Remember “Billy Madison”? Adam Sandler’s 1990s cult classic? There’s a scene in which Chris Farley — RIP, big fella — describes, nay, lies about an intimate relationship with Bridgette Wilson. Sandler calls him on it. Farley lies again. No, Sandler says. And Farley lies again.
This is how I’m starting to feel about LaVar Ball.
I could beat Michael Jordan!
No, LaVar, no you can’t.
My kids are all going to be one-and-done!
No, LaVar, Lonzo was, and you are sending your youngest two to basketball Siberia, also known as BC Vytautas in Prienai, Lithuania. The coach, Virginijus Šeškus, reportedly doesn’t speak English. Billy Baron, a small-college U.S. star who played for Šeškus, said he was told he wouldn’t play much for Šeškus because Šeškus couldn’t speak to him.
And now, this: LaVar Ball is starting his own league. Ball, according to ESPN, is putting together the Junior Basketball Association, a league that will feature elite high school prospects who don’t want to go to college. Funding will stream from his own Big Baller Brand — the logo is a silhouette of Lonzo — with player pay ranging from $3,000 a month for lower-end prospects to $10,000 for the budding stars. Some 80 players will fill out the rosters of 10 teams, and Ball is looking to play games in NBA arenas across the U.S.
Only he’s not. LaVar Ball isn’t starting a league because even LaVar Ball knows how bad an idea this is. For starters, there is a league for players who don’t want to go to college. It’s called the G League. The NBA’s official minor league isn’t bound to the NBA’s one-and-done rule. Ex-high school stars can enter the draft pool on a Tuesday and be a Maine Red Claw on Wednesday night. The money isn’t great — salaries for non-NBA players range from $19,500 to $26,000 — but the league provides players with benefits, housing and NBA-level coaching.
Ball claims his league is an opportunity to be seen by pro scouts. Again, what? The G League is literally coached by rising NBA assistants, and its games are watched by NBA coaches regularly. Pro scouts will go where the talent is, but there is no incentive for any player to turn down a G League offer for LaVar’s glorified pickup games.
Money? Let’s assume a top prospect doesn’t want to play college ball. Take Marvin Bagley, for example. Say he can make $26,000 in the G League and $60,000 in LaVar’s league. Think that matters? The second Bagley turns pro, the sneaker companies will be lined up to make that salary seem like subway fare. Nike gave Ben Simmons a five-year, $12 million deal. Adidas gave Andrew Wiggins $11 million over five. Think either company would blink at advancing Bagley millions just to get him signed up early? Think again.
There are logistical issues. G League teams are independently operated, with functioning staffs and NBA oversight. The JBA will be run … how, exactly? Besides, it’s not like the G League is a moneymaker. It doesn’t have a traditional TV deal — the NBA just announced an agreement with Twitch, a streaming service that will broadcast six games per week — and struggles to draw healthy crowds. The G League exists for the NBA to run experiments in it. If there’s a limited appetite to see fringe college stars and demoted draft picks, what will the appetite be for 80 high schoolers few have heard of?
There isn’t one, and here’s the thing: LaVar Ball probably knows this. If nothing else, LaVar is a master salesman. He’s parlayed Lonzo’s success into a brand, a reality show and nationwide recognition. He opened a pop-up store in New York this month and the line for it stretched for blocks. He knows that when he runs his mouth, ratings-craving shows will talk about it, and when he floats the idea of a new league, reporters will write about it (damnit).
But it’s a pipe dream. And here’s another reason: Kids want to go to college. The elite players know they will be gone in a year, but they grew up watching Duke and Kentucky battle in the Final Four, and they want their shot at it. Colleges take advantage of kids like this, and for years kids have been willing to let them. The G League didn’t change that. LaVar’s league won’t either.
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