Want to know why?
For those of you who don’t know who Lavar Ball is, and I am sure there are a handful of you all out there, he is the father of three amateur basketball players Lonzo, LiAngelo, and Lamelo. Lonzo, a budding star in his own right, is leading the UCLA Bruins in their quest for a National Championship. His two brothers are both still in high school and will be headed to UCLA upon graduation.
The Ball’s have been generating a lot of buzz lately, largely due to some of the outrageous claims that Lavar Ball has made over the past several weeks in the lead up
to the NCAA Tournament. He was quoted as saying things like “Melo is the best player on the planet, bar none” and that in his prime, Lavar that is, “could have beat Michael Jordan, one-on-one”. His greatest achievement to date, has been to get into a social media “shouting match” with Basketball Hall of Famer and current TNT analyst, Charles Barkley. To me, this is likely all part of the plan. And it’s a brilliant plan at that, keep the media distracted by making these outrageous statements on as many outlets as he can all while hyping a family brand he is developing. The Big Baller Brand, for now, is essentially a website set up to sell merchandise and apparel items with a distinctive “BBB” logo. The items themselves are so obviously overpriced, like $60 t-shirts, that the whole thing is likely a marketing ploy for larger plays down the road (I can see the reality show now…”Balling with the Balls”).1
This is a risky strategy to be sure, in the mold of a “Kim Kardashian” type shock and flip campaign, but it is currently paying dividends, big time. Everyone already knows that ultimately the basketball fate of the three Ball brothers will be determined by what they can actually do on the court, under the bright lights and practice sessions alike. So any pressure to perform is going to be there regardless of what is said or done outside the game. And everyone knows that an athlete can go from “Beast to Bust” in short order. So why is Lavar Ball’s strategy so brilliant? Because he is striking while the iron is hot, positioning himself as the foil as opposed to his sons, and is doing all of this right in front of the NCAA, UCLA, and the rest of the college sports industry.
According to its website, the NCAA states that “Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”2
To further reiterate the point, the website goes on and lists various activities and engagements that prospective college athletes are forbidden from participating in or they risk losing their collegiate eligibility, such as entering into contracts with professional teams, agents, or prospective agents, receiving a salary for participating in athletic events or prize money above “actual and necessary expenses”. Under NCAA rule 12.1.2, an athlete loses his or her eligibility, once they engage in any of the listed activities above and a few others.3
So how is it that Lavar Ball and #bigballerbrand can keep this thing running despite past NCAA crackdowns for far less actions and activities of student athletes? That’s a great question. For their part, both the NCAA and UCLA issued a joint statement last week in which both entities appeared to be satisfied that Lonzo Ball’s eligibility remained intact since his image and likeness was removed from the BBB website.4 This was all part of a negotiated deal, however, as Lavar Ball ultimately balked at Lonzo’s name being removed from the site. As things stand now, the family run website business and brand building structure are still intact, Lonzo is balling, and Lavar is stirring the pot. Everyone seems to be content.
But has the NCAA just opened that hypocritical door of amateurism just a crack? Has Lavar Ball handed out a blueprint for enterprising marquee players to earn some of the money that so many others, including UCLA and the NCAA, rake in hand over fist by circumventing the archaic rules currently in play? Only time will tell, but the fact that he has positioned himself and his family to build their brand before the kids turn pro is a stroke of genius. And forcing the NCAA’s hand in the process was a stroke of genius.
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Garrick Farria, esq.
I'm an attorney in Fort Worth Texas, married father, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Hobbyist, and I love dogs! I'm also a certified FIBA agent and currently represent over 20 professional basketball players through Aspire Sports Management.