Ok, I’m just going to take a deep breath before we dive in here.
Let’s get on with it.
During a recent interview with ESPN, LaVar Ball told Jeff Goodman that he thinks Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton has lost control of the team and that, “Nobody wants to play for him.”
This goes against the wishes of the Lakers organization, who asked Ball to tone down his comments and criticisms of Walton and the team.
Ball based his opinion on players’ body language and that LA has lost nine straight games going into Sunday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” Ball said from a spa resort in Birstonas, where he is staying while his two youngest sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, get ready to make their professional debuts with Lithuanian team Prienu Vytautas. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
“That’s a good team,” he added of the Lakers, who have lost nine straight games. “Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. … He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he’s not connecting with not one player.”
Once Ball got on camera with Goodman, his tone seemed more conventional and his conviction lessened. Ball even went so far as to walk back on his comments — perhaps unintentionally — by saying, “The guys look like they don’t want to play. That’s what I see. They probably want to play for him as hard as they can.”
Yes, you read that quote correctly and it does not make sense.
Meanwhile, Walton was asked about Ball’s comments and said he felt his players were playing hard and that he was fine with Ball.
“My only concern with any of it is for Zo,” said Walton. “As long as Zo is fine with it, and Zo can come in and it doesn’t affect mine and his relationship, it doesn’t bother me at all.
This is detrimental to just about everyone involved. Ball was supposed to pull back on his criticism, a pipe dream that lasted a few weeks before waking to groggy reality.
The Lakers are bad and they were always going to be bad. This is still a growing year for their young players — including Lonzo Ball, who has some mixed stats and efficiency indicators — so LaVar Ball’s irritability with losing is a representation of his inability to judge context and performance in professional basketball.
Meanwhile, LaVar’s comments have come to irritate those outside the Lakers as well. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who is head of the NBA coaches association, took umbrage to both LaVar’s opinions and that ESPN chose to give him a platform.
“I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace. ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. But part of that partnership is that the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews, all those kinds of things. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that’s printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust.”
“I’m saying they should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or any validity. Or are they just blowhard loudmouths?”
Carlisle taking issue with ESPN is an interesting thing to consider. On one hand, personal preference may dictate that some never want to see LaVar Ball utter another word about the NBA. His opinions aren’t valid, and instead are groundless observations by someone who is trying to shimmy his way up the ladder in order to improve his financial standing by profiting off of free marketing allowed by coverage of his bloviation.
Then again, newsworthiness isn’t defined by personal preference and, much to my chagrin, my own years working in journalism tells me that LaVar Ball’s comments are sometimes newsworthy. Whether what he says is valid or not doesn’t have complete bearing on whether it’s worth posting. The cult of personality around Ball still demands interest from readers, and so ESPN has reasonable right to publish what LaVar Ball says, pending editorial oversight.
Ball saying he could beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1 isn’t worth publishing. Ball explicitly criticizing the head coach of the Lakers after the team asked him not to and after they reinforced a rule banning reporters from the friends and family area at Staples Center probably is worth coverage.
Still, giving Ball carte blanche to speak without commentary from writers themselves — or offering response from those who Ball is talking about — is probably too far at this point. Ball’s opinions are often baseless, and without added expansion by writers, even relevant quotes from Ball devoid of context and expertise from reporters don’t carry a lot of weight.
Market saturation, coverage fatigue, and context determine whether something from the Ball family is printable at this juncture. I’m fully with Carlisle on exhaustion of LaVar Ball, as well as supportive of shielding Walton from unearned sniping from the peanut gallery. Most of what Ball says is complete nonsense, and so some outlets may be more selective than others in posting what he says.
Stepping aside from Carlisle’s comments on journalism best practices, the issue at hand is the continued haranguing of Walton by LaVar Ball. Walton is more important to the franchise (and has deeper roots) than Lonzo or LaVar Ball. The Lakers’ market presence would not suffer if the Balls were suddenly ejected from LA, especially if the team attracts big free agents this summer like Paul George or LeBron James.
It seems like we are at the precipice, about to see a larger issue peek over the horizon as the team deals with the Ball family. Why would a superstar franchise with potential superstar players want to deal with a loudmouth helicopter parent as they try to fight their way into championship contention in the coming years?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: LaVar Ball won. He got his son to the Lakers just as he wanted after UCLA. But he doesn’t realize it, and the more he keeps pushing the more marginalized he and his son will become in the Lakers organization.