If Lonzo Ball wants to be his own man, he needs to tell LaVar to zip it

Lonzo Ball’s refusal to rein in his father hasn’t made life easy for coach Luke Walton or the Lakers. (Getty)
Lonzo Ball’s refusal to rein in his father hasn’t made life easy for coach Luke Walton or the Lakers. (Getty)

If Lonzo Ball wants his father, LaVar Ball, to pipe down a little (or a lot) about the Los Angeles Lakers, then it’s pretty clear there is only one person left who might – might – get LaVar to listen.

Lonzo himself.

No one else has had any success with LaVar. UCLA tried and failed. The Los Angeles Lakers have tried and failed. High school and AAU coaches got nowhere. President Trump was brushed aside. No less than Magic Johnson, Lonzo’s boss, sat down with LaVar to encourage LaVar to stop commenting about the Lakers and criticizing how coach Luke Walton is handling things.

It didn’t work.

“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” LaVar said this week all the way from Lithuania, where he placed his two younger sons in a pro basketball league. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him. … Nobody wants to play for him.”

Opposing coaches have weighed in with everything from friendly, if unsolicited, advice to full-throttle rip jobs of LaVar. He doesn’t care. Same with media lectures and fan taunts. It’s gotten to the point where the National Basketball Coaches Association got angry with ESPN for even printing LaVar’s comments, the old shoot-the-messenger concept.

Understandably, the three Ball sons have been seen as innocent pawns in this situation, dealing with a stage dad who, despite his flaws, they justifiably love and appreciate. LaVar is hardly the first of his kind. He won’t be the last. But while LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16, may not be in a position to stand up to their father when he was feuding with UCLA and Chino Hills (California) High School, respectively, Lonzo is in a different spot.

Or should be.

It’s always a show with LaVar Ball. (AP)
It’s always a show with LaVar Ball. (AP)

Lonzo is 20 now. He is a grown man. He isn’t a high school kid or even a college freshman so clueless to the ways of the world that he’d shoplift in China. If you’re going to turn pro and become an NBA player, enjoying the fame and fortune that comes with it, then you are more than just an adult by age. You’re an adult in every way.

Or should be.

If the father (or spouse or friend or whatever) of a grown man (or grown woman) is interfering in his (or her) work, then he (or she) tells him to stop and allow him (or her) to handle it. It’s called being an adult.

Lonzo comes across as a laid-back, non-confrontational guy. When the Lakers nearly got into a fight earlier this season, he kept walking rather than bouncing around in support of his teammates. And, yes, it isn’t easy for someone, at any age, to tell his or her parents to stay out of his or her life (even just a little), but that’s part of the deal. Being your father’s pawn isn’t a good look for anyone, let alone an NBA millionaire.

Lonzo seems like someone who just wants to play basketball. That’s fine. His dad is causing some havoc in that regard, though. Walton tried to diffuse the situation with jokes. “His dad was talking [expletive] so I took [Lonzo] out early,” Walton said Sunday night. Funny line. But what if it becomes true? Or what if the Lakers trade Lonzo out of his hometown? His younger brothers are slurping bowls of borscht these days. Anything is possible.

Mychal Thompson played 13 seasons in the NBA, winning two titles on the Showtime Lakers. These days, he is known as Klay Thompson’s dad and a radio broadcast voice with the Lakers. If he wanted to voice complaints or concerns about basketball, he would do so with far more authority than LaVar, who played just one season of major college basketball. Instead, he stays quiet.

“Man, if I tried one-hundredth of what LaVar does, Klay would disown me as a parent,” Mychal said last month on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. “My wife always asks him, ‘What if your dad was like LaVar?’’ [Klay says], ‘Oh, [I’d] have nothing to do with him.’ So, no. I wouldn’t even try that.”

Lonzo doesn’t need to threaten to disown his father, but it’s clear that LaVar loves his sons, perhaps enough to actually listen to them.

When LaVar says “nobody” wants to play for Luke Walton, that includes the entire team, which thus includes Lonzo. Maybe that’s true, and Lonzo doesn’t want to play for Walton. Maybe he appreciates his dad trying to push the coach out. When asked about it, Lonzo just weakly said, “I’ll play for anybody,” hardly the full-throated defense other Lakers had of Walton.

If Lonzo is good with becoming known, just a few months into his career, as a coach killer who needs a mouthpiece to do the dirty work, then so be it.

If he wants to show everyone he’s his own man, if he just wants to try to win games and get better, if he wants to stay with the Lakers, then it’s time to convey to his father what Klay Thompson has with his and countless others in all professions have with theirs.

Maybe, for once, LaVar Ball will listen.


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