The youngest pair of the Ball kids are in Lithuania, taking a stab at pro basketball far from home. Why do I think this has no chance of working out well?
Of course, ESPN has a crew following the Ball family, much to the chagrin of a lot of people. In fact, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr spoke for many Monday about the coverage of Old Man Ball:
“I was thinking about ESPN, and they laid off, I don’t know, 100 people,” Kerr said. “How many people did they lay off over the last year? Well over 100, many of whom were really talented journalists covering the NBA. So, this is not an ESPN judgment, it’s a societal thing more than anything. Where we’re going is we’re going away from covering the game, and we’re going toward just sensationalized news. It’s not even news, really. It’s just complete nonsense. But if you package that irrational nonsense with glitter and some ribbon, people are going to watch.
“So, I talked to people in the media this year. I said, ‘Why do you guys have to cover that guy?’ And they say, ‘Well, we don’t want to, but our bosses tell us we have to because of the ratings, because of the readership.’ Somewhere, I guess in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than that he’s become the Kardashian of the NBA or something.”
I tend to agree with Kerr but I also understand that if news outlets, blogs or websites don't give people what they want, they will soon be out of business. And the public is fascinated by the loud-mouthed father and his impact on his talented sons.
Caught in the crossfire of all of it is Los Angeles Laker Coach Luke Walton, pretty much an innocent bystander. The Lakers had to know what would happen when they drafted this kid -- his father's meddling behavior was no secret. I think Walton has done a very good job with his young Laker team this season but, of course, the elder Ball has alleged that Walton has lost control of the team and players don't want to play for him.
Yes, a lot of NBA parents would like to blame coaches for the problems their kids are having -- and I'm guessing if they start popping off about it, there will be a microphone in their face, too. But this guy is a rare one in that he doesn't seem to understand the impact his antics are having on his children. And that makes him news whether we like it or not.
The biggest problem in Los Angeles, though -- and the reason people are actually listening to the Old Man -- is that the Lakers themselves set the bar way too high for their performance this season. I was sitting in the Thomas & Mack Center last summer when the Lakers beat Portland for the summer-league championship and the celebration, in front of a pro-Laker crowd and NBA-TV, was way over the top. And the centerpiece of all that was an overly excited Magic Johnson proclaiming, "The Lakers are back!"
Ugh. No way. It's the freaking summer league. And Magic should have known better. But summer league helped create an unrealistic expectation that Ball was going to be an immediate superstar and that the Lakers were ready to contend for a playoff spot. And when expectations aren't met, people always look for scapegoats. The elder Ball found his -- the coach -- and it's just his way to take the heat off his son, who hasn't had the kind of season the Lakers obviously expected from him.
Fans, searching for who to blame, are ready to latch onto the coaching narrative because they never want to blame players.
And it became Luke Walton's job to try to meet those lofty expectations with a team and a point guard not ready for such a task. He deserves better and I don't blame the media or LaVar Ball. The Lakers set themselves up for this and they did their coach wrong by it.