Lonzo Ball led the UCLA Bruins to a 31-5 record, was one of the most exciting players in college basketball, and is a near lock to be a top-three pick in this year's NBA Draft. Yet for some reason, his obnoxious, carnival barker of a father, LaVar Ball, continues to dominate the headlines and public discussion.
Papa Ball's latest attention-seeking move was to re-brand a moment of buffoonery into a T-shirt slogan. In mid-May, he turned an appearance on FS1's The Herd into a public dressing down of co-host Kristine Leahy. Ball, who was upset about disparaging comments Leahy made about his family in the past, went pretty far over the line with his response, and his barbs reportedly led to death threats for Leahy.
One of the lines immortalized in that back-and-forth—Ball yelling "stay in yo lane!" at Leahy—has been adopted by Ball's upstart merchandise company, Big Baller Brand.
One of Leahy's primary criticisms of Ball was his failure to market to women with Big Baller Brand, and he made sure to include them in this thinly-veiled publicity stunt.
People couldn't resist piling on Ball from the second he shared the new gear, with reactions ranging from disgusted GIFs to mockery of his business plan:
@bigballerbrand @Lavarbigballer @espn @nbc @ABCNetwork @KristineLeahy @CBS @SBNation @TheHerd @FS1 @NBAonTNT "This isn't a women's brand" *behind the scenes* dang she (@KristineLeahy) is very smart and I should've thought about this but I'm an idiot— D. Jones (@SteelDan86) May 25, 2017
While I have a begrudging respect for Ball's battle with sneaker conglomerates, at this point it has turned into a weekly edition of "how is LaVar Ball going to goad the media into taking the bait?" Look at some of the headlines following him week after week:
- LaVar Ball Now Wants $3 Billion for a Big Baller Brand Deal
- LaVar Ball Blames UCLA's Slow White Players for NCAA Tournament Loss to Kentucky
- LaVar Ball Thinks His Sons Could Be Better Than Michael Jordan
It doesn't take an MBA or high intellect to realize that if doing loud, boorish things will earn you repeat appearances on TV, there's no reason to stop being obnoxious.
FS1's handling of Ball is similar to how an outlet like CNN covers politics in 2017; the network has Ball make an appearance on one of their early shows, he says his outlandish quote or two of the day, and then the rest of the day is spent programming around reactions to Ball's ridiculous claim. When he eventually returns to their airwaves to clear the air, there's a brief moment of peace, and then the cycle begins anew. Comparisons to Donald Trump don't really hold up here—the stakes are monumentally lower for a sneaker salesman than a politician—but the playbook is similar.
If people are going to do free promo for his company, Ball has all the incentive in the world to continue claiming his kids are the best basketball players in the history of the universe, and to pull publicity stunts like this to get free promo for his new company. Whether people are actually buying his tacky, overpriced gear isn't really the point, because he's already three or four rungs higher on the ladder than most people would be with their new brand.
Above all else, Ball is seeking attention. It's unclear whether the primary motivation is financial or driven by a love of the spotlight, but he creates little meaningful discussion and often speaks as though he lives in a separate reality from the rest of us. He is, in the immortal words of Charlie Murphy, a habitual line stepper. Maybe it's too much to ask, but his clownish behavior would be better off rotting away in obscurity, rather than clogging up airtime day after day.