Lavar Ball has been all over basketball media for the past season. Mainly it's due to his eldest son Lonzo Ball being a highly touted draft prospect. However, his antics have garnered much attention from the media. And while I consider much of the criticism of him valid, I find it odd when juxtaposed next to the NCAA! In fact, I'd argue Lavar Ball is in many ways, the perfect embodiment of the NCAA spirit.
Let's review some of the highlights.
Lavar Ball is "hurting" his children's academic future
This one is the weirdest to me. After LiAngelo Ball got into trouble in China, he was suspended by the UCLA team. Lavar decided to pull LiAngelo Ball out of UCLA and get him signed in Lithuania. The same is true of his youngest son LaMelo Ball, who is sixteen. And one of the criticisms is that LiAngelo Ball has very little shot of making the NBA, so Lavar is hurting him by taking him out of college to play basketball. The logic being that the NCAA would either help LiAngelo become NBA ready or help him with an academic future.
Of course, I see a problem with both of these concerns. First, I don't know if the NCAA actually helps players develop for the NBA. The current runaway favorite for the Rookie of the Year Award agrees! Second, the NCAA hinders academic development for players. The time it takes to be a full-time basketball player, which top NCAA "student-athletes" are, is a ton. Between the travel, training, and games, it's hard to believe they can fully devote themselves to their studies. So if the argument against Lavar is that he's hurting LiAngelo by "depriving him" of a college education, well the NCAA already helps a lot with that for every player in a major program. And, as others have noted, it's not as if LiAngelo can't go back and get his degree later, especially if his family has the money for it.
Lavar Ball hurt his children's' shoe money
Before the season started, Lonzo Ball was in talks with many major shoe brands. This is the norm for top draft picks. Lavar attempted to negotiate a billion dollar contract for all three of his sons. After this failed, the Ball family released their own line of shoes, with a hefty price tag. The obvious observation is that Lavar may have cost Lonzo millions in shoe money. And while that's possibly true (who knows, the Ball brand may be worth something in the future), the NCAA did this first. Check out the fantastic ESPN 30 for 30: "Sole Man", which talks about how Sonny Vaccaro got big shoe brands to sponsor NCAA basketball. The NCAA makes tons of money off of players wearing major sports shoes. Of course, none of that goes to the players wearing the shoes. If there is incredulity at Lavar costing Lonzo millions, there should be outrage at the NCAA collectively costing their players billions.
Lavar Ball has inflated ego
This one is hard to disagree with. Lavar has said many brazen things. He's said he could take MJ one on one. He's feuded with the president. And it's hard to come away thinking he's anything but delusional. That being said, the NCAA is in the same boat. The NCAA seems to believe that the reason they get huge TV deals is their program and their coaches. Or that they develop players. Somehow they believe they are more than a middleman. And again, Lavar is the living embodiment of this. Would we put him on TV if he didn't have a top three player in the draft? Of course not!
I don't want this to come away as a defense of Lavar Ball. Instead, I just want to point out that there has been a system in place for years that exploits young athletes and hurts both their financial and academic futures. The best defense I've heard is from Scott Brooks, who notes at least Lavar Ball is there and supportive of his children. Even then, it's fair to say he's probably over the line. That said, as I've noted before if Lavar Ball angers you, then the NCAA should infuriate you on a daily basis.