Before we get into the latest on the Big Baller Brand saga, let’s make one thing clear: LaVar Ball had a vision and he’s sticking to it. This is commendable. He thought his sons Lonzo, LaMelo, and LiAngelo would be basketball stars, and, so far, they have been. Every time you want to laugh at his outsized pronouncements and brash proclamations, take a step back and consider Richard Williams and Earl Woods. There was a time when we laughed at them, too. The thing about even the most outsized predictions is this: Sometimes they can be right.
Here’s where we catch up, on the news that Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour are all passing on Lonzo Ball in part because of his father’s insistence that part of the deal be licensing for his Big Baller Brand which, despite its moderate success selling $50 T-shirts and $60 hoodies, could use the skills of a proper graphic designer. Again, LaVar has huge expectations, reportedly wanting an actual billion dollars for the endorsements of Lonzo, Li Angelo, and LaMelo. Experts in the field think this is unrealistic. But what he really wants is actually much more than that.
“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner.” Here is where those outsize pronouncements take a left turn straight out of reality itself. It is hard to imagine a multi-billion dollar brand, as Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour all are, “partnering” with Big Baller Brand, which looks like something a high school freshman could have put together for an entry-level business class.
It’s true that the landscape is changing, that independents can succeed today like never before. But there’s a difference between producing, say, music, than there is producing viable basketball shoes. Master P selling CDs out of his trunk and making millions is one thing; Master P selling sneakers was quite another. A company like Nike spends untold millions on R&D and marketing. Millions that—even without looking at financial statements—Big Baller Brand presumably doesn’t have. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour do the volume to recoup those costs that a small brand simply can’t do.
Another thing to consider is marketability. If Lonzo had LaVar’s personality to go along with his game, he’d be a lot closer to being a can’t-miss. As it is, Lonzo is more Jason Kidd than Charles Barkley. NBA superstardom—and signature sneaker marketability—takes more than just on-court talent. You need that extra something too. LeBron James had it. Michael Jordan had it. Lonzo? As of right now it’s hard to tell. Just re-watch the much-shared video of he and his father entering the First Take set, LaVar swaggering ahead, Lonzo following quietly behind. He needs more of a presence—or one hell of a marketing campaign. One that the likes of, say, Nike could provide.
There is still time, of course, for Ball pére et fils to reconsider his demands. It’s still only April, and the big brands could still come circling back. It would be worth it for LaVar to consider that even Michael Jordan didn’t get his own actual brand “Jordan Brand” until 1997, by which time he had five championships, five Finals MVPs, four regular-season MVPs, and was the most famous athlete—if not person—in the world. LeBron James doesn’t even have his own brand through Nike yet.
Obviously LaVar already knows these things. He wants his sons to be pioneers and disruptors, the Uber to the current system’s taxis, as he told ESPN. He is well within his rights to wish this, just as the sneaker company giants are well within their rights to scoff at it. Maybe if Lonzo were the next LeBron James, a consensus No. 1 pick with literal game-changing talent and charisma, things would be different. Right now it’s hard to see that. That’s the thing about dreams. As great as they can be, eventually you have to wake up.