The boos that greeted LaVar Ball as he strutted confidently through the masses in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Thursday during 2017 NBA draft were confirmation enough. He is basketball’s most dastardly Svengali, manipulating events from the newly exalted throne of little Chino Hills, California.
His boy is a Laker.
He was so sure of his eldest son Lonzo’s NBA destination that he came prepared with a special Big Baller Brand hat resplendent in purple and gold. That hat would end up in the crowd, thrown casually as LaVar strode through the arena like a triumphant pro wrestling heel.
The lucky recipient of LaVar’s hat, a fan named Ami from Stamford, Connecticut, had been hoping to get a chance to talk to the Ball family patriarch for a while. Fortune favors the bold sometimes. “When he threw it up, I didn’t even look for it. I just tried to take it with everything I had. I held onto it as tight as I could,” he told B/R.
“It didn’t feel real. It felt like I was asleep.”
Nothing about how this saga has turned out feels real, and that’s partly why people are so incensed. Another dash of Lakers magic gets sprinkled on the NBA, but this time the frontman of Showtime isn’t the charming face of Magic Johnson or Shaquille O’Neal. It’s not even the icy frown of the Black Mamba. It’s the comically wide, unapologetically arrogant grin of the Lakers’ new point guard’s dad, and he’s already making guarantees.
“Lonzo Ball is going to take the Lakers to the playoffs in his first year,” he crowed moments after his son shook Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand. That’s the kind of thing that makes fans and pundits alike snicker. Sure. We’ll see. Have you seen that team lately? Good luck, pal.
But how can you doubt the man’s track record? The Lakers had to be just bad enough. The pingpong balls had to bounce just right. The reports of mediocre workouts had to be ignored. The incessant chatter around a potential Paul George trade that would have sent the No. 2 pick to Indiana had to stop.
It all happened. Is he psychic? Did he will this into being? Is LaVar on the Limitless pill? At this point, it feels like we’re the ones on something.
It wasn’t long after the pick was announced that the Balls dropped a special “Sho’Time” edition of the Big Baller Brand ZO2 sneaker, now available for preorder for the low, low price of $495—as though this was fated by the basketball gods from the start.
The Triple B is still, as Lonzo told reporters after his selection, “a premium brand,” and that brand is now officially a part of the National Basketball Association. Hats similar to the one LaVar threw into the crowd in Brooklyn run from $32 to $100 for a special-edition black and gold leather cap.
As of now, Ami is planning to keep his own special-edition hat, though he’s considering hawking it on eBay. He’s already gotten offers from other draft attendees, too. “A hundred dollars. A thousand dollars. Yeezys. It was crazy.”
In today’s pop-culture climate, perception is often reality. At first, it seems odd to think that a simple baseball hat worn by a middle-aged father of three from a small town in Southern California should be worth a pair of high-end Yeezys, but why are those shoes so coveted? Because Adidas and Kanye West turned a sneaker into a luxury item by leveraging celebrity.
How is that different from what LaVar Ball has done with Big Baller Brand so far? Regardless of the negativity associated with LaVar’s constant mugging for the camera and the unchecked hubris, he’s been right more than he’s been wrong so far.
Now comes the hard part. Lonzo’s dad is not suiting up for the Lakers, even if he might secretly want to. The gifted young point guard with the wacky shot has to do what L.A.’s last three lottery picks could not: capture the imagination of America’s most fickle sports town.
The hype around D’Angelo Russell faded after two atrocious losing seasons (and a certain scandal involving taping Nick Young admitting to cheating on Iggy Azalea). Now, he’s headed to the Nets. Brandon Ingram showed flashes of brilliance in his first season, but he has yet to prove he can mature into an All-Star. Julius Randle still has trouble finishing with his right hand.
Lakers fans are on bended knee, begging for an heir to Kobe Bryant‘s lofty status in Hollywood. If Lonzo can live up to his dad’s hyperbole, Los Angeles can be his town. If he can lead a young, understaffed team to the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference that just welcomed Jimmy Butler, he’ll be a saint in the City of Angels.
It’s unknown if things will eventually fall into place for Lonzo and the Lakers, but it’s become increasingly foolish to doubt the prognostication of LaVar Ball.
Is he a genius? Probably not, but he sure seems like a reasonable facsimile of one right now. In a city that prides itself on making even the most absurd dreams come true, his “big baller” brand of supreme self-confidence should continue to thrive, haters and all.
As he’d want, LaVar gets the last word. When asked when he got the special purple and gold Big Baller hat made, he paused to contemplate his answer for only the briefest moment. “When he was a baby.”
The scary thing is, he probably did.
Additional reporting by Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee).
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