President Donald Trump began the day before Thanksgiving by taking aim at someone he apparently believes has not sufficiently thanked him.
His target once again was LaVar Ball, the outspoken basketball dad and sneaker entrepreneur whose son LiAngelo was one of three UCLA basketball players detained for eight days in China on shoplifting charges earlier this month. The elder Ball went out of his way to draw Trump’s ire earlier this week by downplaying the impact of the President intervening on the players’ behalf in helping them avoid jail time and get home safely.
There are some harsh jabs in those tweets, but you can bet LaVar will have a smile on his face when he wakes up and sees them Wednesday morning. Trump’s retaliation ensures him another day in the media limelight, another day to promote the Big Baller Brand.
LaVar’s marketing strategy is simple but effective. He increases his own stature and cultural relevance by saying something outrageous about someone more famous than him in hopes that they’ll take the bait and engage.
He did it by insisting that the Golden State Warriors would be better off with his eldest son, Lonzo, at point guard than Stephen Curry. He did it by saying he’d have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in his heyday. And he did it by saying his three sons were better set up for basketball success than LeBron James’ kids because the four-time NBA MVP’s pedigree will be tougher to live up to.
Now he’s trolling Trump too, and the President doesn’t appear to have any interest in taking the high road. Perhaps Trump views it as a chance to distract from other issues and play to his base as he has with the NFL protests. Or maybe he’s just that thin-skinned, that incapable of letting any perceived slight go.
Trump’s series of tweets Wednesday morning came less than 36 hours after LaVar theatrically refused to thank him during a sometimes comical, sometimes contentious 23-minute CNN interview on Monday night. LaVar repeatedly questioned whether Trump helped at all during his two-day diplomatic trip to China, noting the President left the country with the three UCLA players still detained.
“If he helped, I would say thank you,” LaVar told CNN.
“I would have said thank you if he would have put them on his plane and taken them home. Then I would have said thank you, Mr. Trump, for taking my boys out of China and bringing them back to the U.S. There’s a lot of room on that plane. I would have said thank you kindly for that.”
The one salient point LaVar made throughout the interview was that Trump is exaggerating his role in helping free the UCLA three. LiAngelo Ball and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill had already been released from police custody and were confined to a luxury hotel in Hangzhou by the time Trump urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the matter.
While Trump’s intervention undoubtedly sped up the legal process and enabled the three players to return home sooner, LaVar is likely correct that his son, Hill and Riley were already on their way to avoiding time in a Chinese prison before that. Chinese legal experts told Yahoo Sports last week that the fact the players were allowed to stay in the hotel was a sign the case was being handled administratively and they were unlikely to go to trial or face imprisonment.
Of course, the gracious thing for LaVar to do would simply be to thank Trump for his efforts and end this silly feud, but that would be counter to LaVar’s rationale for raising this issue in the first place.
This is a publicity grab, pure and simple. The longer LaVar drags this fight out, the more attention he and his brand will receive.