Rick Carlisle and Stan Van Gundy have forced media into some much-needed self-reflection regarding the newsworthiness of unreliable narrator LaVar Ball’s frequent spicy takes. The Ball family patriarch has turned bombastic and factually shaky assertions into his own cottage industry. Thinking consumers don’t take his comments with a grain of salt, they gobble them up with a heavy dusting of skepticism.
His latest Molotov cocktail into the ecosystem came this weekend when he claimed Luke Walton had lost his son and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more …. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more,” he said. “They don’t want to play for him. … 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. … Even if you bring in a LeBron or a [Paul] George, he can’t coach them guys. What is he gonna tell them? He’s too young. He has no control.”
These assertions, true or otherwise, are wholly newsworthy. For all his bluster, Ball has the potential to be well-sourced on the inner workings of the Lakers. More likely, he is floating a false narrative destined to cause internal strife within his son’s locker room for purely selfish purposes.
Either way, it’s a story.
LaVar likes to to see his name in the news and will stop at nothing to see it remain there. That is the situation. The Big Lead knows it, ESPN knows it, TMZ knows it, and everyone with a microphone or reporter’s notebook knows it.
Van Gundy and Carlisle would have you believe that the media should treat Ball like a petulant child acting out for attention — hoping against hope that if the media collectively ignores him, he’ll go away. That is unlikely. If ever a man was riding the intoxicating high of public notoriety, it’s this particular Big Baller.
The media’s quest for clickable content helped create the monster. Some self-control in coverage could help blunt his relative influence.The problem lies in discovering the appropriate way to report on Ball when he is worth reporting on.
One can quibble with ESPN’s decision to send Goodman to Lithuania to track the Basketball Kardashians’ every move. But he shouldn’t be faulted for the responsible manner he presented news on a news-maker.
You may hate LaVar Ball. You wouldn’t be alone. As long as he keeps putting his name on his newsworthy comments, though, journalists are well within their rights — and largely doing their duty — to write about him. The moment they allow him to go on background or grant him anonymity changes everything.
By identifying Ball as the source on this and other dubious yet intriguing information, media gives consumers all the tools to process. Readers can weigh the validity based on the helicopter parent’s long track record of fuzzy truths. They know to pour the salt all over before biting.
Consider a different reality in which Ball was able to launder his Walton comments into the news without attaching his name. Imagine a reality where the same information came out but from a “source familiar with the situation” or “someone briefed on the situation.” The public, not knowing it was Ball, would likely put more faith in the accuracy of such a report.
And if you think this exact thing doesn’t happen countless times a day, then you’ve never choked on the stench of a journalism sausage factory. Anonymous sources push their agendas, they snipe at rivals, they knowingly release false facts into the atmosphere.
At least Ball is putting his name to stuff, and at least journalists are — up to now — insisting that he does. Media literacy may be drowning under a tidal wave of fake news, but the aggrieved NBA coaches’ push to play content coordinator for ESPN and others comes with the soft bigotry of low expectations. Seemingly, they believe that readers and viewers aren’t smart enough to weigh Ball’s information. Seemingly, they believe it shouldn’t be reported at all because A) Lavar isn’t an expert and B) He has a spotty history of truth-telling.
But that’s not how it works. Choir boys and perfect angels give quotes. Liars and thieves do as well. The media’s job is to surround that information with context so the public can make an informed decision. Largely, that’s what ESPN has been doing, even if there’s a subtext of the awareness all this is a bit ridiculous.
If past lies were the measuring stick for who can and can’t be quoted, there would be no news out of Washington, D.C. Attaching names to quotes both keeps sources accountable and provides context clues. Ball has shown a willingness to stretch the truth, but at least the public can consider that.
It’s quite possible that he doesn’t care about being exposed. He’s not alone there. That’s on him, though, and not those who simply pass on the latest installment of his reality — or not so realistic — show.