The cost of becoming famous


In an international incident, three UCLA basketball players were detained in China for stealing sunglasses. One of them was LiAngelo Ball, younger brother of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The Ball family has come to prominence in the world of sporting news in large part due to the outspoken patriarch of the family: LaVar.

This week, the family announced that LaVar has pulled LiAngelo out of school (which is still confusing how a grown man gets pulled out of school, but it fits the overbearing m.o. of LaVar). As with everything, LaVar has made a spectacle out of the situation. He tried to justify the players, arguing that they weren’t punished further in China, so why should they face consequences now that they’re back here n the United States?

The Ball family has their own reality show called Ball in the Family, which is clearly their attempt to be like the Kardashians (and the two shows are produced by the same group). LaVar is also often times trying to hock products from their Big Baller Brand apparel line.

It’s all an insatiable need to be famous.

There are three Ball brothers. Lonzo was the number two draft pick, and plays for the glamor franchise, Los Angeles Lakers. LiAngelo is the middle brother and LaMelo is the youngest of the family.

But in watching Ball in the Family and in looking at social media for the show and the Big Baller Brand, it all revolves around the father. His sons are all pretty quiet and reserved. It’s LaVar who’s a loudmouth. He promotes his sons like Don King.

LiAngelo is in the middle and is the least highly scouted of the three brothers. Upon his departure from UCLA, before his career had even begun, NBA analysts said that he’s not even a legitimate draft prospect for next season.

And I look at all of those factors. The father, doing whatever he can to keep the family famous and in the news. The social media empire he’s trying to build (although they’re really not that much of a juggernaut on social media. LaVar has made a big name on ESPN shows with low ratings like First Take, which has fewer viewers than Paw Patrol), and I see on a preview for Ball and the Family that when the shoplifting incident happened in China, their camera crew had taken the trip, I think it was all a publicity stunt.

In the Ball family, LaVar rules the roost. He’s strong willed. The sons seem to pretty much do what he wants them to do (see the aforementioned stories about LaVar pulling LiAngelo out of school. He’s in college, not preschool.) LaVar has said that his sons will represent a billion dollar brand. He’s dreaming. Lonzo has the worst shooting percentage among starters in the NBA. And he plays point guard which is the deepest position in the entire league. It’s a golden age for NBA point guards. And if Lonzo doesn’t develop into a good shooter (tough to do), he will have a pretty forgettable NBA career. And yet there’s dad, hyping the sons up like they’re all stars. Saying that LaVAr will be better than Kobe. Constantly stirring the pot and writing verbal checks that his sons can’t cash. Criticizing Laker players and coaches for decisions made in games.

The insatiable need to be famous.

I know some people think this self-promotion and marketing is smart. After Lonzo was the number two draft pick, a shoe deal would have been expected. Did he sign with Nike? Or Adidas? Or Under Armor? No. Led by father, he turned his nose up at the deals they were being offered and decided to manufacture and distribute the shoe themselves. Undoubtedly costing his son millions.

In May, their shoe debuted: the Zo2. Price? $495. At the time, it got publicity for it’s outrageous price. Many mocked the expense, but others defended it. It wasn’t a ridiculously overpriced shoe for an unproven player. “That’s brilliant,” some said, “they’re getting all of this publicity and then they’re going to drop the price.”

Guess what. Seven months later and the shoes are still $495. And undoubtedly no one is buying them.

The clothes from Big Baller Brand have their trademark BBB logo that is obnoxiously large on the apparel (obviously. it’s not like the logo would be understood). It’s not brilliant salesmanship. It’s arrogance.

An insatiable need to be famous.

But in that process, selling your soul. Constantly having to come up with the next ridiculous stunt to get a little bit of attention. Trash taking about how LaVar could beat Michael Jordan in basketball, Lonzo will be better than Kobe. Basically being a clown. The ridiculous things he says, if he actually believes them, he’s crazy. If he just says them for attention, he’s a phony.

LiAngelo had a scholarship to UCLA. He didn’t have a future as an NBA star but could have had a great education for free. Gone. LaMelo had a scholarship offer to UCLA but LaVar (who decided he didn’t like LaMelo’s high school basketball coach and pulled him out of school) may be going overseas to play. Lonzo, the money he could have had with a shoe contract. An example of “bird in the hand, is worth two in the bush” if I’ve ever seen one. And it’s questionable if he’ll ever even see another significant basketball contract judging by his performance on the court. But for the sake of fame, opportunities had to be squandered.

Undoubtedly, the family makes money through social media. But they sell overpriced clothes (the “women’s” tab doesn’t even work on the website). The shoes are priced so high the market can’t support them. Their reality show airs without commercials on Facebook. But on that show, I see the gaudy mansion they just built. And I wonder who paid for that? My guess: Lonzo did.

And as dad said the family would be worth a billion dollars, it sees that his arrogance and control could ultimately leave them all worse off.

That’s the cost of an insatiable need to be famous.