Like a locomotive bearing down on you, it’s been hard to ignore LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of Southern California basketball prodigies Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball.
He may be the best-known youth sports parent in America. LaVar has been seemingly everywhere in recent months, making newspaper headlines and appearing on talk shows, chatting up his talented sons and pushing the family’s fledgling clothing line, Big Baller Brand.
Oldest son Lonzo starred for UCLA as a freshman this year after teaming with his brothers last year at Chino Hills High School to help the Huskies to a 35-0 record and the mythical national title.
Braggadocio and outlandish comments have been pouring out of LaVar this yaer like water out of a spout. Among the gems are: “Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one” and Lonzo is “better than Steph Curry to me” and “To me, [Lonzo] is the best player in the world … I don’t know if he can beat [LeBron James and Russell Westbrook] one on one, but I know he can beat them 5 on 5.”
Better than MJ, Steph Curry and LeBron? If you're done shaking your head, read on.
One school of thought in the media is that much of what this talkative dad has said has come true – his sons are superstar players, Lonzo is on the verge of becoming a lottery pick as he enters the NBA Draft and Nike’s Phil Knight hasn’t completely ruled out paying $1 billion to affix the brand’s iconic swoosh on the Ball brothers.
While much of LaVar’s bluster may be attributed to a desire to boost his own clothing line and much of his brag may be fact, the end should not justify the means when it comes to young student-athletes, their coaches and their teammates.
Besides the wild claims, LaVar also threw Chino Hills coach Stephan Gilling under the bus after Chino Hills lost this year in the CIF-State playoffs.
As a guest on ESPN LA’s Morning Show, LaVar said of Gilling: “Man, we were supposed to go to Sacramento, but that coach is hard-headed. He wanted to do things his way. If we would have gotten along, we would have been in the state title easy.”
The meddling began long before that, according to a USA Today article that said LaVar Ball barged into the Chino Hills locker room uninvited after a too-close-for-comfort victory against Roosevelt of Riverside County.
A small sampling of Central Valley coaches think that’s clearly out of line.
“The last thing I want is a parent in the locker room during, before or after a game or even talking to me after a game,” Kingsburg girls coach Mark Willis said. “Time and place. After a loss coaches are frustrated and parents are frustrated and it’s not the best time to have a conversation. Give it 24 hours.”
Selma boys basketball coach Mike Pallesi agreed.
“That’s over-stepping your bounds,” he said. “That’s a sacred place for coaches and players. I tell parents that they have their kids for 20 hours a day and I get him for four. For those four hours, they have to listen to me.”
Coincidentally, a few days after Pallesi commented about the locker room fiasco, he wound up coaching against LaVar Ball and his talented son LaMelo in the Southern California Hoops Review.
Pallesi’s Central Valley Ballers team, which included Selma’s Tiveon Stroud and William Pallesi, defeated LaVar’s Big Ballers AAU squad 87-86 and Mike Pallesi said LaMelo scored “a lot” (no scorebook was kept).
“I came away from the game with a different view,” Pallesi said. “I see what [LaVar] is trying to do – he’s trying to coach his kids up and maximize his opportunity to sell his kids because he knows that the NBA is entertainment and the college game is turning into that too.”
While LaVar Ball’s basketball at warp speed and hands-on approach can be debated, there is not much doubt that overbearing parents in Braintree, Massachusetts prompted highly successful high school girls basketball coach Kristen McDonnell to resign recently. McDonnell led Braintree to two state titles in eight seasons, but grew weary of the constant criticism.
Said Braintree parent Tom Herlihy to NBC Boston: “Some of them just aren’t happy unless their daughter is playing a central role on the court. There was discontent with the girls’ playing time, attention one would get as the star of the team, and awards that were given.”
We get that parents want to see their kids play and, in the case of LaVar Ball, want to see them become the best in the world, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s a notion for those in Braintree and Chino Hills, or Selma and Kingsburg for that matter: Let the players play, the coach draw up the X’s and O’s and stay the heck out of the locker room.
It’s the right thing to do and correctness should trump all, even if a billion dollars is in your future.