Almost all of us have been there. It’s a little too late. You’ve had one (or six) too many drinks. Everyone around you knows it’s time to go home. But you’re just having too much fun so you won’t be moved off that barstool. You don’t see how stupid you look. You’ll likely regret it later. But in the moment you’re the life of the party, you’re buying shots, and you just don’t want to leave all this.
That’s LaVar Ball, except he’s slugging from the pint glass of notoriety, he’s taking shots of attention. It’s a good buzz. Hell, for LaVar this is the greatest buzz of his life. It feels incredible to have everyone talking about you and your family, to watch national sports discussions centering around your career. You’ve been an athletic afterthought your entire life. But suddenly people care about what you say. Charles Barkley is weighing in. Le’Veon Bell has thoughts. You’re being contacted constantly for quotes and interviews from media outlets. You finally matter.
Because when you were training your hardest, busting your tail, actually working your ass off to achieve something… no one really cared about you. LaVar Ball was a benchwarmer on the Washington State basketball team. He played for the London Monarchs of NFL Europe. Ball topped out as a practice squad player for the Jets and Panthers. People don’t care about that guy. That guy won’t ever be headline news.
There is no shame in that being your peak athletic career. It’s far more than almost all of us can attain in sports. But LaVar must’ve felt like he was worthy of attention that never came from talent evaluators, media and fans. Because you don’t morph into a self-absorbed, delusional quote machine overnight. This was always deep down in LaVar’s DNA. He felt like he deserved to be recognized as great. He wasn’t, though. He didn’t matter.
But his three sons have afforded him that megaphone to draw the eyeballs and the ears. All those sports writers and talk hosts who ignored him when he was just a 2.2 points per game guy in college, or was catching passes against the Scottish Claymores? Those coaches and scouts that overlooked him? Now they have to pay attention, because he holds the keys to the valuables. He’s steering the Good Ship Ball, a parade of play-makers to glitzy UCLA where all those banners hang, Lonzo proving daily just how great the family’s athletic success can be.
LaVar openly talks about deciding where his sons will play college, directing them to certain NBA franchises, negotiating a family-wide sneaker deal. This is not about simply lavishing Lonzo, LiAngelo or LaMelo with praise (not solely). This is about LaVar’s need for the world to recognize he’s in control. He’s important. Because he’s the one exaggerating his own athletic exploits (hypothetically “killing” Michael Jordan in one-on-one).
It might be different if he was just drawing attention to his sons. That absolutely works in our current brand-making economy. Fans devour Kobe, LeBron, and Steph because of a backstory and reputation. LaVar is boulder-moving that narrative with a bulldozer every day. And celebrity families with some contrived outrageousness is a winning recipe for reality television deals, selling book and movie rights, moving Ball Brand merchandise. It feels like “Ballin’ with the Balls” is already greenlighted on E! for this fall.
But it’s clear to see there’s also a different kind of attention LaVar wants. He wants it for himself too. LaVar is actually perfect for today’s modern media landscape. Saying outlandish things, overemphasizing his own talents despite overwhelming evidence contradicting it, criticizing others unnecessarily. This has become our political playbook, and our celebrity handguide. There is a Donald Trump, Kanye West and Kardashian Family cocktail here.
Celebrity is an intoxication for some, just like booze and drugs. And right now LaVar Ball is slurring his words while screaming, he’s bleary-eyed, and annoying all us sober people around him. But he doesn’t know it, because the bartender hasn’t cut him off, and he’s got enough people hanging on his every word. His family isn’t pulling him off the barstool. His friends are just saying, “That’s LaVar being LaVar.” And he’s on an all-time buzz right now.
But those benders never end well. It’s getting him and his kids attention now, but what negatives come with that? What pressures start getting placed upon the kids, what criticism starts hanging over their every move? When LaVar one day wakes up from this binge the hangover is going to be nasty, many of his friends won’t go out with him again, and the bar is going to treat him like every other bad drunk. Sorry, not tonight buddy. The only question is when last call comes. But hey, at least he finally matters.
D.A. hosts 6-10 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.