The race to become the most risible person in sport has a clear leader. LaVar Ball, a man with an ego the size of his permanently open mouth, has been polluting the airwaves here ad nauseum.
There was a glimmer of hope that after son Lonzo’s UCLA team crashed out of March Madness on Friday night, this shameless selfpublicist may disappear back into the faux celebrity hole from which he crawled.
Yet within moments of that defeat, Lonzo declared his intention to enter the NBA draft.
The teenage college star will be one of the top picks and has a chance of making it – as do younger brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo – yet if LaVar is to be believed, all three will better than Michael Jordan and worthy of $1 billion footwear deals.
Oh yes, this deluded man who, lest we forget, used to play American football for the London Monarchs, seriously thinks that his little clan (NBA appearances – 0, $100,000 BMW’s – two) should pen agreements that will usurp the $500m Nike handed LeBron James.
The Balls have talent. But a reality check is needed. “You got LeBron — it’s going to be hard for his kids because they are going to look at them like, ‘You got to be just like your dad,’” Ball said.
“And after a while, that pressure starts sitting on you like, ‘Why do I got to be just like him? What can’t I just be me?’ And then they are going to be like, ‘Aw, you’re soft. You’re not that good.’ Because the expectation is very, very high.”
There has since been some backtracking yet needless to say, James was furious. Poke holes at him? Fine. But his kids? That’s another ball game entirely.
“He can talk all about his brand, talk about his sons, talk about basketball, talk about me,” James said. “But keep my family out of this.”
LaVar is a pushy parent gone nuclear. A constantly grinning parody living unfulfilled dreams through his children. He is often trailed by a camera crew in the hope his life and son’s pursuit of greatness could be turned into a reality horror show.
LaVar Ball is straight up crazy 😳pic.twitter.com/UwwQbAFI7P— Highlight Center™ (@HighIightCenter) March 24, 2017
Of course, he loves his kids. But this kind of needless pressure could destroy careers before they’ve started. Just ask Stephan Gilling what it’s like to have him around.
The coach of Chino Hills, the team in California which LiAngelo and LaMelo play for, has detailed the embarrassing contretemps which ensued during a game late last year after Ball Snr kept shouting down the coach’s instructions from the stands.
“He comes to me and says, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m trying to win the game,’” Gilling told USA Today.
“He turns around and walks to our locker room. I said, ‘LaVar, don’t go into the locker room.’ He continues walking. I said, ‘LaVar, why are you trying to embarrass me?’ And he just kept walking and goes into the locker room. He’s in there sitting down with the team.” It didn’t stop there. He got all the players out of their rooms and let them know it was his system which did the trick. “He was saying ‘I run Chino Hills! I run UCLA, about to run the NBA!’” added Gilling.
The problem with parents like LaVar however, is that their brains and mouths don’t operate in tandem.
Furthermore, the mindless bleating – “I would kill Jordan 1-on-1” and “Lonzo is better than Steph Curry” are two gems – is so transparent, it’s cringeworthy.
Whenever anyone has the misfortune to see him on TV, he is wearing a ‘Big Baller Brand’ t-shirt – that’s the same Big Baller Brand company he’s set up in the hope it will fill his bank account for years to come.
Modern society and the penchant for giving those who shout loudest the grandest platforms – Donald Trump, I’m talking to you – shoulders some blame.
But you can’t help but feel sympathy for his boys who have to smile every time dad makes an utter fool of himself. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have an off-switch on their TV.
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We’ve seen this movie before. The Cleveland Cavaliers go through a lull in the regular season, forcing us to reconsider their contender credentials, only for LeBron James and Co to remind us the playoffs are a different animal and a Finals appearances is all but a formality.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times…
Here’s the thing though. The Cavaliers’ recent stretch of play, in which they’ve dropped seven of their last 12 and allowed more than 120 points five times this month, should be concerning because there’s more to it than too many games in too few nights or yawning through the regular season with the playoffs on the horizon.
Two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. The Cavaliers have the best player in the world, championship experience and a know-how of locking in when the games truly matter. They also have real defensive and personnel issues this season that can’t be swept under the rug.
Will they again annihilate the Eastern Conference in the playoffs or is this the year when their regular-season ghosts come back to haunt them? As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
It’s impossible not to compare Cleveland’s season to their past two campaigns, when they looked vulnerable for prolonged periods before unleashing hell in the playoffs, losing all of two games before the Finals in each postseason.
Offence has never been a cause for concern. Rather it’s been the other side of the floor that’s seen Cleveland wildly fluctuate, but weak defensive stretches during the 2015-16 and 2014-15 regular seasons were made a thing of the past in the playoffs.
History, however, is very much against them this time around. No team outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency has hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001 and the Cavaliers currently sit 22nd in the league with a defensive rating of 108.1. No team had ever overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals either, so it’s hard to bet against Cleveland and namely LeBron, but it’s also hard to ignore a red flag like that.
Last season, the Cavaliers were right on the cusp by ranking 10th with a defensive rating of 102.3 and two years ago they finished 20th. Sure, they could have well broken the trend in 2015 if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were healthy in the Finals, but consider that Cleveland’s defensive rating for that season was 104.1, which would be tied for sixth this year.
Personnel and situation has everything to do with their struggles.
Matthew Dellavedova is no longer around to hound opposing guards and the Cavaliers’ big man depth is paper thin. J.R. Smith, meanwhile, hasn’t been the same reliable wing defender from last season, while Tristan Thompson has been overextended at centre. But in both Smith and Thompson’s case, injuries and workload have played a role in their ineffectiveness and those factors should be mitigated in the playoffs.
And then there’s LeBron, who is saving both his energy and a higher gear on defence for the postseason.
Even when the intensity and focus is ratcheted up, it may not translate to another comfortable jaunt past the East. Instead of sweeps, Cleveland could actually be in competitive series.
Still, the Cavaliers have earned the benefit of the doubt and we may again be left waiting for a downfall that never comes.
There’s a time and place for players to celebrate in the face of a loss, and for the Phoenix Suns, that window was absolutely during Devin Booker’s historic performance in Boston.
I hear you. What’s the point if you don’t win the game? Winning is the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
Sure, but context matters, as it always does, and when you isolate the loss to the Celtics and juxtapose it with Phoenix’s struggle the past two seasons, it makes sense why Suns players were jumping up and down on the bench while Booker was doing what no one his age had ever done before.
Scoring 70 points in a game isn’t just some cool, off-hand feat. Michael Jordan never scored that many points – he only managed 69, that stiff. Seriously though, Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer have passed through the NBA and not accomplished the feat, let alone at the age of 20.
Even though they were mostly meaningless points, the final bit a result of textbook garbage-time inflation, the record books won’t reflect that and you’ll never be able to take the history away from Booker and the Suns.
When you’re 22-51 and fielding the youngest starting lineup ever, you’re allowed to celebrate the few wins you earn, especially when they’re promising for the future. And Booker, even before he caught on fire in Boston like he was in NBA Jam, was considered a star in the making.
He may never end up being the best shooting guard in the league, an MVP-calibre player or a Hall of Famer, but for one special night he was all that wrapped into one and moments like that are too far and few not to soak in.
And by the way, the Celtics need to stop being so bitter about the whole thing.
Unwritten rules and their significance in sports is tiresome. They’re unwritten for a reason. Phoenix coach Earl Watson rightly wasn’t concerned with Boston’s feelings when he was preserving time and possessions by calling timeout and instructing for intentional fouls – he was too focused on allowing his own players to thrive, even if it meant just a moral victory.
Good-natured trash-talking is great, but if Celtics players were really that annoyed with how Booker scored and how the Suns celebrated in the aftermath, they could have played some better defence. A frustrated Brad Stevens certainly felt that way.
But this is about Booker and the gem Phoenix have, giving them hope that even more special nights could be on the way.