For the past year, LaVar Ball has basked in the spotlight of Los Angeles.
There's not been a more controversial figure in all of the basketball world than Ball. Whether it's Big Baller Brand, the constant criticism around his son Lonzo, the spell in Lithuania with his two other sons (LaMelo and LiAngelo), or the crazy sound bytes, LaVar continues to be in the forefront of everything.
That was...until LeBron James signed with the Lakers.
The eventual appearance of James signals a few things. For one, the Lakers are now an instant playoff team in the Western Conference. LeBron is the biggest star to have played for the franchise since Kobe Bryant. He's also the first player in which the Lakers can build around in the present and for the future.
A secondary element involving James is the role of Ball. Outspoken, brash and unapologetic, Ball no longer will have any sort of clout as it pertains to messages through the media. Many think Ball has been somewhat detrimental to all three of his sons and their respective basketball futures. This may or may not be the case. Regardless, the negative commentary on Luke Walton and the coaching staff simply won't hold the same sort of impact it once did.
In a roundabout way, this also relates back to James' impact on the team.
The Lakers will do everything in their power to appease James. This includes bringing in talent that meshes with James' skill-set on and off the floor. He'll likely have a huge role in player personnel decision-making right off the bat.
The prior relationship between Ball and James has already been somewhat frosty. Outspoken per usual, the patriarch of the Ball family had this to say about James' two sons:
"Here’s the thing, you gotta play the odds and the percentages. There’s been a lot of great players, and all of their sons are whack. Kareem’s got sons, Jordan’s got sons, Shaq’s got sons…the monsters in the NBA, their dads wasn’t that good. They were OK, they was players, but the fact that the old Curry wasn’t no All-Star, he wasn’t cold. He could shoot the ball though. Kobe Bryant, his dad wasn’t all that, that’s why he’s such a monster.
You got LeBron, it’s gonna be so hard for his kids, cause they gonna look at them like ‘you gotta be just like your dad. And after a while that pressure starts sitting on you like ‘why do I gotta be like him, why can’t I just be me?’ And then they’re gonna be like ‘aw, you’re soft, you’re not that good.’ Because the expectation is very, very high."
James -- the fiercely proud and protective father that he is -- responded with a simple "Keep my kids' name out of your mouth, keep my family out of your mouth. This is dad to dad. It's a problem now."
We can't really be surprised by LaVar's off-the-wall commentary. After all, he's the same guy that proclaimed Lonzo to be better than Steph Curry. This proclamation occurred when Lonzo was still a college student:
Media outlets love LaVar -- namely because he is entertaining. He'll shamelessly promote Big Baller Brand (and himself) whenever a camera is thrown into his face. Comments this past year about Walton and the coaching staff forced Magic Johnson to publicly comment on the matter. This is somewhat unheard of -- particularly when a player's parent is involved.
The media gobbled up all the drama, and LaVar was a willing participant in creating it. At the same time, Ball is even smart enough to recognize the precarious situation his son finds himself in.
Whether sheer dumb luck or 'speaking it into existence' (as LaVar likes to say), Lonzo was drafted by his hometown team. In order to buoy and further grow Big Baller Brand it's almost imperative for Lonzo to operate in one of the largest markets in the world. It all sets up well for the player and family in theory. The 'theory' part comes into the equation when speaking about James.
If LaVar pokes the bear (aka LeBron), Lonzo may be jettisoned elsewhere. LeBron has the clout to effectively determine the direction of the franchise. If LaVar is truly being that big of a distraction, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities to see LeBron 'request' that the team trades Lonzo to another team. This would be the absolute worst-case scenario for the Ball family. It might be better for Lonzo's career to get out from under the media circus in LA. However, LaVar certainly would not like it if this alternative iteration came to fruition.
The Lakers are no longer an afterthought in the current NBA. Ball's words simply won't mean as much with an even bigger star now hogging the Los Angeles limelight. LeBron has built up credibility for himself throughout his illustrious career. Many love and respect him unequivocally -- including fans and media members.
While LaVar can be funny and loud, he doesn't hold a candle to LeBron from a respect aspect. If LaVar were to pop off on LeBron, the team, or even the coaching staff, no one would take him seriously. His platform is slowly shrinking. No longer will he be viewed as a major thorn in the side of the franchise. Simply put, there's now bigger fish to fry.
Ball must sense that -- as he's already backtracked on his anti-James sentiments. In a recent interview, LaVar spoke effusively in his praise of LeBron. He even went as far to say the following:
"The media, all y’all try to say, ‘Ah LaVar, LeBron’s gonna tell LaVar to shut up and this and that.’ They try to create this (wedge) between us where it’s nothing there. And, I see why. Because LeBron is very successful. I’m successful. They don’t want us together. So, it’s better to make one black man go after another one. As opposed to hey, what if me and LeBron get along? We’re gonna get along. You know why? Because we have three things in common, which is family, business and winning. We got those three things -- we can’t lose. They’re trying to not make this work."
The addition of LeBron James may have had unintended benefits as it pertains to pressure on the franchise. This move essentially took LaVar down a peg. It also will force him to be much more methodical and careful as to what he says in the media.
At the very least, the narrative of the Los Angeles basketball world has swung back to putting importance on the words and actions of a player rather than the parent of a player.
Image Source: Getty/TMZ