LaVar Christopher Ball (born October 23, 1967) is an American businessman. He is the co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the sports apparel company Big Baller Brand and founder of the now defunct Junior Basketball Association (JBA).
Ball played basketball and football while at Canoga Park High School, going on to play basketball at the collegiate level for West Los Angeles College, Washington State and Cal State Los Angeles. He also played football at Long Beach City College for a season. He had a brief professional career as a tight end with the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football, where he had a total of 28 kickoff return yards, and no receptions. He was a practice squad member of the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers in 1995, but never played an official regular season game in the National Football League.
Following a series of bold statements in the spring of 2017, Ball began repeatedly making national sports headlines. His early remarks included saying that his son Lonzo is better than Stephen Curry and claiming that he himself could defeat Michael Jordan one-on-one in basketball. He was subject to both praise and criticism as he continued making similar comments, some of which involved his company, Big Baller Brand. Ball has made several appearances on national TV and has routinely drawn attention from major sports media outlets. He has also been in the spotlight for his criticism of his sons' teams, most notably the Lakers for their treatment of Lonzo, as well as for his exchange with U.S. President Donald Trump after LiAngelo was detained in China for shoplifting.
Early life and college basketball career
Ball was born on October 23, 1967 to Anderson and Maria Ball, and was brought up in South Los Angeles, California. He is considered the middle child of his family. He has four brothers, named LaFrance, LaValle, LaRenzo, and LaShon, as well as two sisters. Ball attended Canoga Park High School in Canoga Park, Los Angeles, where he was a prominent quarterback on the football team and played basketball as a forward. In one season, Ball grabbed a total of 316 rebounds to break the school record. He stood 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) and weighed 250 lbs (113 kg) by college. Aside from sports, Ball majored in criminal justice at college and had hopes of being a U.S. Marshal. His favorite basketball player when growing up at the time was Charles Barkley.
Ball first began playing college basketball at West Los Angeles College in the low-tier Western State Conference despite having little experience at the prep level. In the season opener in 1986, he recorded 33 points and 18 rebounds against Porterville College. Ball then transferred to NCAA Division I Washington State and became a starting forward. In 26 games for the Cougars, however; he averaged only 2.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game. After one season, Ball transferred again to Cal State Los Angeles, which competed in the NCAA Division II, playing alongside three of his four brothers.
Following college, Ball was invited to a football tryout and eventually made a return to the sport. After finishing his college basketball career, he would play a single year of college football at Long Beach City College as a tight end. On May 1, 1994, Ball signed with the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL) as a defensive end he was released Aug. 22,. He returned to the Jets on March 7, 1995 as a tight end and was immediately loaned to the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football (WLAF) the same year. In the 1995 season for the Monarchs, Ball recorded 28 yards in kick returns. During his NFL career, he was also a part of the practice squads of both the Jets and Carolina Panthers, remaining with the latter team until late November 1995, albeit with no yards played due to injury. After Ball rose to fame in 2017, his former Monarchs teammate Kenny McEntyre said that he was "garbage", a comment Ball refutes as jealousy from McEntyre.
In the media
Athlete comparisons and claims
Although LaVar Ball initially received minimal public attention at the start of 2016, his sons gave him a media platform that he would begin to use increasingly, starting at the end of the year. In July 2015, Ball and his sons made national sports headlines when Gary Parrish of CBS Sports wrote a feature story about the Ball family. In a March 2016 interview with MaxPreps, he first began displaying his confident personality to the public. When asked who Lonzo plays like, he described his son as "Magic (Johnson) with a jumper." The family continued rising in popularity after SLAM magazine featured them in an article in August 2016. Subsequently, Ball himself rapidly rose in profile through a series of incredible comments about his children, such as on November 26, 2016, when in a TV interview he guaranteed that UCLA, spearheaded by Lonzo, would win the 2017 NCAA Division I Tournament. On December 14, Ball predicted that all three of his sons would be one-and-done prospects for the NBA draft by playing only one year of college basketball.
Many of Ball's eccentric claims have involved well-known basketball players. In early March 2017, he said that he viewed Lonzo as a better player than Stephen Curry, the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2015 and 2016. UCLA all-time leading scorer Don MacLean called the comments "outrageous," and many bloggers ridiculed Ball for them. Ball has also stated that he believes his eldest son is "the best player in the world," specifically comparing him with NBA MVPs LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. Kyle Boone of CBS Sports responded: "There's no way in the world Lonzo would be taking down LeBron or Westbrook in any form of basketball right now."
On March 13, 2017, Ball said in an interview with Josh Peter of USA Today: "Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one," saying Jordan could only foul him if he did a jump hook, that Jordan could not stop him one-on-one, that Jordan was slower. Ball was widely mocked for making the statement due to having averaged only 2.2 points per game while playing basketball at Washington State. His comments comparing himself with Jordan resulted in a significant increase in media attention. Following his claim, he appeared on the ESPN show First Take, in which he argued with Stephen A. Smith about his comments on Jordan. As of mid-October 2017, a YouTube video of the segment has received more than 2.4 million views.
Feud with President Donald Trump
On November 7, 2017, days before UCLA opened the 2017–18 season in Shanghai, China, Ball's son LiAngelo Ball and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested for shoplifting from a high-end shopping center near their team hotel in Hangzhou. The players were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in the mall. Although LiAngelo faced a fine and three to ten years in prison if convicted, LaVar largely downplayed the situation. Upon an alleged request from U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration, who were on a 12-day visit to Asia at the time, to Chinese president Xi Jinping, the UCLA players were released from custody. Trump then tweeted on November 15, "Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!" On November 17, LaVar Ball responded to Trump: "Who? What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out." Two days later, Trump labeled Ball "very ungrateful" and stated that he "should have left them in jail" in a series of tweets. On November 20, Ball featured in a 20-minute interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN, where he continued refusing to thank Trump. In the following days, Trump reasserted his role in releasing the UCLA players, while likening Ball to a "poor man's version of Don King" and calling him an "ungrateful fool." In the midst of the exchange, UCLA suspended LiAngelo and his teammates indefinitely, after their public apology, in which they thanked Trump. The decision led to LiAngelo's withdrawal from the UCLA basketball program on December 4, following LaVar's desires.
Lakers coaching criticism
"They're soft. They don't know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him, I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around."
In November 2017, Ball criticized Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton for what he thought was a wrong approach to coaching his eldest son, Lonzo. Ball mentioned that his son was focusing on getting the victory for his team in a November loss to the Phoenix Suns, before stating that the coaching is making him appear soft. Later that same month, after an overtime loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, Ball criticized Luke again in a post-game interview with ESPN. Ball claimed that the game should not have gone to overtime and that Lonzo's teammate, Julius Randle, should have passed the ball to his son for the potential game-winning play and that the head coach should not have called a timeout late in the fourth quarter. Starting in December, the Lakers would enforce a new rule, dubbed by employees at the Staples Center to be the "LaVar Ball Rule," to forbid media to talk with the team's family members at home games. On December 12, 2017, the Lakers' front office met with LaVar, asking him to tone down the criticisms on their head coach and help create a more positive environment for his son to prosper in. However, less than a month later while in Lithuania in January 2018, Ball noticed that even though he considers the Lakers to be a good team, he thought they were no longer playing for their coach, resulting in them having the worst record in the Western Conference at the time. This resulted in not only Luke Walton responding that the Lakers have "100% confidence" in his abilities, but also other NBA coaches like Rick Carlisle, Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Hornacek, Gregg Popovich, and Steve Kerr responding to Ball's comments as well. Other Lakers players like Kyle Kuzma also voiced their support for Luke Walton, with Lonzo saying that nothing's really going to stop his father from being who he is. On January 13, 2018, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss posted a Tweet showing her support for Walton alongside general manager Rob Pelinka, with Magic Johnson giving huge support for their head coach after their fourth straight win since Ball's latest comments after originally having a 9-game losing streak at the time.However, Ball would show some respect towards Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka on the situation, noting they're down to Earth with him while also noting the problems with the media industry as a whole. Ball would ultimately end his quibbles with Walton on June 13, 2018, where he mentions he's a good coach that just needed to figure things out during the previous season.
Big Baller Brand
Main article: Big Baller Brand
Ball is the founder and CEO of Big Baller Brand, a sports apparel company that he launched in 2016. During his rise in March 2017, he often promoted his brand on national TV, comparing it with major shoe companies like Nike and Adidas. Soon after, Lonzo's connection to the brand while he played college basketball at UCLA raised questions about whether it broke National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules. In mid-March, Time wrote an article describing the Ball's campaign against the NCAA rules. On April 20, George Raveling, the global basketball sports marketing director of Nike, called Ball "the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years." In response, Ball claimed that Big Baller Brand would eventually compete with Nike. In the following week, Nike, Under Armour and Adidas declined to sign an endorsement deal with Lonzo, according to Ball.
On May 4, 2017, Big Baller Brand announced its first shoes, the ZO2, which had a retail price of $495 and would be shipped later on, by as late as November 24. Shaquille O'Neal criticized Ball for overpricing the shoes, while Dick Vitale took aim at the price by citing Lonzo's performance against Kentucky at the NCAA Tournament. On Twitter, many NFL players like Golden Tate were critical of the shoe price, while Arian Foster and others showed their support. Ball answered by posting on Twitter, "If you can't afford the ZO2'S, you're NOT a BIG BALLER!" The Washington Post wrote that Ball's style of promoting of the shoe was both shameless and smart.
On September 1, 2017, Big Baller Brand announced a signature shoe for LaVar's youngest son LaMelo Ball, the Melo Ball 1 (MB1), on its website for pre-order for $395. The announcement once again stirred controversy regarding LaMelo's NCAA eligibility. NCAA spokesperson Emily James said, "Generally speaking, a college athlete or prospect paid for use of their athletics reputation or ability risks their future eligibility in that sport. This includes profitting from the sale of items bearing the young person's name. NCAA rules, however, do allow prospects to promote commercial products prior to enrollment, provided it is not for pay." LaVar expressed a general disregard for the NCAA rules, saying that the shoe would be released whether or not his son would become ineligible. After his son LiAngelo was suspended and later removed from UCLA, Ball would create his own brand of shoes for his son called the Gelo 3 on December 4, 2017. Similar to the MB1, the Gelo 3 is also set at around $395; the shoes would later be rebranded as the G3 Lux. LaVar also announced he and his wife would have signature shoes later on as well, with LaVar's shoes considered to be LaVariccis and Tina's shoes titled as "The Comeback" for her battle on regaining her health after a stroke back in 2017.
In March 2019, news came out that his eldest son Lonzo had cut ties with the Big Baller Brand's manager and co-founder Alan Foster, claiming from his financial manager, Humble Lukanga, that Foster had previously been arrested in 2002 for money laundering and fraud, as well as noting that he allegedly stole $1.5 million from within the company. Lonzo would also change his shoes that he'd wear from the usual ZO2 shoes from the Big Baller Brand to various Nike shoes instead, getting rid of his old shoes in a video promoting the boycott from within the company. LaVar later stated that he always believed in the best of people, but regrets putting trust in Foster to manage his eldest son's business affairs. He also fully supports Lonzo's decisions moving forward and looks to make things right within his family moving forward from the incident. The family also discussed about folding the business altogether after news of the situation came out to the public eye.
After his sons LaMelo and LiAngelo began playing with the Lithuanian team Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas in January 2018, Ball began multiple business endeavors involving the team and Big Baller Brand. Immediately following the Ball brothers' arrival in Lithuania, Vytautas withdrew from the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) and instead created a five-game exhibition series to showcase the Ball brothers, known as the Big Baller Brand Challenge Games. The event took place from January 9 through January 29 and games were live streamed through Facebook. The games were noted for their heavy advertisement of Big Baller Brand, with Business Insider commenting that the company was "the real star of the show." Shortly after the Ball brothers began playing professionally, LaVar Ball reportedly gave "a lot of money" to Vytautas to help it pay off its debts, which allowed the Big Baller Brand to officially become the team's main sponsor during the season, which was reported later on to be around 100,000 Euros. Ball also expressed his love for the nation of Lithuania, noting that everything about it is pure, starting from the people onward.
During his time spent with Vytautas, however, Ball would also disparage their head coach Virginijus Šeškus, as he had attacked Lakers coach Luke Walton during the 2017-18 NBA season. Šeškus would ultimately tune out Ball near the end of Vytautas's season, noting his own experience as a player, tuning out the negative responses behind the bench. On April 25, after a loss to Šiauliai without either one of his sons playing, Ball announced that he was pulling his younger sons off the team and would return to the US for the 2018 NBA draft. Vytautas's head coach Šeškus stated that the Ball family essentially "came for the show, not for basketball" (referring to their Facebook Live show Ball In The Family), and that it was a pity they did not understand the benefits of being on a professional team in Lithuania. LaVar would later comment that everything involved with his time out in Lithuania went exactly as planned for his two sons there. Ultimately, LaVar, his sons LiAngelo and LaMelo, and his brother LaValle expressed their thanks and gratitude to the fans of Vytautas before officially leaving. Furthermore, despite finishing their season in last place, Vytautas would remain in the LKL, although they would lose their Vytautas team sponsorship name after the end of that season, as well as no longer have the Big Baller Brand as an official sponsor for the team. Later on, in August 2018, the team issued a statement stating that LaVar and his sons were the problem throughout early 2018, claiming they didn't pay money to the Big Baller Brand's tournament winners, as well as withdrawing financial support for the team and taking back shooting machines that were presented as gifts.
Junior Basketball Association
Main article: Junior Basketball Association
On December 20, 2017, Ball announced that under complete funding of the Big Baller Brand, he would help set up the creation of the Junior Basketball Association (JBA). Under his planning, the league is set up as an alternative to college basketball and other alternative methods for high school players that may not want to play in the collegiate level, with 8 teams being involved in the league looking to play in major NBA venues out in places like Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn, and Atlanta. The goal there is to have 80 different players participate in the league, with lower-ranked players earning $3,000 per month and higher-ranked players earning up to $10,000 per month. Its rules are set to be similar to that of the NBA with 12-minute quarters and a three-point line similar to what's seen in professional leagues like the NBA. Players would also wear merchandise from the Big Baller Brand, including shoes and branded uniforms; the Junior Basketball Association's logo is set to have a silhouette of his oldest son, Lonzo. His inspiration for creating the league came from the aftermath of LiAngelo Ball's situation in UCLA, which resulted in his removal from the school earlier in December, as a response to comments made by NCAA President Mark Emmert. On May 1, 2018, Ball announced he would look into bringing his youngest son, LaMelo, into the league to help both upstart it and regain some lost reputation to his name during his time out in Lithuania. Three days later, his youngest son was announced as a member of the Los Angeles Ballers. LiAngelo would also play with his younger brother on July 9, 2018, after being undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft and not participating properly in the 2018 NBA Summer League. During the inaugural All-Star Game on August 3, 2018, Ball coached the Western Conference's All-Star team, which included LiAngelo and LaMelo. The West team defeated East, 202–189, and LiAngelo won the All-Star Game MVP Award for the West.
Further basketball events
Due to his increased exposure, Ball put up enough clout to produce certain basketball events in recent years. During the months of January and February 2018, back when his sons LiAngelo and LaMelo were playing in Lithuania, LaVar created the Big Baller Brand Challenge Games and Big Baller Brand International Tournament respectively. The Challenge Games were set up for where Vytautas would play exhibition games against other, mostly younger Lithuanian teams to showcase the nation's talent, while the International Tournament was a round robin tournament where Vytautas competed against other teams from various countries. Vytautas also set up a couple more exhibition games during the Ball brothers' time in Lithuania. After the conclusion of the 2018 JBA season, the league set up an international season to compete against other nations' young basketball teams to increase exposure from within. The event was projected to last longer into 2019, but a fight during one of the games cancelled other games in the season.
Many of Ball's decisions, primarily his comments in the media, have raised significant controversy around him and his sons. He has often been subject to criticism and praise from several media outlets for various reasons. Forbes has labeled him "one of the most polarizing figures in sports today."
He has been labeled "outrageous," "wild and crazy," and a "moron." Multiple notable basketball figures, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have said that Ball has had a negative effect on the sport to some extent.Philadelphia 76ers teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have attacked Ball on social media, while John Wall, Kenyon Martin, Jerry West, and Reggie Miller have also criticized his impact on his children. Steve Kerr also disregarded Ball, calling him 'the Kardashian of the NBA.' On the other hand, some NBA stars like DeMarcus Cousins, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant have shown support for Ball.
Allegations of discriminatory comments
On March 25, 2017, after Ball's November 2016 prediction that UCLA would win the NCAA championship, the team lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 round of the tournament, with Lonzo pulling a hamstring. Weeks after the loss, Ball said, "Realistically you can't win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow. I told Lonzo: 'One of these games you might need to go for 30 or 40 points.' It turned out that was the one game. Then once they get to the Elite 8, they're right there." He was presumably referring to his son's three white teammates Bryce Alford, T. J. Leaf, and Thomas Welsh. Lonzo downplayed the remarks, viewing them "as a joke." Brian Mazique of Forbes criticized Ball's comments as "plain racist," while David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel called them factually correct despite being politically incorrect. Actor Michael Rapaport recorded a profanity-laced rant against Ball as well. One day after making the statement, Ball clarified by saying "I love those guys" and instead pushed blame for the loss onto his son.
Since rising to fame, Ball's words and actions have sparked significant debate over his parenting, which has drawn both praise and criticism. His parenting style, which has produced a wide range of opinions, has been compared to those of Richard Williams, Earl Woods, and Marv Marinovich. Although often praised for raising three high-level basketball players and for his entertaining personality, Ball has also been condemned for several reasons. The Globe and Mail has criticized LaVar for trying to "get rich off his kids' accomplishments," labeling him an "addict for attention." Ball received further disapproval after reportedly declining Lonzo's $10 million shoe contract with Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour, instead continuing with his own company Big Baller Brand. Before the 2017 NBA draft, Ball was seen as potential "baggage" that would come with selecting Lonzo, due to his frequent bold claims in the media. An unnamed NBA general manager has condemned Ball for putting too much pressure on his son Lonzo. After Lonzo was picked, New York Daily News labeled LaVar "Jerk of the Week" for making "hollow guarantees" instead of celebrating for his son. On October 3, 2017, after Ball removed his son LaMelo from Chino Hills High School to personally train him, Nancy Armour of USA Today wrote an article calling Ball the "worst sports parent ever."
Ball met his wife, Tina, at Cal State Los Angeles, and they have three sons, Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo. Lonzo is currently a point guard for the Chicago Bulls, while LiAngelo is a member of Greensboro Swarm, and LaMelo is currently a point guard for the Charlotte Hornets. Through Lonzo, he has one granddaughter, Zoey. His wife, Tina, previously suffered a stroke in 2017, which left her dealing with aphasia in relation to it
After his youngest son LaMelo reached four years of age, Ball began training all of his sons to play basketball. They were taught many skills by their father and later played for his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, Big Ballers VXT. For a relatively short period of time in their childhoods, LaVar also had them play flag football, with Lonzo playing quarterback and his other sons catching passes.
In early July 2017, Deadline.com reported that Facebook would be releasing a reality television show featuring the Ball family. It would be a part of a larger project for the social media website to enter the video business. After several weeks, it was announced that the show, called Ball In The Family, would exclusively air on Facebook on August 31, with the following episodes airing every Sunday, starting on September 10. It was produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, which also helped create the reality TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! and Real World on MTV