The inside story of how Lonzo Ball became a Laker

Growing up in Chino Hills, California, Lonzo Ball understood the work ethic of Kobe Bryant and watched tape of another member of Los Angeles Lakers lore, Magic Johnson. The No. 2 overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft seemed destined to be a Laker, and now the former UCLA star has the opportunity to follow the greatness of Bryant and Johnson.

But a week before the draft, the Lakers were continuing to evaluate prospects for their top pick and requested a second individual workout with Ball at the team’s practice facility. Ball accepted yet changed course on today’s standard player workout, presenting a unique meeting on Ball’s home turf. During the predraft process, the Lakers and Ball’s agent, Harrison Gaines, took a collaborative approach. For the second workout, however, Gaines informed the Lakers that the team would need to see a day in the life of Lonzo Ball – or nothing at all.

In a four-hour-plus experience on June 16 in Chino Hills, Ball, his father LaVar, trainer Darren Moore and Gaines worked with Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka at Lonzo’s training session, which included running hills, weightlifting, on-court drills and breakfast with the entire Ball family. For a franchise stressing a new identity built upon culture and work ethic, Lonzo cemented the direction of the franchise, along with the draft selections of Utah’s Kyle Kuzma at No. 27, Villanova’s Josh Hart at No. 30 and Indiana’s Thomas Bryant in the second round.

Lonzo Ball poses with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being drafted by the Lakers. (Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball poses with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being drafted by the Lakers. (Getty Images)

“I wanted to show I don’t hide from anything,” Lonzo told The Vertical. “I just wanted to show the type of person I am. I wanted to show them what I do every day. I don’t hide. The way it turned out, I was very happy with it.”

Lonzo had peeled back the curtains for the Lakers with a meeting process unlike any other in this draft.

At 8 a.m., Lonzo started the first part of a full daily routine led by Moore and LaVar. Lonzo ran a mile and then sprinted up two different steep hills near his home eight times each. For the Lakers, this resonated with the way Bryant had prepared in his quest to become a legend. A weight-room session in the Ball family’s garage followed at 9:15 a.m., which included a discussion of basketball philosophy between Lonzo and the Lakers’ brass. They talked about how Lonzo’s competitive fire fits on the young Lakers and how he can flourish alongside projected cornerstone player Brandon Ingram. It was a back-and-forth sharing of team-building concepts during the oppressive heat of a 100-degree day.

“If your body’s not used to working in that setting, your body will shut down,” Moore told The Vertical. “These are extraneous workouts that I know kids aren’t doing. Normal guys’ bodies would shut down even halfway throughout the workout. For someone to do what Lonzo did, a normal person would have amazement.”

Next was Lonzo’s on-court workout with Moore at 10:30 a.m. at Chino Hills High School. They returned home at 11:30 a.m., with LaVar preparing a meal for the meeting with Johnson and Pelinka. The group discussed the Lakers’ direction and plans for the future, the team’s family brand under the Busses and the values that drive LaVar’s Big Baller Brand.

For Lonzo, the workout portion was as much about normalcy as it was validation. Ball admittedly was sick during his first workout with the Lakers on June 7, but believed his body and adrenaline would negate any weakness. For his second workout, Ball was healthy and the spirit of competition filled him. He completed 3-point, midrange and floater drills, and followed specific instructions from the Lakers’ brass. Shoot a midrange jumper off a pick-and-roll. Ball did.

“Lonzo had his whole game from the get-go when he stepped foot on the court – one-legged dunks, two-legged dunks, threes,” Moore said. “He was energetic from the jump, even when his body may have been tired. When [Pelinka and Johnson] wanted him to shoot a certain shot, he shined. I could tell he had another energy level to him.

“I was more upset for him during that first workout because I know how much work he puts in, but we were proud that he performed the way he did with how sick he was. You know how sick he is because he doesn’t sweat, and when he sweats 20 minutes into a workout … . I’ve been watching Lonzo run hills every day, lift weights and basketball train every day. He puts in his work every day. I knew he was hurting.”

With Lonzo pursuing the legacies of Bryant and Magic, this was his clinching moment. He made clear to the Lakers’ hierarchy: Come see me. Come see everything around me in my element. The Lakers needed to be sold on Lonzo and his family’s values. Lonzo Ball had nothing to hide from the Lakers, and in the days to come, they had nothing to hide from the Balls either.

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