There is an excellent feature in The Washington Post this week concerning Neiko Primus, a 9-year-old basketball player who is receiving all the hype a 9-year-old basketball player might ever hope to receive. There are many good bits in this story, including one about a man named Jerry Love, who, “declares himself the authority for pre-high school basketball.”
There is the usual assessment of the kid’s skill and the nature of amateur basketball hype, but we of the Big Baller Era will note the contrast between Famous Sports Dad Lavar Ball and Primus’ mother, Michelle Mundey.
“I don’t ever want to be like LaVar Ball,” Mundey said in June, two weeks before Lonzo, the oldest son of the outspoken LaVar, was selected second by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA draft. “I don’t profit off my son, so no one else is going to profit off my son. Once you let people pay for something or give you something for free, then they are going to expect something in the future. My son isn’t going to owe anyone anything.”
Like Ball, Mundey was a collegiate athlete (she ran track at Florida). Unlike Ball, she’s in the habit of saying no to promotional offers.
Mundey was recently contacted by an agent offering to be Neiko’s mentor. He dangled his connection with Under Armour and stressed that he wasn’t asking for anything in return. She declined and has told multiple middle schools and high schools that she isn’t ready to talk about scholarships.
AAU teams have offered to fly Neiko to tournaments and told Mundey she wouldn’t have to pay for travel or tournament fees. Again, she said no.
Mundey did not want to use the names of those who have contacted her about Neiko, worried that they could hold it against her son in the future. The Washington Post was shown texts and emails to confirm the interactions she described.
Raising a basketball prodigy in America has to be one of the trickiest jobs there is. Most parents in that situation don’t have to deal with it until their kid is in his teens, and so much of it is out of the parents’ control. American culture is littered with cautionary tales about fame mixing with childhood. By the sounds of things, Mundey is doing everything she can to protect her son.
So far as anybody can tell, LaVar Ball has raised some good, well adjusted kids, too (though none of them faced hype on this level). Let’s not make a straw man out of him. But Ball’s got his way, and Mundey has hers.