When Magic Johnson was a 20-year-old rookie, he was asked by the Los Angeles Lakers to start the clinching game of the N.B.A. finals at center in place of the sidelined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Generations later, with Johnson now running the franchise as team president, the Lakers’ new prized 20-year-old rookie, Lonzo Ball, faces an even tougher assignment.
It’s time for Ball to tell his spotlight-craving father — the person who helped propel his career in the first place — to stop talking. Or, at a minimum, Ball has to do more to publicly distance himself from the outlandish comments his father routinely makes.
LaVar Ball’s latest damaging claims, which appeared in an ESPN article published on Sunday, took aim at the coach of his son’s team. He said Luke Walton is too young, at 37, to coach the Lakers and “has no control” of the team.
The options Lonzo Ball has now certainly aren’t appealing for someone in his first year out of college, faced with the daunting prospect of trying to set boundaries for an unruly parent. But if he wants to make his transition to N.B.A. life a little easier, or at least a little quieter, choosing one of them is most likely the only way to turn the volume down on LaVar Ball’s frequent rants.
Lonzo Ball has enjoyed only modest success as the No. 2 overall pick out of U.C.L.A. — averaging 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game while shooting just 35.3 percent from the floor (and 30.5 percent from 3-point range) for the 12-27 Lakers — but his father has contended that the ups and downs largely stem from Walton not knowing how to coach him.
The latest attack prompted the head of the National Basketball Coaches Association, Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks, to attack the messenger — in this case ESPN — for continuing to provide a platform for LaVar Ball’s analysis. Carlisle called it “an ignorant distraction.”
Before the Mavericks’ home loss to the Knicks on Sunday, Carlisle called the article “a disgrace” that “erodes trust.”
Carlisle and the N.B.C.A. executive director, David Fogel, then issued a more formal — though still overheated — statement overnight, which issued a demand for more balanced coverage and in part read: “The story failed to provide quotes or perspectives from any players, or from Lakers management, either named or unnamed, verifying the claims made in the story. The article lacks any of the basic fundamental benchmarks and standards of reliable journalism.”
The reality, of course, is that Carlisle and the N.B.C.A. have no grounds to demand anything from the news media — even from one of the league’s network partners.
The most worrisome aspect of the whole saga — even more distressing than the Lakers’ futility in persuading LaVar to uphold his many promises to cease causing distractions — was Lonzo Ball’s muted response.
When asked by reporters in Los Angeles on Sunday about his father’s statements, Lonzo Ball said: “He’s a grown man. He’s going to say what he wants to say. I can’t do nothing about it.” When asked by those same reporters if he’s still behind Walton, he said, “I’ll play for anybody,” adding: “My job is to play basketball. I don’t decide who coaches.”
Maybe Lonzo Ball feels he can’t do any better than the Lakers have in trying to stop his father from spouting off to the media, but there’s nothing stopping him from making it clear he doesn’t agree with him or at least pushing harder to defuse the situation. The surrender in his voice, along with the tepid support he voiced for Walton, inevitably leaves the impression that he feels the same way as LaVar Ball — or, worse, that he fed him those opinions.
The Lakers knew what they were getting into when they selected Ball with the No. 2 overall pick in last June’s draft, but this is not a great look for a player who has been in the league for 39 games and isn’t exactly having a Magic-esque rookie season. Ball’s player efficiency rating is 11.67, well below the league’s average of 15.0.
From the moment Lonzo Ball arrived in the N.B.A., there has been no shortage of attention paid to his plight, given the target he has become so early in his career because of his father’s chatter and the relentless social media scrutiny he endures. (And don’t forget all the discussion about his funky shot mechanics.)
But huge things have always been asked, and expected, from 20-year-old franchise players. Especially in Hollywood.
Lonzo Ball doesn’t have to be as successful as Magic Johnson was in Game 6 of the 1980 N.B.A. finals. Who can forget Magic’s 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists standing in for Abdul-Jabbar?
But if Ball ever wants this circus his dad has created to leave town, he will have to persuade him to step back. Or convey with more conviction that we don’t need to pay attention.
Published at Tue, 09 Jan 2018 00:42:32 +0000