LOS ANGELES — When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the transaction had a storybook feel.
Here was a local legend who had played at Chino Hills High School and UCLA, drafted to help restore a historic franchise to proper heights.
“It was nice to play at home,” Ball said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “My whole family was here — family and friends — coming to games.”
Two years later, the story took a turn. Ball landed in New Orleans as part of the Lakers’ acquisition of Anthony Davis.
“It was different for me,” Ball said. “I know it’s part of the business, but it was the first time I felt like somebody didn’t really want me in a way, I guess. But it was Anthony Davis, so there was no shame in that. He’s one of the best players to ever play.
“So for myself, BI (Brandon Ingram), and Josh Hart as well, we were happy to get to a new situation and have a start-over moment. I think it helped my career personally. In the long run, it made me a better person and a better player.”
That growing process, both as a person and player, led Ball to the Chicago Bulls, who signed him to a four-year, $80 million deal in a sign-and-trade transaction with the Pelicans in August 2021. Monday night, Ball will face the Lakers, one night after his father, LaVar, sat courtside to watch the Bulls’ takedown of the Clippers.
The Bulls are off to a 9-4 start and Ball’s defense, 3-point shooting, and ability to push pace are big reasons why. Coaches and teammates have consistently praised his selfless play.
“I think everything happens for a reason. I’m where I’m supposed to be now,” Ball said. “It feels great. Early on the process, AK (Artūras Karnišovas) and Marc (Eversley) did a great job. Obviously, the coaches wanted me here. My teammates, we all have great relationships.
“For me, I wanted to come to a place where I felt like I fit, a place that wanted me for me and didn’t want me to change. Chicago is the best place for me.”
Ball has no hard feelings about either his Lakers or Pelicans tenure. Or at least he doesn’t share them publicly. He noted how he grew from his first year with the Lakers, which featured a young team, to his second, when veterans like LeBron James and Rajon Rondo arrived.
But for a player who agrees with the assessment that he has a “chill personality” where little fazes him, it’s clear he’s playing with joy this season.
“I just think I’ve been through a lot of stuff. And at the end of the day, basketball is a game and a game that I love. I’m very grateful for the situation I’m in,” Ball said. “I think a lot of the things you can worry about doesn’t really hold a lot of weight in real life. I’m blessed to be able to play the game I love, get paid well and take care of my family. That’s pretty much all that matters to me.
“I’ve been playing since I was 6 (years old). I fell in love with this game early on. I’m riding it out until I can’t play no more.”