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(FinalCall.com) LaVar Ball, with his brashness and seemingly unfiltered remarks, has gotten people’s attention inside and outside the sports world.
With his son Lonzo spending one year at UCLA and now preparing for the upcoming NBA Draft, the elder Ball has gotten attention usually reserved for a player like his talented son.
It’s hard to recall a parent who’s taken over the spotlight from their soon-to-be professional athlete progeny in this manner, but that’s part of what makes LaVar Ball such an interesting anomaly.
Another reality is the elder Ball is defying the sports industrial complex by focusing on the business aspects of his son’s life—that included the decision for Lonzo to play at UCLA and the declaration that his son needed to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The basketball gods may have blessed the outspoken father whose son appears likely to be the second player chosen in the June 22 National Basketball Association draft and headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The once-storied franchise has been an also-ran in recent years, missing the success and championships brought by former Hall of Fame players like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jerry West.
A rebirth of pro basketball in the city of bright lights would boost NBA ratings in a major market and if Lonzo resurrects the franchise there is a ton of money to be made through TV deals, endorsements, products and other avenues.
LaVar Ball knows all of that and keeping his son close to home, as the family domicile is in Chino Hills, Calif., may also help Lonzo handle major fortune and fame.
The dad, who has two other highly talented sons, called for a billion dollar sneaker deal to lock up his trio of Big Ballers. He defied the “norm” of aligning athletes with a major sneaker and apparel brand. The family has its “Big Baller Brand” line which includes t-shirts, caps, hoodies and a signature shoe for Lonzo.
In meetings with companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, LaVar Ball expressed a desire to enter into a $1 billion co-branding deal instead of the typical athlete endorsement deal, even taking his son’s ZO2 signature shoe that he’d created and had manufactured himself, with him to these sit downs—an unprecedented move.
All three companies refused to work with him.
George Raveling, a Black man who is Nike’s Global Basketball Sports Marketing director, called LaVar Ball “the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years.” He was blasted by some on social media. @Y2Dre tweeted: “When you’re Black, and talk about OWNERSHIP instead of sponsorship white people start getting nervous… .” Others pointed out that NBA problems with point shaving and refs betting on games as worse than the father of basketball prodigies.
LaVar Ball started his own sports agency, Ball Sports Group, which he heads and will only represent his three sons. He also has Big Baller Media, which the family uses as a vehicle to tell their brand story.
What the Ball family has done, particularly with the recent announcement of the $495 ZO2 shoe, is create a disturbance at the point where sports and business intersect.
While former NBA superstar Stephon Marbury started his own independent sneaker and apparel company, what LaVar Ball is doing and the way he’s going about it, is something that has never been done before. It could potentially be a game changer if Big Baller Brand is able to reach the dollar valuation that Mr. Ball envisions and desires.
“They’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model,” LaVar Ball said. “But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either … . Just imagine how rich Tiger [Woods], Kobe [Bryant], Serena [Williams], [Michael] Jordan and LeBron [James] would have been if they dared to do their own thing. No one owned their own brand before they turned pro. We do and I have three sons, so it’s that much more valuable.”
“Professional sports is the last true bastion of White supremacy,” Craig Hodges, a member of the Chicago Bulls first two NBA Championship teams, told The Final Call. “This means being able to own a venue and being able to own a player. I think one of the great things the Balls have done is in somewhat breaking the yoke of White supremacy. Lonzo Ball is showing a young player a way they can go and do their own thing—go direct to China and get your stuff made. And if another player has the potential to do that, then it’s great.
“But this also gives them the potential to stand up and be independent and understand why they have that position, and not because it’s just a phase or a fad that they’re going through. So, if [LaVar Ball] truly does understand what consciousness is and how to work on economic development and the like, then I applaud him.”
“I get it. He’s going to launch his kids brand, but shoes are challenging,” said Daymond John, founder of the urban apparel brand FUBU. “There’s a bunch of different sizes and they’re built like cars. So, if you’re buying a shoe for $500 and you’re having a minimum of 1,000 pairs coming from overseas, these things better be well made. Now, if he doesn’t sell any of them, he doesn’t have to tell anybody. But if he sells out of all of them, that’s a proof of concept to Nike, Adidas and all those people. … It can go either way, but I’m not mad at the initiative that he’s taking.
“He definitely has to do this for six months to a year, take in pre-orders, build the best shoe he can. Put out 100, 200 or 300 [pairs], then after that, he can go to the Nike’s and whoever of the world and say, ‘this is how old my customer is, this is how many units I’ve sold, this how much they’re willing to pay, this how much they’re not willing to pay, these are the colors that work,’ do all the research for them. It’s a good gamble, but he has to be careful to not overextend himself.”
Whether you agree with him or not, dislike him or love him, Papa Ball certainly has gotten people talking and captured people’s attention.
Most in the world of basketball know Lonzo Ball as a highly-rated high school basketball recruit and McDonald’s All-American. There are certainly those who were familiar with his younger brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, who both have full scholarship offers to play college basketball at UCLA. However, their father made “Ball” a household name.
There are those who love to see a proud Black man not only try and start a legacy for his sons and their family, but also the way he fully supports his children.
There are also those waiting for that “got’cha” moment where LaVar Ball says something he can’t come back from.
“I think that he is a marketing genius,” said Paul Pierce, who just retired from the NBA after 19 seasons. “I mean, he has created such a buzz for his son. I don’t even know what type of person Lonzo is. So, his dad is creating his brand with his personality and he is creating so much energy around it.”
“My colleagues and I believe that what he’s doing is fantastic. It’s rare,” Tiffany Boyd-Muhammad, a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment attorney told The Final Call. “Most folks can’t do this because LaVar Ball, he has actual leverage. He has three sons and they really could be worth $1 billion, with or without the help of a corporation. And this has buckled people to their knees, otherwise, they would just laugh at him. That’s why I think the strategy of pricing the shoes at $495 is real because he has leverage.”