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Lakers expect Ball to walk the walk, not just LaVar talk

Point guard Lonzo Ball at a press conference, having been selected by the Los Angeles Lakers as the overall No. 2 draft pick.
Point guard Lonzo Ball at a press conference, having been selected by the Los Angeles Lakers as the overall No. 2 draft pick.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • When Lonzo Ball strutted onstage at Barclays Center last Thursday after learning he had been picked second in the annual National Basketball Association (NBA) draft by his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, he wore a black suit with a garish pair of white submarine-shaped sneakers, trimmed in the Lakers colours, purple and gold.

That Ball was going to be selected by the Lakers was something of a foregone conclusion. Pundits predicted it, and so did his stage dad, LaVar, who in essence told other teams not to consider drafting his son. Still, nothing is guaranteed.

"I'm glad that they picked me," Lonzo told ESPN's Darren Rovell.

Of his showboating, he said: "I didn't have any other shoes under the table."

Those statement sneakers were made by Big Baller Brand, the fledgling company that his father founded, and that has become something of a basketball punchline in recent months.

It has a sneaker, the ZO2, that sells for US$495 (S$686) a pair, around three times more than an equivalent from a major brand.

CAKEWALK

It's coming home with the lights off, and there's no food on the table. That's pressure to me. Just playing basketball, that's not pressure.

LONZO BALL, the new face of the Lakers, feels ready to live up to his billing.

LaVar suggested that his company, which also makes shrug-worthy T-shirts and sweatshirts, was worth billions, strictly because of the potential of his children: Lonzo is the eldest of three basketball prodigies. But, the sneakers, advertised on Ball's feet as he shook the hand of the NBA commissioner Adam Silver, looked swollen.

They did not complement his suit. Instead they were both siren and albatross, marking Ball as simultaneously individual and an agent of someone else's desires.

And there it is - the central concern about Ball: Can one separate the father's bluster from the son's play? Can the preternaturally talented 1.98m-tall point guard prospect grab the reins of a storied franchise that has struggled for relevancy in the post-Kobe Bryant era?

If he can, one thing is certain: He will do it by playing his way out from his father's shadow.

Over the past two months the 19-year-old's world has been dominated by LaVar.

A larger-than-life presence both physically and emotionally, LaVar has made one outlandish statement after another as his son prepared to become a professional.

He claimed Ball was better than Golden State Warriors' two-time NBA champion Stephen Curry, then said his son was better than NBA superstar LeBron James and two-time NBA scoring champion Russell Westbrook. He also said the Big Baller Brand will one day compete with Nike.

LaVar's personality, and the attention that has come with it, has led many to wonder if that will impact his son once he figures in the NBA.

Ball deflected the question last Wednesday. His talent is not in question. In his one season with the University of California, Los Angeles Bruins in college basketball, he averaged 14.6 points and 7.6 assists, shooting 55.1 per cent from the field and 41.2 per cent from beyond the three-point arc.

"The worst case is he's a better version of Ricky Rubio (the 26-year-old Spanish point guard who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves)," said a talent evaluator.

The only thing Ball is sure about is that he will not, despite all the attention on him for so many reasons, feel any pressure.

After all, it is only basketball - a lesson Ball said his father taught him at an early age.

Ball said: "It's coming home with the lights off, and there's no food on the table. That's pressure to me. Just playing basketball, that's not pressure."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Lakers expect Ball to walk the walk, not just LaVar talk'. Print Edition | Subscribe