A sizable part of LaVar Ball’s appeal for people he happens to appeal to is that he’s a walking, talking distillation of many of the half-baked but smart-sounding arguments about sports that often occur in barbershops, during happy hours, over barbecue pits, at spades tables and on the bleachers of midget-league football games.
It’s in those predominantly black spaces that you will find people like him: large-in-personality (and often also large-in-stature) men who are so easily affable and funny and demonstrative and bombastic—and so sure of the things they’re saying—that they seduce people who either latch on to the one truthful nugget in their avalanche of bullshit or just plain want to be seduced by such an important-seeming man.
Of course, these types of men don’t only exist in black spaces. Just a year ago, (white) America was seduced by an affable and funny and demonstrative and bombastic man who also seemed very sure of the things he was saying. It didn’t—and still doesn’t—matter that he’s full of shit. He had (and has) big-sounding ideas, easy answers to impossible questions and an uncanny ability to shift to the next pitch when the details of the current sale are asked to be provided. Donald Trump, like LaVar Ball, isn’t just a salesman. He’s a confidence man.
Where Ball’s blackness matters, however, is when adding the context of this black man challenging the predominantly white power structures of amateur and professional sports—the NCAA and the shoe companies specifically. So even if you don’t particularly fuck with him (and I don’t), it’s hard not to root even a little bit for a man who takes those half-baked barbershop arguments and applies them on a national level.
And also, even if he comes to them the wrong way, some of his ideas aren’t exactly wrong. Pulling his youngest son, LaMelo, out of high school and then having him sign a contract with a Lithuanian pro team wasn’t some sort of master plan. It was a culmination of LaVar practically getting banned from his son’s school, having a fit and deciding to homeschool him, and also realizing that LaMelo would likely be ineligible to play college ball anyway because he has his own Big Baller Brand shoe. Essentially, this is a party invitation being rescinded and then you saying, “Well, I didn’t want to go to your wack-ass party anyway.”
But if the ultimate goal is to prepare LaMelo for a career in the NBA, playing in a professional league in Europe with grown men will do that better than playing against 16- and 17-year-olds in California would. And what he’s doing isn’t much different from what the affluent parents of tennis prodigies have been doing for decades.
The Big Baller Brand shoe—whose existence is both a dog whistle to every black man who’s ever sat in a barber’s chair and participated in an argument about starting “our own” shoe companies and a shameless cash grab by LaVar—is also not a terrible idea. Why rely on them to outfit your son—and make millions off of his name—when you can keep the product and the money in the family?
Of course, the money generated from Big Baller Brand pales in comparison with the money Lonzo Ball could have received from a shoe deal. But that’s just considering the money today, in 2017, not the potential revenue in 2027. Do I think Big Baller Brand will ever be able to rival a Nike or an Adidas? No. Hell fucking no. I wouldn’t be surprised if, this time next year, it didn’t even exist anymore. But that doesn’t and wouldn’t make LaVar Ball wrong. Just the wrong guy with the right idea.
And this brings us to his latest idea: a basketball league for highly ranked high school graduates who don’t want to play college basketball. Out of all the half-baked sports-related arguments I’ve heard in the 30-plus years I’ve been in those barbershops, at those happy hours, barbecues and spades tables and on the bleachers of those midget-league football games, this is the most popular one: We (black people) should just start our own leagues.
Like most half-baked ideas, it initially makes sense in a way that provides an immediate high. “Hmm. That might not be the worst idea,” you begin to think. “All of the star NFL and NBA players are black, so what would happen if someone were somehow able to convince them to play in this new, FUBU-ass league?”
And with LaVar Ball’s idea, a league like this would also address the legitimately hypocritical dynamic where highly touted athletes in predominantly white sports (baseball, tennis, golf, hockey) can skip college and start making millions as teens, while the top athletes in the “black” sports (football and basketball) are forced to attend school until they’re eligible to be drafted.
But ... where would the money necessary to pay the proposed $100,000 salaries—and the coaches and the referees and the athletic trainers and the support staff and the league administration and the specific team administrations and all the rest of the people who need to get paid for an athletic league to function—come from? And where are they playing these games? He stated he wants to play at NBA arenas, but those arenas are owned by the owners of the NBA teams who play there. What owner would allow an openly competing product to rent out their venue? And who is footing the bill for the tens of millions of dollars of insurance—health, legal, property, etc.—necessary for any of this to happen?
And—most importantly, the league LaVar Ball wants to start already actually exists. Any high school graduate can play in the NBA G League. And get paid. And get NBA-level coaching and access to NBA-level resources and facilities.
LaVar Ball isn’t a stupid man, so I’m sure he’s aware of all of this and is already stewing up the next big idea for when he needs to provide some receipts for this one. And it, like every other idea he’s had, will be pitched with his penchant for persuasion, will exist as if there’s no memory of the other half-baked ideas he’s had and will have enough compelling truth in it to convince you to believe in it (and him).
And that’s when I’ll know it’s time to leave the barbershop and go home.