The arrival of LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers means the exit of LaVar Ball, count on it. Big Daddy’s time as a Kardashian is up. For months he’s been fighting the inevitable tow toward obscurity, but now the shadow of the greatest player of a generation has moved over him like one of those Star Destroyers blotting out the light, and the future will be nothing from here but poorly-lit gyms and homemade podcasts.
James isn’t going to put up with that mess. You think the 33-year-old who remains in ring-seeking “championship mode” signed with the Lakers so he can warm up to the courtside music of LaVar Ball’s toxic armchair braying? You notice I have yet to mention the name of Lonzo Ball. That’s because he’s not the real player on that team; his pappy is. But now that the kid has come up, you think LeBron is going to spend a lot of time on the floor with a guard whose shot looks like a bent wire hangar, who misses more than half his free throws, and whom everyone in the league knows you can sit on?
LeBron James is not going to carry that kid. He’s done hauling the heavy sled of rosters with liabilities and chemistry problems, that’s clear.
James left his hometown and his heart and the team that he intended to retire with in Cleveland. He also left about US$54 million on the table with the Cavaliers, because they had their own locker room problems. He left the Eastern Conference, where he reached the NBA Finals for eight straight seasons. He left all that to commit to the Lakers for four years, despite the fact that they haven’t made the playoffs since 2013.
He didn’t do it without a guarantee of some sort from Lakers management that the organization will make a clean start and give him what he needs to build a great team. And you don’t build a championship team around the corroding dysfunction of the Ball family. What has anyone in that clan ever won?
So, get ready for a power move from James. Get ready for a display of muscle that is going to make all of LaVar Ball’s talk look like soap bubbles. It’s going to be interesting to see James, the real thing, bully Ball out of the way. And one of the things his presence is going to do is remind everyone of just how hijacked the Lakers have been by Ball, who has never been just a harmless huckster. He has taken his family hostage, and teams along with them, from Chino Hills to Lithuania.
Unlike most, I never laughed at LaVar Ball, because his act is not just hype or marketing or posturing. It’s the uncontrolled power surge of a man who needs to matter so badly that he will turn a basketball court into a coal mine and his kids into the family factory. When children become the breadwinners so a parent can live on the payroll, things get weird and unhealthy, and there is no unspooling that tangle. You hate to say it, but the Balls are already damaged goods. They will be dealing with the difficulties created by their father for the rest of their (short) careers, and so will every coach who touches them.
The evidence is already in. LiAngelo Ball, 19, is an unemployed college dropout with a rap sheet after his chemical dump of a season at UCLA, most of which was spent dealing with a shoplifting charge in China. Sixteen-year-old LaMelo’s feet have been put up for sale by the old man since he was 13 and verbally committed to UCLA, only to renege and be put under contract in Lithuania. And we all saw how that ended: with LaVar undermining the head coach, just like he did to the Lakers’ Luke Walton.
Entering his second season, Lonzo Ball may yet prove to be a top-quality NBA point guard, as opposed to a middling one. But so far, he has been limited by that crooked shot that makes him erratic and easy to pin to one side of the floor, and injuries. He played just 52 games as a rookie with a bad shoulder, and now he has a torn meniscus. One of the prices that prodigies pay for growing up under a stage daddy who turns them into the family firm is that their bodies often break down, from having been over-trained or poorly coached as kids.
Why on Earth would LeBron James want anything to do with all that? Especially given that LaVar Ball has shown absolutely no ability to tame his psychosis for the good of his own kids, much less a team, even when he knew the chances were strong that James would be a Laker. On the Big Boy’s Neighborhood radio show, LaVar was asked what his son could learn from being teammates with LeBron. His response: “Can LeBron teach him what? No, he can’t teach him nothing. I already taught him everything.”
The best thing the Lakers could do for themselves, and LeBron James, is jettison Lonzo Ball and his deadweight daddy, and go looking for a healthy, mature partner for James. LaVar Ball has said that trading Lonzo in the off-season would be “the worst move they ever made.”
But in case he hadn’t noticed, the Lakers don’t have a pressing need for a tender-shouldered gimping point guard who shoots 45 per cent from the free throw line, and whose mechanics make him “half a player right now,” as Charles Barkley so accurately said. They just acquired one of the best ball distributors in the history of the league in James, who drops 30-point, 10-assist games as easily as Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker. And by the way, Walker will be a free agent next season, and the Lakers will have money.
You’ve got to believe Luke Walton and Magic Johnson are looking at the field of beautiful, blooming options that just opened up with James on the roster. The same Luke Walton, by the way, who LaVar Ball claimed had “lost” the team. To which Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma replied, “Luke isn’t the one going out and shooting 2-for-15, turning the ball over, missing free throws.”
The presence of LeBron James restores all the leverage to the Lakers coaching staff. It transforms LaVar Ball from a problem who has to be managed into just another small-time father ranting that his kid deserves more playing time.