Four days after LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball practiced for the first time with their new team, Lithuanian club BC Vytautas, the Big Baller brothers played in their first game as professionals … an exhibition sponsored by Big Baller Brand.
Vytautas beat BC Zalgiris 90-80 in the “Big Baller Brand Challenge Games” opener, for which a BBB logo was plastered midcourt and on the referees’ uniforms. (Because that suggests no bias whatsoever.)
The game aired on Facebook under the “Ballislife HS Basketball Weekly Showcase” page, and wound up with 175,000 views—around lunchtime in the United States, on a weekday. (Hate-watching is still watching, especially in your cubicle between bites of a tuna salad sandwich.)
Though in defense of the 9-to-5ers tuning in, it was hard to look away. A Lithuanian comic said at halftime that it was like having basketball Kardashians in the country, the MVP of the game was expected to receive BBB shoes, and the announcers came back from the halftime break with this: “We’re back, and remember, Prienai is a town in Lithuania, and Lithuania is a country in Europe, for those who don’t know!”
So what did we learn, other than that this Lithuanian woman dreams for LaVar to take over the Oval Office? LiAngelo, 19, started for Vytautas; LaMelo, the more promising of the two despite being 16 years old, came off the bench. Both had decent starts that highlighted what we already knew: LiAngelo (or Gelo) is not, um, terribly athletic, and Melo is a trigger-happy shooter and artistic finisher who can pass the damn ball. Enjoy his first shot as a pro:
LaMelo’s first possession as a Lithuanian pro omg pic.twitter.com/Hw71VOaOad— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) January 9, 2018
To quote my favorite announcers, “The shot selection, first of all … it’s not really good.” (Another exchange between them later on: “I can’t read Melo’s face,” to which the second announcer replied, “He just looks cool.” This was during a timeout, when deciphering his expression was understandably hard. His coach was not speaking English.)
Back-to-back LaMelo possessions. This is art. pic.twitter.com/qwltaQSwK6— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) January 9, 2018
Melo finished with 10 points, nine assists, six turnovers, and two steals in his 20-minute debut. He missed all five of his 3-point attempts, and shot 40 percent overall. He looked more and more like Lonzo with each dime (... and missed 3).
He was outscored by Gelo, who finished with 19 points in 28 minutes, made one of his five deep shots, and half of his 14 2-point attempts. This was not one of them:
But then LiAngelo Ball did miss a wide open fastbreak layup.... pic.twitter.com/oSE2yzotce— Rob Lopez (@r0bato) January 9, 2018
And lastly, a bonus note on one of their opponents, Zalgiris point guard Rokas Jokubaitis. It’s worth catching the two squads’ next meeting for the 17-year-old Jokubaitis alone, who ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz has been tracking for two years, and describes as having “super high skill level and savvy.” Schmitz tweeted during the game that he wouldn’t be surprised if of all participants—Balls included—Jokubaitis ended up having the best NBA career.
He finished with 31 points in 31 minutes, shooting 54.2 percent on 24 shots.