Lonzo Ball Went No. 2 in the draft in large part because of the skills and potential he showed in his season at UCLA. He handled the pressure there well.
However, what if he had played in a second-tier, low-paying professional league of other 18-19-year-olds, would he still have gone No. 2? No. His stock would have fallen.
The pressure to pay players — above board, elite players and those around them make money under the table, there’s a whole FBI investigation about that — creates an opening and has prompted Mr. Self Promotor LaVar Ball to step in with his own idea for a league. A league sponsored by the Big Baller Brand, not so coincidentally. Darren Rovell of ESPN broke this “news.”
LaVar Ball said Wednesday that he’s launching a basketball league for nationally ranked players who have graduated from high school but don’t want to go to college.
Ball said his Junior Basketball Association — which he said is fully funded by his Big Baller Brand — plans to pay the lowest-ranked player a salary of $3,000 a month and the best player $10,000 a month. Ball is looking for 80 players to fill 10 teams that will seek to play at NBA arenas in Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn and Atlanta.
“Getting these players is going to be easy,” Ball told ESPN. “This is giving guys a chance to get a jump start on their career, to be seen by pro scouts, and we’re going to pay them because someone has to pay these kids.”
I’m beyond skeptical, count me as dismissive. There are more holes in this plan than a whiffle ball. I get what he is trying to do, fill in the gap where the NCAA falls short, and I even applaud the ambition. But much like sending his younger sons to play in Lithuania, I don’t see how this works out well.
To start with, the NBA is moving toward changing its draft eligibility requirements, and just about everybody expects part of that is that players will be able to jump from high school to the NBA again. Which will all but eliminate the need for the league.
Also, I doubt he can get 80 quality players a year. First off, there are far fewer than 80 future NBA players in every high school class. What’s more, a lot of those elite players likely still will head to major colleges — is playing in this league really going to be better for the draft stock of the guys headed to the NBA? No. How NBA-bound players handle college life (and its schoolwork and distractions, plus the pressure of the NCAA tournament) matters to teams in their evaluations, the Big Baller Brand league would lack that. Also, life is good if you’re a basketball player at Duke or Kentucky or UCLA or Michigan State, not to mention a lot of smaller schools with great basketball cultures. These guys get to feel recruited, then or BMOCs. If a player just wants to go to a developmental league rather than college, why not go straight to the D-League (which is allowed)?
Ball is not the first guy to have this idea, but all of them have fallen flat. A couple of years ago, a con-man (literally) tried to launch the “AmeriLeague” with the same idea, but it never got off the ground. Neither did the Las Vegas Dealers, which was going to pay an 18-19 year old team to scrimmage against European clubs in Las Vegas and do a tour of Europe. If you’ve never heard of those, there’s a reason.
You’re hearing of the Big Baller Brand League because some in the media love talking to LaVar, he gives you quotes and fantastical stories. Fluff, but stories. He’s a draw, in the Kardashian sense, but a draw.
There is certainly room to challenge the NCAA structure. It’s very flawed, and it doesn’t put the interests of players first. Not even close. I just don’t believe LaVar Ball running this plan is what will work.