Featured, Parenting, Race & Politics, Sports

On Black Basketball Dads, And Not Knowing How To Feel About LaVar Ball

It took roughly a month at Sterrett Classical Academy for me to be known as the best basketball player there; an admittedly considerable feat for a 10-year-old sixth grader in a school with 14-year-old eighth graders. It was a status due to a combination of the reputation I already earned from playing with the Homewood YMCA in the Ammons League on the Hill and from my exploits during recess and gym class. Unfortunately, none of this impressed Mr. Simons, Sterrett’s basketball coach, who wasn’t going to allow me to try out for the team because I submitted the mandatory physical and doctor’s waivers three days late. (To his credit, he hadn’t seen me play yet, and undoubtedly would have been more lenient if he had. Still, this was an unnecessarily harsh standard. He was being a dick just for dick’s sake. Also, he looked like Alf, which is relevant because he looked like Alf.)

I went home and told my dad. He shook his head, said “ok,” and continued reading the Post-Gazette. The next day, he showed up to the school during lunch time, pulled me out of the cafeteria, and requested a meeting with Mr. Simons (who was also the 7th grade social studies teacher). We met in the gym.

Calmly, my dad apologized for the lateness of the physical, and requested that Simons allow me to try out. He appreciated the apology, but said something about the rule being the rule, and denied the request. My dad had another idea:

How about this? You play my son one-on-one right now. If he beats you — and he will — he’s allowed to try out. If not, you’ll never hear from me again.

The Alf-ish Simons turned beet red and started to stammer.

Sir, that’s not really necessary.”

My dad was steadfast.

“Oh, yes it is.

Sensing that this was a no-win situation — and also likely intuiting that if my dad was this confident about my abilities, a bending of the rule would be worth it — he relented. By the end of the day I was on the team. I didn’t even have to try out.

Several months later, while I was playing in a spring AAU tournament at Reizenstein Middle School, my dad noticed a team with preternaturally skilled and disciplined 11-year-olds running through a bevy of complex, college-level plays and zone presses. He learned that these kids were from St. Barts, and that they played a Diocese schedule during the season and an AAU schedule in the spring and summer that had them playing up to 100 meaningful games a year.

Later that week, he convinced my mom that they should A) take me out of Sterrett and enroll me into St. Barts the following school year and B) allow me to repeat 6th grade because I was young for my grade (since my birthday falls a day before New Years’ Eve, I was always the youngest person in every class I was in) and repeating the year would give me an advantage athletically and socially. 

I have countless stories like this about my dad. The 200 shots a day we’d take at on the courts behind Peabody High School the summer of ’89 to upgrade my shot from a slow-release, 10-year-old appropriate set shot, to a full jumpshot released over my head and at the peak of my jump. The basketball magazines and almanacs he’d buy me when I professed at interest in devouring as much about the game and its history as I could. The mornings I’d watch him play in the Sunday Morning Warriors basketball league at the Y, where I’d sneak on the court at halftime to shoot foul shots.

Even today, his Facebook page is home to dozens of snapshots of those moments. Usually me receiving some award from some camp or league or game, and him behind the lens, making sure my trophy was facing the camera.

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And, of course, sometimes it would just be us.

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It is difficult not to see some of my dad in LaVar Ball, the polarizing father of basketball phenoms Lonzo Ball (a projected top-three NBA draft pick), LiAngelo Ball (a high school senior committed to play at UCLA), and LaMelo Ball (a 10th grader who might already be the most popular athlete in high school sports). And not just my dad, but the countless other Black basketball dads found on bleachers at AAU tournaments and modeling perfect triple threat stances on concrete blacktops in the hood. Shepherding their sons (and sometimes daughters) from court to court and neighborhood to neighborhood. And, if they’re good enough, from city to city, state to state, and school to school. Simultaneously serving as their kid’s drill master, coach, instructor, one-on-one opponent, hype man, financier, adviser, protector, bouncer, dietitian, jitney, critic, visionboard, sponsor, and parent. Willing to challenge each and every entity, real or imagined, standing between them and their ultimate goal. Which could be a college scholarship. Or an NBA contract. Sometimes, they’re the only other Black face in the gym (or the league) besides their kid on the court; their presence ensuring that “these White people” don’t try any mess with their boy.

I know that if you sat Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo down, they’d each have stories about their dad that would mirror mine. And if you glanced through their social media accounts and family photo albums, they’d each have just as many pictures and videos either taken by their dad or with them posing next to him. And I have no doubt they treasure those pics and those memories and those moments as much as I do.

This context both constructs and complicates my feelings about LaVar Ball. Like my dad and the countless other Black basketball dads out there, he wants whats best for his sons. This is undeniable. My dad’s goal was for me to receive a college basketball scholarship. And I did. Mission accomplished. LaVar Ball’s sons are each better basketball players than I was, and his athletic goals for them are understandably and appropriately greater.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to the strain of schadenfreude I experience when a Black person challenges and perhaps even upsets the status quo the way LaVar Ball currently is attempting to. I’m compelled to root for him even if I don’t agree with his methods (I don’t) or even like him very much (I also don’t).

But, those years in those gyms and those courts and on those teams and in those leagues also taught me how to recognize a blowhard and a bully. Which is exactly what LaVar Ball is. And my distaste and disdain for men like him equals the affinity I have for the Black basketball dad. I knew men like him, and they are the worst coaches to play for, the worst parents to sit in the stands with, and they very often produce the worst kids to play with and root for. You do not want to be a kid on the same team as the kid of that type of dad. Even if the team is good, they and their parents can be so insufferable and make the team so joyless that you’d rather quit it than win with it.

Even his attempts to promote his family’s brand are met with similar ambivalence. He’s not actually wrong to attempt to get in front of the major shoe companies and pursue a lucrative partnership instead of a run-of-the-mill shoe contract. But his Big Baller Brand is GeoCities-level terrible; the only thing worse than the name is the logo, which looks like an actual belt buckle sold at Buckle. Also, while Lonzo is a phenom, he’s not the type of transcendent, Lebron-ish talent who could carry a brand by himself. He’s good, but not that good.

Combined, this collection of conflicting feelings has left me not knowing how to feel about him. I appreciate what he’s done for his kids, and I get what he’s trying to do, but I don’t fuck with dude at all. I want him to succeed, in theory, but I don’t want him to be him. And while it’s true that his diligence has helped each of his boys reach this level of prominence — and receive full athletic scholarships — his efforts and actions now are more than likely hurting them. Lonzo Ball has already been publicly rebuked by each of the major shoe companies; an act which, when considering the abject terribleness of the just released Big Baller Brand shoes, might cost them tens of millions of dollars. And I’m certain De’Aaron Fox isn’t going to be the last guard to put a little extra effort into washing Lonzo on the court just because of his dad’s bombast.

A month or so ago, I asked my dad how he felt about LaVar Ball. Knowing that he shares my feelings for blowhards and bullies, his answer (“He needs to sit down and shut up”) was predictable. I then reminded him of parents like Earl Woods and Richard Williams, who each faced similar criticisms when they first become national figures, but (obviously) were proven to be right. I also reminded him of that time he challenged Mr. Simons to play me.

“Yeah, but that was different.”

“How?”

“I challenged him to play you, not me.”

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Aw ish…..Trumpcare just passed the House. Get all of your necessary visits in while you can.

    • Valerie

      DAMN!!!

      • Catfish Jenkins

        I’d offer you marriage, but I’m not sure how my wife would feel about that.

    • Mr. Mooggyy

      The Senate will be a bit more difficult (I hope)!

  • Question

    I don’t know how to feel about LaVar Ball. In a lot of ways I feel like the general reaction to him is very similar to how folks reacted to Richard Williams (Venus and Serena’s dad) who fiercely protected his daughters while remaining their biggest promoter. I didn’t always agree with his methods but there was never any doubt about his goals.

    Where he defers from Richard Williams is that his antics are actually removing options for his boy(s) rather than opening as many avenues as possible. It’s starting to look like he’s forgotten what the goal is and is getting a little caught up in they hype.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Richard was smart enough to play the game and then flip it when his girls were an established brand. Puma wishes they still had Serena. Venus still wears her own clothing line when she decides to play. That’s one of the differences between Richard and LaVar.

      • Right. Richard didn’t build his daughters’ brand only to turn down millions when it came to their door. My issue is the Balls need to get into the right court (Nike or whomever) before they can cross fade away into their own signature brand.

  • Spicy Kas

    So the healthcare bill got out of the House

    • Valerie

      We are all fucked. Unless the Senate does something.

      • Epsilonicus

        With no KY

        • grownandsexy2

          lol

        • Valerie

          Rough, painful experience.

      • Brown Rose

        I am not optimistic. Pelosi is there, but what kind of leverage does she have now. First priority is don’t get sick. Ever.

        • Hugh Akston

          Pelosi??

          • Brown Rose

            Read an article with Pelosi singing the tune that it may have a rough time in the Senate. She’s been the only really vocal voice so far. There aren’t a lot of vocal Democrats that are fighting this period.

            • Epsilonicus

              Most Senate Republicans were hoping it would fail. They do not want to vote on this bill.

              • Brown Rose

                I am hoping this is the case. I have no faith that they will stop it . The fact that house republicans exempted themselves from the exclusion is execrable.

    • Brown Rose

      Its over. Its done. We are scr*wed. Time to rethink Pioneer and Bush medicine.

    • Question

      Party before country. There should be no question in anyone’s mind about where GOP loyalties lie.

      • Hugh Akston

        For the yt ppl?

        • Question

          White people are gonna get screwed too. $26k ($8B in reserves divided by the estimated number of people with pre-existing conditions in states likely to opt out) isn’t enough to cover squat.

          I’m curious how Rush et al are gonna spin this as a good thing for America. Now curious enough to tune in and find it obviously…

          • Hugh Akston

            I say let it pass so they can get what they voted for…

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          The Illuminati

    • Fingers crossed it dies in the Senate.

    • Hugh Akston

      Senate vote?

      Let it pass

  • Epsilonicus

    I feel like LaVar made this all about him instead of his kid. While I am too young to be experiencing this as a parent (mine is only 2), I remember those kids on my football team with LaVar-esque parents. The parents were always outshining their kid and the kids always hated it.

    My philosophy moving forward is that it should always be about my kids. No matter how much money and time I invested (especially bc thats my duty as a parent. You don’t get cookies for doing your job), it should always be about them. The moment it becomes about me, I am fucking up.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      This is one of the reasons I’m glad my kids didn’t go into the family business.

      • Epsilonicus

        Funny, I find that with martial arts parents, there is less of this. They can train their kids and there is less of the parent living vicariously through the kid. It happens but just not at the same rate.

    • Spicy Kas

      This applies to your expectations for your kids as well. It’s very easy to get competitive with other parents about what your children are achieving or if they are measuring up to what you did at that age. Translation, my kindergartener is not too 10% in his class.

      • Epsilonicus

        I saw that when I was private school. The competition among parents is real and oftentimes the kids suffer for it.

        • Earl

          You guys have an opinion about someone you have not met. Every parent wants the best for their child but he is in a position to get them to a great spot and many people are jealous. He is the spokesperson of their company so he has to be front and center. When other people do this no one says anything but it is about your perception of what is going on based on the programming the world has given you. You have made it to the point that the bar is higher for him as a parent then it if or you because I guarantee that most of the people talking don’t have kids that are as successful as his and that is why you want to see them fail. If he succeeds he makes you look bad.

    • DG

      Totally agree…said pretty much the same thing in my still-in-moderation post. Seems like he’s trying to use his kids’ talent as a springboard for some of his own interests.

      • Earl

        He already has money but he would rather the family make money off his sons than other companies where his sons are just a number. A lot of people are letting the media trick them.

  • Ghettoprincess

    I don’t know about Lavar Ball but I’m damn sure a fan of your pops.

  • As someone who works in marketing and communications, the brand is terrible. The “designs” are trash. He clearly hasn’t done an ounce of investing (dollars) into the brand. He needs to understand his target audience. Test designs (and he could do this easily through TeeSpring), test slogans, pay a graphic designer. You can’t take him seriously with a pis-s poor product.

    • That logo…sheesh.

    • BrothasKeeper

      He did invest. Zazzle made his t-shirts.

      • and the results are about what you’d expect from a company called Zazzle.

        • Amandawwall

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          On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. Follow this link for more information
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        • Laurasfelipe

          Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours & have longer with friends and family! !si180c:
          On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. Follow this link for more information
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    • Giantstepp

      I agree. And this is why expecting a freakin PARTNERSHIP from Nike, Adidas and Under Armour is overreach. He fails to see how basic BBB is. They don’t his son, even if he blows up in the league.

      • The Barely Basic Brand. Lol

      • Question

        Plus he introduced a product that will compete directly with the big brands. Unless this BLOWS up like Jumpman status, he’s an idiot because he’s unintentionally providing a business case of the power of the Ball brand.

    • Phil GoBeGreat

      When you find out one of your favorite commenters on VSB is #FAMUly.

  • King Beauregard

    ALF is a very bad sign. Have you even looked at the ALF intro in years? I bet you haven’t and there’s a lot you forgot:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3qrnx_alternate-alf-tv-intro_fun

  • siante

    My parents didn’t show up to ANY of my games, practices: nothing. My mom was working 2 jobs & going to school & my pops was obsolete: So I used to hitch rides with the “overly involved” parents on my volley ball team & I appreciated them so much!!!!! Because of that experience, I’ll probably grow up to be a Lavar Ball. I’ve already accepted my fate.

    • CrankUpThe_AC

      lol cmon. You can be the super involved parent and not be Lavar Ball. That dude is an asshat.

      • siante

        Ima be more overcompensating than a mug

  • Okay that first story about your dad is baller as fuck

  • I honestly think barbershop ninja emeritus loves his sons to death but he just seems over the top about his sons’ bright futures the way DJ Khaled feels about dandelion fluff or Drake vocals. Ultimately, it is harmless but it can get to be annoying as fck. George Raveling’s hyperbole grenade was a bit much but he is overexposed.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      Ashad is fed the fuck up with Khaled’s antics

      • Rewind4ThatBehind

        lmao that boy is literally the most famous baby on the planet because his pops is on one EVERY SINGLE DAY

      • Aren’t we all?

    • KB

      I was listening to a segment of ‘The Herd’ awhile back and one of the guests (cant remember who) made a great point about LeVar Ball and how his antics may hurt Lonzo in the near future. Basically, he said that once Lonzo gets to the league, his dad’s overbearing, loud-mouthed, obnoxious nature may hurt his son and wouldn’t go over well with his teammates in the locker room. It was an interesting observation and definitely something that Lonzo may be considering as he is gearing up for the next phase of his athletic career.

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