Since they began making news about a year and a half ago, the Ball family has been a constant source of consternation for those who consider themselves arbiters of what is and isn’t important. What is important, the thinking goes, is the games played between grown men in short pants. What is not important, it follows, is what anybody’s dad has to say about it.
This thinking is hopeless, if not outright foolhardy.
Nothing is going to stop LaVar Ball from doing what he does, and nothing is going to stop the media from covering him. Even those media outlets (The Athletic) who insist with a certain haughtiness they do not cover LaVar Ball — yeah, it turns out they cover LaVar Ball, too.
The trouble people seem to be having with LaVar and the whole Ball family is that they are taking it seriously, as though LaVar were a real sports dad and all the stuff that flies out of his mouth were real opinions that needed to be run through all the proper filters and checked for veracity and appropriateness.
Are these the kinds of quotes we’re feeding our children?
This is in error. Nobody needs to get upset about LaVar Ball, and I’ve devised a way to do it. You just look at the Ball family like a ’90s sitcom.
It doesn’t require much imagination.
We’ll start with LaVar, a 90s Sitcom Dad if there ever was one. Everything about LaVar screams 1995, which is no surprise, given that 1995 was the year LaVar peaked as an athlete, making practice squads for the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.
His baggy t-shirts? 90s.
Bald head? Very 90s.
“Big Baller Brand?” So dang 90s.
Family of boys has lots of zany hijinks and a dad who’s always biting off more than he can chew?
Next we move onto Lonzo Ball, the quiet firstborn son, whose skill as a basketball player is the thing responsible for all this in the first place. Lonzo is a great sitcom character because he’s sane, competent, under a lot of pressure, and constantly putting out fires started by other members of his family.
Unlike his father, Lonzo isn’t charismatic. His natural bent seems to be toward a kind of dorkiness that only athletes can get away with without being called dorks. To make up for that, Lonzo raps.
Is Lonzo a good rapper? Compared to what you’re expecting, yeah, but it’s not like he could make a real career out of it. His rap career, such as it is, is based on the extremely 90s premise that it is rap music that makes people cool (as opposed it being cool people making cool music).
This problem revealed itself most starkly when there was an effort to present Kobe Bryant as a suave rapper. The trouble, as you can see here, is that Kobe Bryant is not cool. He was young, cocky, and popular — but not cool.
Lonzo has a lesser case of the same affliction. He is as well liked as could reasonably be expected, he is constantly in the news, he plays for the Lakers, and he’s selling tons of jerseys. But any charisma he has is basketball based.
What I’m saying is, a lot of basketball players have made rap and R&B music and had a lot of money and pre-existing fame behind it, and only one of those albums has ever gone platinum. And that was “Shaq Diesel,” by Shaquille O’Neal in 1993, the 90s-est thing ever done by the most 90s man that ever lived, in the second-best year of the 1990s (’94 was better). The Undefeated has a great oral history about that.
“I had no fear,” Shaq said. “I was going to sell a lot of albums because people wanted to see what I could do. The haters would buy the album just to say, ‘This m—–f—-r can’t rap.’ That’s just the life I live. When you go to an opposing arena, you got your fans, you got some doubters, and you got some haters. But they all still come to see you perform.”
So Lonzo is this older brother character who’s trying to keep the peace and keep everybody happy and strike out on his own, but then he’s got these two slapdash little brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, who are always up to something. Cherry-picking for entire games, shoplifting from Chinese department stores, filling up water cups with lemonade. That sort of thing.
Meanwhile Dad’s off gluing his head to a table.
And at the end of every little episode, what you get is this crazy family that sticks by each other through thick and thin, no matter what Dad did to the lawnmower.
LaVar Ball is not the Tim Taylor we want, but he’s the Tim Taylor we have right now.