As the Dodgers clinched the National League pennant Thursday night, there was just as much chatter on sports radio about Lonzo Ball’s debut with the Lakers that same night. Sorry, Dodgers, you’ve got no right to upstage the Big Baller Brand, apparently.
Before the Lakers tipped off their 2017-18 regular season against the Los Angeles Clippers last week, there was heightened speculation about what kind of night Ball would have in his official NBA debut. Coming off of a Las Vegas Summer League MVP performance over the offseason, the hype train for Ball was, understandably, a raging locomotive.
Ball’s outing against the Clippers was underwhelming to many. In the Lakers’ season-opening 108-92 loss to the Clippers, Ball finished with 3 points, four assists and nine rebounds. Ball’s only points scored on opening night came on a 3-ball in the second quarter.
A main contributor to Ball’s struggles was the Clippers’ scrappy, defensive-minded guard Patrick Beverley. In the 29 plays that Beverley guarded Ball Wednesday, the Lakers’ rookie remained scoreless and committed a turnover.
Several sources reported that Beverley was outside the Clippers’ locker room postgame yelling, “Weak ass motherf-cker. Bring him out on the court with me, and I will tear his ass up.” Beverley commented further on his contentious game with Ball to the media, saying, “I just had to set the tone, man … I told [Ball] after the game due to all the riff raff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. He has to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game.”
Instances like these make you wonder: Did LaVar Ball do wrong by his son when he made all those preposterous statements last year and into the offseason? Did LaVar write checks that his son is simply incapable of cashing right now? Throughout the entire draft process, there was no shortage of people commenting about the massive target Lonzo would have on his back due to his father’s rhetoric.
Well, according to rapper and cultural icon Snoop Dogg — who appeared on TNT’s Inside the NBA postgame — “[LaVar] put [Lonzo] in a lion’s den with some pork chop drawers on.” The analogy is fitting. LaVar’s campaign for Lonzo, as expected, is now drawing some backlash as Lonzo begins his NBA career.
Ball responded to the Lakers’ season-opening loss by recording his first career double-double in just his second NBA game. An assist shy of a triple-double, Ball shined with 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Lakers recorded their first victory of the season against the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers’ most recent contest on Sunday night saw them drop a hard-fought game against the Pelicans, 119-112. In the loss, Ball was a field goal and a pair of rebounds away from recording his first career triple-double; he finished with 8 points, eight rebounds and a new career high in assists with 13.
Despite the numbers, a good majority of the NBA public is still skeptical about the player Ball is becoming. When it comes to Ball’s urgency to pass the ball to teammates, there is no questioning his merits. But the Laker faithful and the general basketball community are pleading with Ball to take a more aggressive charge to score the basketball himself.
And while several metrics appear favorable for Ball, others do not. He has shot 34.8 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from beyond the arc in his first three career games. The question marks about Ball’s shot and rhythm will not cease to exist until statistics prove otherwise.
One can say many things about the craze that is the Ball family — from a reality show on Facebook to $495 sneakers to pulling a 16-year-old out of high school to homeschool and train him. However, one thing is certain when it comes to the Balls: Winning reigns supreme. The ringleader of the Ball empire, LaVar, is the first to remind the media that the only statistic he is fazed by is the win-loss column.
At this point, the Lakers find themselves at 1-2. If you’re someone who fully believes that LaVar has the almost supernatural ability to “call things into existence,” then you are as convinced that the Lakers will win at least 49 more games this season as you are convinced that the sky above your head is blue. Only time will tell if LaVar’s prophecy of 50 regular-season wins for the Lakers will come to fruition.
One thing, on the other hand, is certain: As the Dodgers battle the Houston Astros on Wednesday night in Game 2 of the Fall Classic, Angelenos will still take time to click over to a relatively meaningless NBA regular season game, or refresh an app to check in on the Ball boy going to work against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
That’s just the undeniable power of the Big Baller Brand. Enter Lonzo-mania, Los Angeles.
Angel Viscarra is a junior studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, Viscarra’s Vice, runs Tuesdays.