Ever the showman, LaVar Ball is in Australia to push his Big Baller Brand. Picture: James Gourley
Ever the showman, LaVar Ball is in Australia to push his Big Baller Brand. Picture: James Gourley

Kardashians of basketball are having a real ball

HE'S the most polarising man in the NBA world to have never stepped on the court.

LaVar Ball has stepped on several toes with his brash attitude, outspoken nature and a genuine will for his sons to be the best players in the game.

Businessman, reality-TV personality, former pro football tight end, Ball is the father of three sons and he dreams of NBA domination.

Eldest son Lonzo, a former No.2 draft pick, plays for the New Orleans Pelicans in his third year in the league.

Middle son LiAngelo Ball is recovering from surgery, hoping to earn his way on to an NBA roster.

His youngest son, LaMelo, stars for the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL, using a season in Australia to drive up his draft stock to potentially go No.1 in the 2020 NBA draft.

 

THIS IS ENTERTAINMENT

"Basketball is entertainment," Ball says several times in an interview, almost like a mantra.

And he may be right.

Last month, an NBL record crowd of 17,513 fans packed Qudos Bank Arena to watch the Sydney Kings face LaMelo Illawarra Hawks.

"Record-breaking crowds, that's not by accident," Ball says.

"You've got to contribute that to him.

"I can't sit up here and say he's nothing special if everywhere he goes, he sells out. People want to see him win or lose.

"I told him he's like the Michael Jackson of basketball and he's got that following.

"You go anywhere, a lot of people know who Melo is."

LaMelo isn't like most NBA hopefuls. He was playing professionally in Lithuania at 16, and as his dad says "you have your own brand, your brother's in the NBA, you have your own show".

"That's gonna allow him to be seen by millions of people."

Right now millions of people are watching LaMelo in the NBL. His profile amplified, no doubt, by some of his father's antics.

Lamelo Ball is bringing eyes on the NBL. Picture: AAP
Lamelo Ball is bringing eyes on the NBL. Picture: AAP

He's had Twitter spats with US President Donald Trump, claimed he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, and created his own apparel company - Big Baller Brand - so that his sons could not just have their own endorsement deal, but their own shoe.

It's Ball's third trip to Australia, but he won't see LaMelo play as he recovers from a foot injury. Some critics believe it would prematurely end his stint in the NBL, arguing he's increased his draft stock enough to go home and prepare for the NBA.

"It's easier to do that, but he loves to play," says Ball, who doesn't want his son coming back

"He wants to play so bad.

"He's not like, 'oh, I'm done playing and I'm hurt'. No, he wants to play right now.

"So if he's a 100 per cent fit, he's going to play.

"I like to finish what you start. Go finish that."

 

PLAYING IN AUSTRALIA

The NBL Next Stars program allows NBA aspirants to bypass the usual college route to play professionally down under before nominating for the draft.

Ball says Australia is on to a winner.

"I would encourage other players to take this path on the fact that if you really think you're that guy," he says.

"We've been going the same way for years. And everybody says in order for you to get to the pros, you have to go to have to go to college.

"Now when things change and when you have the media and you can stream games, so you can still see all the time you don't see things in college.

"So if you're just concentrating on basketball, this is the perfect place to go."

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for LaMelo Ball on the sidelines.
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for LaMelo Ball on the sidelines.

ON-COURT PHENOM

LaMelo was averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game for Illawarra before his injury, which included back-to-back triple doubles for the 18-year-old.

"We played in different countries against older guys. So this is nothing new when I see you get these triple doubles now," Ball says.

"He was doing that in Mali, but people was like throwing it to the side because it's always 'playing for his dad. Don't count'."

But now, against seasoned veterans in the NBL, it definitely counts. So much so that LaMelo is being touted as the No.1 draft pick in the 2020 draft by ESPN no less.

"He's a special player," Ball says.

"He's been bred to do this."

 

ASPIRATIONS

You start to talk about ways his son can improve, and go bring up LaMelo's shooting percentage, which is just 37 per cent from the field and 25 per cent from three-point range when Ball cuts you off.

"He's got to improve in every area," Ball says.

"If you want to be the greatest of all time, you never can take a break. As long as you keep that mindset, you're going to be one of the greats."

 

EXCEEDING THE HYPE

After raising eyebrows at talk from both LaMelo and his father that he would be the No.1 pick next year, his breakout performances for the Hawks now have him at the top of ESPN's latest mock draft.

Ball is Down Under with wife Tina. Picture: James Gourley
Ball is Down Under with wife Tina. Picture: James Gourley

"I'm not surprised," Ball says.

"Here's the thing. You don't take the most popular player and you don't take the best guard? Melo's both, all in one, because at the end of the day, this is entertaining.

"I don't know any owners who are going to be like, 'you know what, I've got a young kid who's talented and could put people in seats, I don't want to get him'.

"Why? Because you're trying to create a narrative. 'What about his dad?' Now, if you don't pick my son on what I'm doing, you don't need him anyway."

With recent changes to the NBA draft lottery, at this early stage in the season, LaMelo's destination is looking like it's between former champions Golden State, Atlanta, New York, Cleveland or with his brother Lonzo at New Orleans.

But Ball says he doesn't have a preference.

"I just want him to go to a place where a coach believes in him," he says.

"And what I mean by that is to have a guy as your franchise player coming in, an 18, 19 year old, to give him the keys and let him do what he does and believe that he can get you some victories."

The prospect of the Pelicans drafting LaMelo to play alongside Lonzo in an all-Ball backcourt brings a smile to LaVar's face.

"They might, you never know," he says.

"I hope all my boys play in the same team one day and it's a great possibility."

 

CRITICISM

LaMelo once scored 92 points in a high school game, which attracted a certain amount of skepticism - even from the vast majority of people who didn't actually see the game - because of the reputation that came with being a Ball.

"They put three or four guys trying to stop him," Ball says of the opposition defence.

"I don't hear about the criticism because I know what my boys are about.

"It comes with the territory.

"Some people said, 'man, that was one of the most amazing feats I've ever seen."

Lonzo Ball is already with his second team in the NBA. Picture: AP
Lonzo Ball is already with his second team in the NBA. Picture: AP

 

NBL

Ball knows his Aussie hoops.

Given a snap quiz to name some NBL players and he doesn't hesitate.

"Oh, well I know (New Zealand Breakers American guard) RJ (Hampton). And I'm happy because he's my close friend.

"I know (the Sydney King's) Casper Ware, he's from the States.

"Brandon Ashley, I think he went to Arizona. And you know, Bogut, of course, he's from Australia."

 

THE REALITY SHOW

The Balls have a reality show on Facebook called Ball in the Family,  which is now into its fifth season having streamed more than 100 episodes.

It's been described as the Kardashians of basketball, showing the warts-and all-lives of the entire clan.

It's also another source of criticism.

"You get what you see with us and sometimes we don't get along," he says.

"No matter what, because we family, you might argue here and here, but it's not gonna be no big argument.

"But the media will make it seem like we're going in different directions."

One of the criticisms of Ball is that he needs to let his sons make their own decisions - even wrong ones.

Ball counters: "But don't let him make no mistakes by telling them ahead of time."

Was it LaMelo's decision to come to Australia?

"Yeah, it was," he says, before changing tact.

"It was pretty much my decision, but his decision and I let him figure it out."

 

BIG BALLER BRAND

With NBA players able to earn millions of dollars through endorsement deals, the Ball family's decision to launch their own apparel line - Big Baller Brand - to capitalise on the popularity of the three sons, was always a risk.

It has been plagued by issues, including lawsuits involving former partners, which had left LaMelo and Lonzo disenfranchised and considering their options, which means potentially signing a rich deal with a competitor.

"Nike, Adidas, Under Armour have been around for a while," he says.

"Triple B just started. People can look at it either way, whether it be good or bad. But we in the race.

"That's what I'm trying to get my boys to understand, I would do something these other brands can't do, which is offer you ownership.

"If Melo sells a shoe for $100 and we sell it to a million people, I'm giving him 40 per cent and I take 60 per cent, I'm giving him $40 million.

"So if you bet on yourself and as the time goes by, the scale slides where you get 60, I get 40.

The Balls have a reality show on Facebook.
The Balls have a reality show on Facebook.

"But can you imagine if (No.1 draft pick and Lonzo's teammate) Zion (Williamson) would have signed with me?

"You'd have his own signature shoe now.

"All three of my boys have signature issues and one of them in the NBA and the other two not even yet."

Ball definitely wants his sons committed to the brand going forward.

"It's kind of like a slap in the face if you go sign with another (company), if I've already created this for you," he argues.

 

DISTRACTIONS

The apparel company, the reality show, basketball careers. Ball says juggling it all isn't an issue for his sons.

It doesn't affect their focus because they always focus on basketball, Ball says.

"Like I said, this is entertainment," he said

"Why would you be this good if you don't want all eyes on you?"

The critics slam his approach, but he says they won't ever stop watching the family's every move "Because you can't take your eyes off the Balls."

Ball talks turkey with The Daily Telegraph’s Adam Mobbs. Picture: James Gourley
Ball talks turkey with The Daily Telegraph’s Adam Mobbs. Picture: James Gourley

Watch LIVE coverage of the 2019/20 NBL Season plus up to 7 live NBA games every week with ESPN on KAYO. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

News Corp Australia


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