There aren’t many people on this planet who can make Stephen A. Smith look like the cool, calm, collected one in the middle of an argument. If you’ve spent more than five minutes watching ESPN First Take in your life, then you know that Stephen A. is, more often than not, the one sounding off on the show. It doesn’t matter what the topic is or how off-the-wall his take on it might be. He will scream and shout—and then scream and shout some more—until his voice is the only one viewers hear. Like it or not, it’s how he’s made his mark in the game and kept First Take afloat.
It’s what made LaVar Ball’s appearance on First Take last Thursday morning so captivating. For what may have been the first time in First Take history, an argument took place with Stephen A. on set and his voice was not the loudest one in the room. As LaVar and Stephen A. argued about everything from LaVar's son Lonzo balling out at UCLA this season to LaVar telling USA TODAY Sports that he believes he could beat Michael Jordan in a game of 1-on-1, LaVar refused to give an inch. When Stephen A. got loud, LaVar got louder. It made for one of the best episodes of First Take ever and entertained those on social media to no end.
The sequel wasn’t quite as successful.
On Friday night, Lonzo and his UCLA teammates were eliminated from the 2017 NCAA Tournament by Kentucky. Most people assumed it meant LaVar—who was very vocal about picking UCLA to win the tournament this season in the months and weeks leading up to it—would be forced to step out of the spotlight because of the loss.
But just 48 hours later, ESPN announced that it was going to try and duplicate the success it enjoyed last Thursday by inviting LaVar back to First Take. They also announced Lonzo would be joining him.
They continued promoting it on Monday with behind-the-scenes videos of LaVar and Lonzo preparing for their appearance on the show.
And when LaVar channeled his inner Vince McMahon after being introduced onto the First Take set midway through the show, it looked like we were in for another memorable debate between him and Stephen A.
But the show itself failed to recapture the same magic it had last week when LaVar made his first appearance.
LaVar tried to talk trash to Stephen A. about how he still has two other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, who can win NCAA titles for him. He also stuck up for Lonzo by pointing out how he had more than 30 good games this season despite not playing that well against Kentucky. But Lonzo, who was only about 60 hours removed from what was probably one of the worst losses of his life, didn’t look all that interested in answering questions about his game or his father. And by the end of the segment, LaVar was handing out Big Baller Brand hats and T-shirts to Stephen A., Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim and sucking whatever life was left right out of the show.
It proved that one loss isn’t going to stop LaVar from making the media rounds and doing what he can to keep the PR machine going for him and his boys. But it also proved that it might not be the worst thing in the world for him to disappear for a few days and do something other than try and make headlines. Stephen A. will still be there to scream and shout with him whenever he gets back.