The Media Is Enabling LaVar Ball’s Charade

Richard Maxson/USA Today Sports

Don’t worry, this article is not going to have to do with the full-fledged category 5 hurricane of a crazed AAU dad that is LaVar Ball. This is going to be about how the media let his antics become as legitimate and important as they have.

If you’re unfamiliar with who LaVar Ball is, 1) you’re probably better off and 2) he is the father of UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, who is very likely to hear his name called in the top two or three picks of next month’s NBA draft. Lonzo is, by all accounts, a quiet, respectful young man who is laser-focused on improving his game. LaVar is quite the opposite: a loud, bombastic father who is willing to beat his own drum just as much as, if not more than, he’s willing to promote his sons.

Chances are you’ve seen LaVar across the sports media landscape over the past few months, from FS1 to ESPN’s First Take and beyond. In the past, he has made comments to the press that can best be described as annoying, bizarre, and delusional. Recently, Ball’s quotes and actions have taken a turn toward offensive and indefensible. What’s even more interesting is that LaVar has something called the “Big Baller Brand” which sells apparel inspired by LaVar’s three sons. This is taken from the “About Us” section of Big Baller Brand’s website:

BIG BALLER BRAND is a Lifestyle Apparel company founded on core family values, and inspired by the 3 Ball brothers from Chino Hills, California.
Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo Ball are basketball players with Championship pedigree. We are always striving for excellence through strong work ethic, passion, and commitment to win as a team. Our company goal and purpose is to deliver the same qualities into the brand. We are dedicated to produce the highest quality products to build brand loyalty.
Our mission is to provide a clothing line that is a reflection of what every Big Baller in the world expresses through what they wear. Trust Big Baller Brand as a Lifestyle for the latest in apparel fashion and design for any occasion. Welcome to our family.

The statement says that the three sons have championship pedigree; none of them have played in the NBA and LaMelo is 15 years old. Also, that same championship pedigree is what may or may not have gotten the sons’ Chino Hills High School coach, Stephan Gilling, fired after this past season; Gilling said he was relieved to be done as Chino Hills’ head coach and deserves a civilian award for dealing with LaVar for an entire season. Now, the eldest Ball is making headlines for what he thinks of his and his son’s abilities.

Recently, many writers and pundits have come around to the fact that Ball is really a loud-mouthed blowhard who can’t back up his braggadocio with anything more than being Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo’s dad. This is the problem: by having him on television, major sports networks seem to be legitimizing LaVar Ball and his outrageous statements. This week, Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz wrote about just how willing certain networks are to have him on their air and promote his craziness:

Well, if there’s no place for that in TV, it’s interesting that FS1 has done so much more to promote Ball than anyone else to date. They’ve given him eight TV appearances and five podcast/Periscope appearances in just over two months and tweeted about him at least 105 times (from the official FS1 account and the official accounts of three of their shows). By contrast, ESPN appears to have had him on TV three times, on radio once, and mentioned him a combined 37 times between @FirstTake, @ESPN and @SportsNation.

105 times in two months! Just to reiterate, this is the same guy who once averaged all of two points per game at Washington State.

That’s the issue with his sudden fame and his appearing on FS1 every five minutes. LaVar Ball is famous because he says so; he’s the basketball world’s version of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian rolled into one. The way to combat Ball’s growing fame is to not give him a platform to say stupid stuff on such a regular basis. Sure, media types can rant and rave about the things LaVar Ball says and does. But, after all, who is giving Ball the platform to say those things? The media. Kristine Leahy, the Fox Sports anchor LaVar told to “stay in her lane”, said Thursday that the show she co-anchors, The Herd, should not allow Ball back on the show. The problem is that by saying, as Leahy did, that there’s “no place for that on TV”, she is indirectly criticizing her employer for having him on its air in the first place, which could lead her into trouble with the network. Her choice is this: accept Ball’s bravado and move on with a guilty conscience or criticize Ball and her network, the same network that tweeted about him 105 times in the span of two months.

This ultimately comes down to network executives and what they value. There are currently plenty of important stories in the sports world; Tom Brady’s potential undocumented concussion, the NBA suddenly consisting of only two great teams, and Enes Kanter’s detainment in Romania, to name a few. These and others are the stories that should really matter, not the one where someone’s father brags about his basketball abilities or broaches the subject of Kyrie Irving’s deceased mother when boasting about his son.

I believe that sports networks may have reached their wit’s end with Ball’s antics, particularly after his most recent controversies. That is generally how it goes with suddenly famous public figures or stories. However, Ball’s comments on show X make person Y more likely to tune into show X the next day. Also, a show like First Take will happily welcome Ball because he can make someone like Stephen A. Smith, the guy who once threatened Kevin Durant on-air, look like the sane one in the conversation. That is not a small factor in how networks decide whether or not to book a loose cannon like Ball.

And let’s face it: there are plenty of viewers who will absolutely devour Ball’s nonsense like it’s candy. This is the same reason why CNN’s viewership increased by an average of 300,000 viewers per day since they doubled down on coverage of an airplane that no one could find. Everyone was making fun of the network’s coverage; heck, even the leader of the free world ridiculed them at the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

I am happy to be here even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia – the lengths we have to go to to get CNN coverage these days.

That would seem like a large indictment of CNN’s integrity. But remember, their viewership increased 1.6 times in the span of a week, and the President mentioned the network completely of his own volition. That would be advantageous for the network’s sagging ratings going forward, just like Ball is for a network like FS1 that has lagged far behind ESPN’s ratings since its inception in 2013.

Again, the best way to handle someone as unpredictable and strange as LaVar Ball is to not give him attention he doesn’t deserve. What I’m saying is to take a page out of ESPN anchor and SportsNation host Michelle Beadle’s playbook:

That’s what has to be done here. When push comes to shove, how hard was that?

The patriarch of the Ball clan recently proclaimed that if you can’t afford his ridiculously expensive shoes, you’re not a Big Baller. But why is LaVar a “Big Baller” himself? Because he anointed himself as one.

And the way to refuse him the legitimacy of a real “Big Baller” is to deny him the platform to brag about himself and his children on an everyday basis.

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