- Mark J. Terrill
The best thing to happen to sports in years is happening right before our eyes, and most sports fans and members of the sports media just want it to go away.
It is not a team. It is not an athlete. It is not a talking head.
It is LaVar Ball, the boisterous father of UCLA star freshman Lonzo Ball and high-school hoops stars LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball.
Ball has made a name for himself and intensified the spotlight on his sons with his many over-the-top and mind-boggling comments including his belief that he would have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in their primes, that Lonzo is better than Stephen Curry already, and that his sons are in a better position to succeed than the children of LeBron James.
On Thursday, Ball took that swagger to a new level when he was a guest on the over-the-top ESPN debate show “First Take.” When host Stephen A. Smith challenged Ball on his comments about Jordan, Ball didn’t back down, saying Jordan “would need help,” adding: “He’s too small.”
From there, things just escalated. The two traded verbal punches like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. For each Smith exclamation, Ball just upped the ante.
Here is about five minutes of that segment, but you can get a sense of the melee in just the first 30 to 60 seconds:
On Friday, a portion of that segment was shown on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike,” where host Mike Golic said he was “done” with Ball, using the words “dumb, idiotic, stupid.”
“I was entertained for a while,” Golic said. “Now I am officially done. I’m done. Not on the show. Not mentioning. Done. Zippo. Done. Never leave my mouth again, that name. Dumb. Idiotic. Stupid.”
Many sports fans and other media members have expressed similar thoughts.
That so many are actually angry and want Ball to go away is exactly why he is so great. LaVar Ball is shaking the sports world at its core at a time when the sports world could use a little shaking.
Maybe Dan Le Batard of ESPN said it best: Ball is acting like a professional wrestler.
“I love him so much, just ruining all the constructs in sports,” Le Batard said on his show. “I’ve been waiting all my life for the professional wrestler [to come to sports] and unfortunately it is not an actual athlete who is behaving like a professional wrestler – it’s an athlete’s dad. I’ll take it, because he’s doing it. He’s just spewing gibberish everywhere, and then when you call him on it he doubles down on the gibberish.”
- Don Feria/AP Images for WWE
I am not a fan of professional wrestling, but I understand its appeal, and Ball is that appeal. He has bravado. He has volume. He is over-the-top and crazy. He is bringing fun and entertainment to the world of mainstream sports at a time when mainstream sports are becoming less fun, too serious, and too full of themselves.
Sports are supposed to be fun. Sports debates are supposed to be fun. And yet shows like “First Take” and FS1’s “Undisputed” spend hours every day making serious arguments out of things that are really not that important.
To any reasonable sports fan, whether or not LaVar Ball would beat Michael Jordan one-on-one is a silly topic that merits little attention. And yet there was Stephen A. Smith wanting to have a serious debate about the subject. And what does Ball do? He just says a half-dozen crazier things.
Ball says crazy things. People get bothered. Ball says more crazy things. People get angry. Instead of backing down or just standing his ground, Ball says even crazier things. Now people don’t know what to do, and anarchy in the sports media world reigns.
Ball is almost certainly not doing this intentionally, but he is showing the world just how silly serious-and-over-the-top sports debate can be.
If you can get past the part about a father thinking his sons are awesome, and stop taking him too seriously, Ball is fun. Yet, when people do take him too seriously it just reminds us how sports can be too silly and too serious at times when it doesn’t need to be.
Maybe Ball believes his son Lonzo is better than Curry. If he does, that’s fine. It has zero impact on whether Lonzo actually is better than Curry.
Or maybe he is just riling up the easily riled and this is all just part of the script.
During the “debate,” Ball told Smith that Ball’s family and his son’s rise to fame had been a plan “since day one.”
“I’m the one who made Lonzo!” Ball said. “You know why? Because I picked a beautiful wife to make him. Had it all planned out from day one. You can’t argue. Them are my boys!”
So maybe, like professional wrestling, this has been scripted from the beginning. Maybe Ball is playing us to increase the fame of his sons, the fame of his family, and the fame of their brand, Big Baller Brand. Maybe it is scripted like end-zone dances or bat flips.
I’m OK with that. Because, like professional wrestling, those things can be scripted and still be fun. The sports world needs more LaVar Balls, not fewer.