By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) LaVar Ball keeps making circus shots.
Hate him and his big (baller) mouth all you want, but you can’t deny that his family plan has netted the second overall pick in the last NBA Draft and the millions Lonzo Ball will now make. Beyond that, he’s had an NBA team create a media rule specifically about him, successfully trolled the sitting president of the United States into a social media response that will be literally entered into the National Archives, exploited CNN’s amazing ability to step on rakes and put the NCAA between a rock and a hard place regarding the youngest Ball boy, high schooler LaMelo, having his own shoe. Any time you can make the NCAA squirm, that’s a good thing.
There’s method in his madness. Like a prayer of a seemingly off-balance shot going in, and then the shooter saying he called it.
On Tuesday, LaVar and middle son LiAngelo announced that the latter had left the UCLA basketball team and withdrawn from the school due to LiAngelo’s ongoing indefinite suspension for shoplifting in China while his now-former team of student-athletes was missing classes to play basketball there.
“We got the NCAA holding back, where they’re waiting two or three months to see if he can play or not,” LaVar told CNN. “That’s one of the main reasons he went to UCLA is to play basketball. That’s his passion. For them to prolong this and to go on and on, it’s ridiculous to me.”
The reflexive reaction of Wholesome America is to chide a father here for not impressing upon his son the importance of responsibility and to not pout about punishments and whatever other Danny Tannerisms people want to fling from afar. This would ignore than LiAngelo is an adult and his dad can’t exactly ground him, and there are plenty of well-to-do kids across America who don’t look like LiAngelo and do a lot worse than swipe overpriced vanity items and meet less than proportional punishments. Some even played an NCAA sport.
LiAngelo took his public beating, part of which involved droning out a thank you to a man whose role in the situation is debatable but extremely vain. No word yet on if that man has influenced the release of another American athlete from a Chinese jail for a minor crime he denies.
“I’m from L.A.,” LaVar said following the very presidential demands for gratitude. “I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses. My son has built up enough character that one bad decision doesn’t define him. Now if you can go back and say when he was 12 years old he was shoplifting and stealing cars and going wild, then that’s a different thing.”
LaVar’s critics are quick to ignore that he’s the father in a solid family unit and that he fights like hell for the future of his children. He and his wife have raised three boys who — despite one major capital sunglasses crime that’s so obviously indicative of parental failure — are much the opposite of a menace to or drain on society. Few latch on to the part of LiAngelo’s situation where UCLA supposedly took away his meal card as part of his punishment, because starving someone who isn’t your own kid is good justice. Above all, what most don’t choose to reckon with is that LaVar has been annoyingly successful in being the sports parent we all swear we’d never be but would instantly change places with if we could. But he’s bellowing and smirking and self-promoting and not us. Damn him.
And while people are scolding LaVar for not scolding his son, the two have distracted those people from the fact that LiAngelo just isn’t all that good at basketball, wasn’t going to do much for the Bruins even if he wasn’t suspended and now is able to steal away from that exposure before the public realized it. He and his dad can test the waters of pro leagues overseas while pretending LiAngelo will join his brother on the Los Angeles Lakers someday before LaMelo does, too.
“LiAngelo Ball is a good shooter but does not bring much more to the table,” a pro scout told the Los Angeles Times. “I believe it is widely accepted among NBA personnel that he is not an NBA player, even before his off-court issues.”
So we have a story about a fringe player that’s only a story because of the Ball name. And while the Ball name gets the attention, the Ball player who isn’t all that good and had planned on being a one-and-done anyway gets to beat the NCAA at its own game while his dad carnival barks him into a job somewhere.
There he is, LaVar doing interviews across national teelvision stations that get retweeted thousands of times. There he is, LaVar the moral football being tossed back and forth, unsolicited parental advice for him being typed on social media. No doubt multiple smart people whose thoughts are very respected are commenting underneath this piece on this site’s Facebook page talking about this column is part of the problem (while ignoring the pleasure they get in being mad at a figure like Ball and their sad hope that his kids fail).
There he is, LaVar Ball chucking a non-story into the air, off the glass, around the rim and down the bottom of the net.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.