Anyone who has played youth sports has probably had the misfortune of dealing with overzealous parents being far too involved with their children — the soccer mom yelling at the referees, the irritating dad telling the coach to put his kid in the game — or perhaps the even greater misfortune of having one of those parents.
Now, imagine being a star high school or college athlete and still having that kind of parent — except his words are being published in the national media.
Meet LaVar Ball: father of Lonzo Ball, the stud UCLA freshman guard, and LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, both high schoolers already committed to UCLA. There’s no question the three brothers are good at basketball, but I doubt they asked for their father to tout each of them as the next greatest thing.
In case you haven’t been exposed to LaVar’s comments, here’s a brief tasting: He claimed that Lonzo, who he said will be drafted No. 1 overall this summer and will win a national championship in a few weeks, is better than Stephen Curry, more athletic than Magic Johnson, has a better jump shot than Jason Kidd and can beat LeBron James and Russell Westbrook in a 5-on-5.
He said his three sons will sign a collective shoe deal worth $1 billion. Oh, and as for himself, he believes he would have beaten Michael Jordan 1-on-1 in his “heyday” (just for kicks, LaVar averaged 2.2 points a game in 1987-1988 with Washington State, his only season of recorded stats. Jordan scored 35 points a game for the Chicago Bulls that same season.)
As good as Lonzo may be, all of those players he is being compared to are current or former NBA superstars. Lonzo is a college freshman. And no, playing one season of college basketball and literally scoring a single basket a game does not even qualify you to have a “heyday.” Jordan right now, at age 54, would destroy LaVar in his supposed “prime.”
Dare I say, LaVar Ball is the Donald Trump of sports dads. While LaVar’s comments have no real-world implications, they reach a lot of people, they confuse readers like a Trump tweet (check the #LaVarBallSays hashtag on Twitter) and they carry a lot of weight on their intended targets: his sons.
Think about Lonzo. He is objectively one of the best players in college basketball right now. He exhibits the poise and patience that few college point guards possess and has the intuitiveness to see the right play before it develops, and yet he can take over the game adeptly with his athleticism and unlimited range.
He likely has a stellar NBA career ahead of him, but … What if he doesn’t? A lot of high draft picks don’t pan out to be the franchise players they were projected to be. Greg Oden, selected No. 1 overall in 2007, was touted as a once-in-a-generation talent, but recurring injuries ended his career prematurely. Darko Milicic, drafted No. 2 in 2003 between LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is currently a farmer in Serbia. Sam Bowie, picked first in 1984, played in just 139 games and is relevant only because he was selected before a guy named Michael Jordan. And don’t ask me how many awful top draft selections my Warriors have made over the years (do you have any idea who Joe Smith is? Exactly).
The point is, for LaVar Ball to play up his son like this is doing Lonzo a disservice. It is piling on a mountain of expectations, most of which seem impossible to meet. It is telling a 19-year-old kid that he is the next coming of Jordan. It is taking away Lonzo’s control of his own career narrative, which is shameful. Try typing “Lonzo Ball” into Google and you’ll find the suggested result “Lonzo Ball dad” second from the top.
From the small sample size of how much I’ve seen of Lonzo, he seems to be a calm, confident person who doesn’t let his emotions get the best of him, which will come handy for when his father inevitably dispels his next inaccurate prediction (heck, maybe Lonzo Ball will also walk on the moon by the end of the year or something). He clearly has the talent to be a star in the NBA, but will need the thick skin to stomach the expectations that are guaranteed to come with his father’s mouth and ego.
He’ll hear it from opponents, from fans, from passers-by on the street: “Hey, the next Steph Curry!” People will critique him much more than others, harp on his every misstep, trash talk him and tear him down if his career doesn’t go exactly as expected and predicted by his father. To wit, after Lonzo committed a turnover in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal against Arizona earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times quoted a fan as yelling from the stands, “Hey, Steph Curry wouldn’t have done that!”
Lonzo Ball should not be known as the next Steph Curry, nor should he be seen solely as LaVar Ball’s kid. Lonzo Ball is the next Lonzo Ball, and he and his brothers deserve to write their own fate, to weave their own path, to do the best they can in the NBA — or whatever level of basketball they wind up at — and not be judged for it because of their old man’s idiotic comments.
Eric He is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. He is also an associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs on Fridays.