“Being LaVar” or LaVar Being Taken Out of Context?

There has never been a time in professional sports where the parent of an athlete has gotten more press than their child. Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most celebrated and decorated organizations in NBA history, on a team is run by Magic Johnson, arguably the greatest point guard in NBA history. And despite all of that, Lavar Ball is the biggest story in LA and the entire basketball world. He doesn’t play. He doesn’t have anything at all to do with the team. He’s currently not even in the country. And yet people can’t stop talking about him.

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

In what seems to be something new every day, the latest so-called flap was the Ball patriarch saying in a recent interview with ESPN—who is covering former UCLA guard LiAngelo Ball and 16-year-old LaMelo as they begin their professional basketball careers in Lithuania—that Lakers head coach Luke Walton had lost the team and guys in the Lakers locker room didn’t want to play for him. The outrage that followed, you would’ve thought he’d said he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, or that Lonzo was better than Steph Curry. Wait… He did say those things. And the reaction was the same. Only this time, it was much more visceral.

Dick Vitale said that Lavar Ball’s comments were “classless,” “hurts good people,” insinuated that he was not a good teacher or role model, and in his 39 years in the media business, no one has aggravated him more. NBA coaches quickly defended their fraternity. Rick Carlisle ripped the media—ESPN specifically — for covering him. Stan Van Gundy refused to do ESPN’s pre- or in-game interviews during their matchup with the Washington Wizards on Jan. 19. Allegedly, some NBA coaches requested that their media relations staff revoke the credentials of anyone who interviews Lavar Ball. Steve Kerr called him, “the Kardashian of the NBA.”

It doesn’t get any more visceral or disrespectful than that.

Things had gotten out of hand so fast that people started to wonder aloud if Lonzo Ball—and his father—were worth the trouble, essentially suggesting that the Lakers trade the rookie, cut ties and rid themselves of the headache. Crazy, right?

And yet, in the midst of all these emotional and reactionary outbursts, lies this one, very small, minute and overlooked thing: Lavar Ball’s comments were taken completely out of context.

The biggest problem in this era of sensationalized media, 140 280 character tweets, hashtags and photo captions we live in is that most people stop reading after a headline purposely created to grab their attention. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality. So, here is a transcript of what Lavar Ball said when asked by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman to clarify earlier, off-camera comments made in reference to Luke Walton and his team not wanting to play for him, while the two were watching Lonzo’s first game back from a shoulder strain against the Charlotte Hornets — a game the Lakers lost, their ninth in a row. #Context:

That’s the mindset I have, on the fact that I’m looking and when you lose by 20 and 30, I’ve always said when you lose by 20 and 30—I even tell my boys — you don’t wanna play for me. You don’t wanna play. So I tell them that’s a pride thing, and that’s what I see on the outside sometimes. And it might be a strong opinion, but it’s my opinion on the fact that they can’t be losing like this. You know, something is going on right there and they gotta work to fix it. But when I look at things like that… When you’re losing by that much, I gotta look at something. And that’s what I said. The guys, they look like they don’t wanna play. But that’s what I said. They probably wanna play for him as hard as they can. But it’s going on what I see from my aspect. I don’t see as many high fives. I don’t see as many guys, when they go to the bench, that they’re mad that they’re coming out. So this is what I assume. It may be wrong. But to me, it’s right.” 

Nowhere does Lavar Ball state definitively that Luke Walton has lost his locker room, or that nobody wants to play for him. But what he does definitively state is his theory on head coaching and that he’s giving his personal opinion, one that could very well be wrong. That doesn’t sound very much like ripping a coach, does it? In fact, in his criticisms of him, Lavar Ball is actually holding Luke Walton accountable for the performance of the team. No one expected the Lakers to contend for a championship or even make the playoffs this year. But at the same time, for as good of a young coach as he is, the Lakers have looked woefully ill-prepared to play on many nights this season, and that falls squarely on the coach’s shoulder. So let’s not kid ourselves and act as if Luke Walton, or any other NBA coach, is above reproach.

Another interesting aspect of this situation was the talk that Lavar Ball was actually acting as a spokesman and a mouthpiece for his son, suggesting that his comments were really those of Lonzo and that the two could possibly be conspiring to get Walton fired. Think about that, a 19-year-old with fewer than 40 NBA games under his belt, and his outspoken father, having enough pull and leverage to get one of LA’s most beloved and respected former players, out of town. Even the suggestion is laughable.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

When asked if he had spoken to his son about his perceptions on the state of the team, Lavar Ball said:

“I haven’t talked to Lonzo. I haven’t talked to anyone about it. I’m telling you how I felt from what I’m looking at. You can’t keep losing like this. Something’s gotta be wrong. It can’t be, oh we weren’t ready to play. It’s something. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a lot of losing. I’m not used to losing like this, regardless of whose team my boys are on. Losing brings up the frustrating part. Even though I’m not playing, it’s more to me because of the winning that I have with my boys and the way we’re bred. So, the losing, I can’t see it like it’s ok. But I can only go on how I feel about it, and it’s not to knock the Lakers or anything like that. It’s not to knock the coach. But you know how I am; assertive. And I’m like, wow. What could be the problem?”

When you have someone as polarizing as Lavar Ball, a man who has clearly mastered the media, as well as the arts of marketing, salesmanship, and of course, getting under people’s skin with his brashness and bravado. But the truth is anything he says is going to be blasted to the masses because it sells. And all of that is fine if the media does choose to cover him, but the reporting has to be fair and delivered in its proper context.

Lavar Ball may be the most hated man in sports, and whether you agree with his methods or not, it’s clear that he’s competitive, wants to win at everything, and is a committed father who wants to see his sons succeed in life and has a vision for them. Aren’t those qualities we’re supposed to love, respect and admire in people?

No one should be demonized for not adhering to some sanitized societal standard and instead, choosing to do things their own way. Especially not when their way—much to the chagrin of many—is clearly working.

Judge LaVar for yourself before making the reflexive knee jerk reaction.