. In Episode 2, as Gelo leaves for college at UCLA, Tina has to miss move-in day. “Since my mom had the stroke,” Gelo says after saying goodbye to Tina bedside, “we’re not so quick to leave [the house].”
But where LaVar overstepping in his kids’ basketball lives has taken on a negative connotation, his in-charge persona is constructive when comforting them: “I told my boys, she’s going to be fine. That’s your mom, but that’s my girl. I got her.” He suggests, like in training his sons for basketball, that he should handle Tina’s recovery.
“I know [the doctors] are saying, ‘We want to send a speech therapist there, we wanna send a rehab lady there,’” LaVar says to Tina’s parents after she arrives home. “I told them, ‘Keep all them people.’ … She’ll come back much faster with me doing it my way.”
It’s part of the underlying theme in Ball in the Family, one that’s evident in all LaVar does publicly: Who better to take care of you than family? A speech therapist coming for an hour a day isn’t genuine, he reasoned, which, for better or worse, parallels his other decision-making—like hiring his two (very large and seemingly very qualified) brothers as security guards. When he said that he liked Zo’s girlfriend of three years, Denise, who is featured on the show, LaVar added, “she’s like family now.” Family only, but broadcast it for the world to see—that’s the Big Baller Brand.