SALT LAKE CITY — Stage parents are nothing new to sports; we’ve all seen them (or been one). But when it comes to greatness — that is to say awfulness — maybe nobody this side of Marv Marinovich or Earl Woods has ever topped LaVar Ball.
By now you probably know Ball’s M.O., but just in case: He’s the blowhard dad who has used the careers of his basketball-playing sons to sell sneakers, make money, promote himself and annoy as many people as possible in the process.
In short, he won’t shut up. He has singlehandedly confounded basketball officials and coaches at every level of the game — AAU, high school, college, NBA — and no one has figured out how to make this guy go away.
Ball is the Khloe Kardashian of sports, with an insatiable need for attention and a lucrative, shameless talent for getting it. It’s a tried-and-true formula that worked for Dennis Rodman and Terrell Owens, among others. Ball plays the media like a guitar. All he has to do is say something outrageous or obnoxious and his words get broadcast to the world.
Which brings us to the latest outburst. Ball has fomented a controversy that has caused the media to examine the strange incestuous workings of its business, which actually isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you can stomach the source.
Ball criticized Lakers coach Luke Walton, for whom his son Lonzo plays.
“You can see they (the players) are not playing for Luke no more,” he said. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
Ball said Walton is too young to be a coach and one reason he could tell the coach had lost his team is because the players don’t give high-fives when they leave the game.
That’s some tremendous analysis, all right (eye roll). Anyway, ESPN reported Ball’s statement, which proceeded to draw the ire of NBA coaches Rick Carlisle, Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy.
Carlisle called it a “disgrace” that ESPN reported Ball’s comments. He has a point. After all, who quotes the parents of players? What validity do they have? If you want an objective analysis of a team, parents are the last people you ask. Why give one of them a platform to disrespect and undermine coaches, NBA coaches wondered?
In protest, Van Gundy vowed not to attend a league-mandated meeting with ESPN’s announcing team prior to his team’s nationally televised game against the Wizards on Jan. 19, nor will he do a pre-game interview.
It also has been reported that other NBA coaches want their teams to revoke credentials for reporters who interview LaVar Ball. Last month the Lakers invoked what has become known as the LaVar Ball rule, which prevents media from interviewing family and friends in their seats at the arena.
“I’m not denying them access,” said Van Gundy. “I’m not kicking them out of press conferences. They want extra stuff from us and they’re going to treat an NBA coach with that little respect? Then I’m going to choose not to give them extra access.”
This creates quite the dilemma for ESPN. The network has a contract with the NBA to broadcast its games. It’s a lucrative business arrangement in which reporters are reporting the doings of one of their company’s biggest clients.
On one hand, the network — and journalists in general — shouldn’t be beholden to someone about whom or what they can report; on the other hand, there is the bottom line and lots of financial issues. What’s to prevent ESPN from demanding favorable reporting that amounts to nothing more than marketing and advertising?
And then there is the question of whether Ball — a parent — should be given such a forum, which has come about simply because he has cultivated it, and the media has allowed itself to be exploited. (Stage Dad has even made himself chummy with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, another blowhard and self-promoter with a stage.)
Thanks to the media, Stage Dad has parlayed his new notoriety into guest spots on TV and radio shows, a reality show about him and his family, and a worldwide audience for his Twitter account.
Ball has a forum that must be the envy of politicians and movie stars, and he has used it mostly to advocate for his sons. In November he complained that he was unhappy with Lonzo’s playing time with the Lakers, thus marking the first time in sports history that a parent thought his kid should be playing more (another eye roll). Yet this was reported as news.
Ball’s big mouth has created a lot of problems and unanswered questions for journalism.