My Response to Legend: LaVar Ball written by Kevin A. Lewis
I’m not like my labelmate Kev. I’ve never cared for “celebrity personas” that seem to feed off the spotlight, usurping the attention and mindshare of millions of people for trivial trifles like some bastardization of Goku’s spirit bomb. I’ve always believed that when people are discerning with their thoughts and comments, they typically come less frequently, and inherently become more valuable, because supply and demand economics isn’t just about products.
Some of my favorite celebrities to listen to in interviews or commentary are Frank Ocean, Matt Damon, and Denzel Washington. Folks who don’t say much, and even when they do, they’re normally illuminating some greater human condition that folks should be attentive to.
With that being said, I don’t hate LaVar Ball. He’s loud and obnoxious, clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. We get that he’s enterprising, we get that he loves his sons. He has a white wife, so even though he’s heralded by some as a model of black entrepreneurship with the Big Baller Brand, I doubt the collective black vote (especially on Twitter) will be to laud him as one of our heroes. Nothing about him or his family screams overtly black, he seems to understand the world in terms of his family and then everyone else. Still, I understand why people find him entertaining, and I understand why some people feel that the hero Gotham needs but doesn’t deserve, so to speak.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly worried about LaVar Ball’s presence, his interactions with the media, and its potential effect on his sons. Not their personhood or talent, but opportunity. We all know that endorsements - extensions of a personal brand into the consumerized realm - are how big ticket athletes make their money these days, and LaVar might be going down the path of making his sons unsellable. But it’s complicated.
I think about Simone Biles’ recent removal from Dancing With the Stars, despite perfect scores. The “elimination” came just a week after Biles stood up to DWTS judges after they critiqued her for not smiling enough during performances, telling them “smiling doesn’t win gold medals.” There’s no need to belabor this point. Young people - young black people especially - are treated disproportionately to their peers, while coming under harsher scrutiny and often times more unrealistic expectations. It’s all a part of the fetishization of black culture, the passive belief of black supernatural stereotypes, and the white supremacy and superiority embedded in American culture. You should smile because we think you should. Even though you’re completely competent, you’re not allowed here anymore, since you’ve made an affront to our authority.
LaVar’s loud mouth and antics could put his sons in positions similar to what Simone has faced. We cannot ignore the fact that the Ball family’s affluence and mixed heritage will gain them social graces and social capital other young black athletes don’t have, but all things considered, LaVar Ball, most of the time, is Simone Biles (in that moment on DWTS); a non-compliant, confident, competent black person. I hope that his personality doesn’t form any significant, unnecessary barriers (Kaepernick’s loss of favor in the NFL was necessary barrier in relation to the stand he took for what he believed in, for context) for the success his sons are capable of achieving through their talent and personas, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Still, it gets more complicated.
The next complication comes as a result of the fact that media outlets, having caught on to Ball’s loose cannon, great-for-ratings antics, have begun to systematically target him to put him in precarious positions. He’s on all the news. I haven’t seen an article about Lonzo, future first-round, top-5 NBA draft pick, in I don’t know how long. It’s always about LaVar. Because he’s controversial. Because he’s entertaining. But that thought took a turn last week after the awkward interactions on Colin Cowherd’s show on Fox Sports.
Kristine Leahy and Ball had some exchanges about the amount of BBB shoes sold that quickly became heated when Ball turned his back and refused to address Leahy or look her in her eye. Throughout the rest of the show, she insinuated that he threatened her, claimed he doesn’t respect women, and that his business isn’t supportive of women. Ball fumbled through all of the accusations clumsily, saying he respects women because he’s married, and that Leahy has something “coming to her” for treating him the way she did. I have problems with what Ball said, and obviously some of his comments were just plain stupid (as usual) but for the purposes of this post, I think it’s important to note how much of a setup this seems like.
Leahy and other journalists have spent weeks bashing Ball, his parenting style, his brashness and his business sense. You bring this man, clearly without the wit and education, social awareness and tact, of your more modern, polished show guests, and then you go leaps and bounds to try to embarrass him, to get him to put his foot in his mouth, to say or do something so dramatic that it not only improves your ratings greatly, but potentially has negative implications for him and his sons.
People have said Ball needs an agent or a PR person, and that’s fine, but the issue is double-sided, in that we, especially as black people, even have to conceptualize spending money to prepare to be cornered and attacked by media personalities on tv and radio. It was funny/annoying in the beginning when Ball was doing courtside or locker room interviews about his sons and their potential, but now that media outlets have threads to pull, and are inviting him to in-studio airtime where they can focus on grilling him, this “Legend” has a target on his back. As much of a jerk as he is, I’d hate to see the Legend of the Ball Empire crumble before it’s ever fully constructed. Is he black enough for us to defend collectively? Is he a misogynist? If so, should we feel bad that his sons’ futures are being jeopardized by this media vortex he’s been pulled into? I guess we’ll see.