Steve Kerr handled the situation well, Rick Carlisle did not. But both NBA coaches expressed the same exasperation with the antics of LaVar Ball — the notorious basketball dad half a world away but still causing consternation with his taste for tabloid bombast.
The respective leaders of the Warriors and Mavericks responded to Ball’s broadside of Lakers coach Luke Walton, a takedown broadcast by ESPN in which Ball claimed Lakers players are “…not playing for Luke no more.”
“Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more,” Ball said. “They don’t want to play for him… nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. He’s too young… He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player. He’s not connecting with one player.” Ball also complained about the usage of his eldest son, Lonzo, continuing the behavior he has shown regarding all three of his sons at every level of competition. LiAngelo and LaMelo are with their father in Lithuania at the moment, setting off on their own pro careers while also being the subject of a reality TV show chronicling their exploits.
These comments did not sit well with Carlisle, the president of the NBA’s Coaches Association, who chose to blame the messenger. He attacked ESPN for allowing Ball’s complaints to air, arguing that a corporate broadcast partner has a responsibility to shield coaches from that kind of criticism, and led a behind-the-scenes push that reportedly had coaches ready to ask that reporters’ credentials be pulled for interviewing certain people not approved by the league.
That effort lost steam, as it had to, being a draconian and improper response. It is not the responsibility of the media — even an outlet affiliated with a league — to protect coaches from criticism, even if all involved agree that the particular troublemaker in question is indeed what Carlisle describes as a “blowhard loudmouth.”
Kerr was more diplomatic, characteristically, lamenting the Ball phenomenon as part of a larger trend in media coverage. He helped to close ranks around his friend Walton by globalizing the issue instead of calling for a crackdown.
“Somewhere, I guess in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing at all of us,” Kerr said. “People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than he’s become like the Kardashian of the NBA or something, and that sells, and that’s what’s true in politics and entertainment and now in sports.”
Kerr’s measured analysis is notable considering his close relationship with Walton, his former top assistant in Golden State. And it resonates more than Carlisle’s heavy-handedness for just that reason.
“I feel horrible for Luke,” Kerr said. “That’s my guy. He’s one of my best friends. For whatever reason, we’re giving this guy (Ball) a voice in the NBA, and Luke’s got to deal with it, and it’s a shame. He’s handling it great. He’s doing all he can. It’s just part of his gig, unfortunately.”
Where Carlisle chose to attack reporters for doing the jobs asked of them by their bosses — interviewing someone newsworthy for reasons not entirely understood and beyond everyone’s control, Kerr instead made sure to understand the larger forces at work that allow someone who does business like Ball to become “important” in the first place. Both coaches were really making the same point, but only one essentially turned a famous phrase into more of a targeted personal insult than a journalistic admonition:
When dealing with LaVar Ball, consider the source.