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After a standout freshman season at UCLA, Lonzo Ball is widely expected to be one of the first players selected in June’s 2017 NBA draft. But while top prospects like the audacious playmaking and long-range-bombing point guard typically find themselves at the center of bidding wars for apparel endorsements, it appears that won’t be the case for Ball … thanks, in part, to the way his outspoken father, LaVar Ball, has positioned his son for entry into the sneaker game.
An endorsement deal with Nike, Under Armour or Adidas is not in the cards for Lonzo Ball.
Ball’s father LaVar confirmed that the three shoe and apparel companies informed him that they were not interested in doing a deal with his son. Sources with the three companies told ESPN.com that they indeed were moving on. […]
In his meetings with the three, LaVar insisted that the company license his upstart Big Baller Brand from him. He also showed the companies a shoe prototype that he hoped would be Lonzo’s first shoe.
“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”
LaVar Ball rose to national prominence during Lonzo’s freshman year due in part to his propensity for making eyebrow-raising statements about, well, all sorts of things.
Like calling Lonzo “Magic [Johnson] with a jumper,” or guaranteeing in November that UCLA would win the NCAA national championship. (They didn’t.) Or that playing in the NBA will be easier for Lonzo than playing in college, that Lonzo will win more than six NBA championships. Or that, not only will Lonzo be better than Stephen Curry and Jason Kidd, but that he’s better than Steph right now.
Or — of more specific relevance to this particular issue — that he “is prepared to package Lonzo and his two other sons — LiAngelo, a high school senior who has signed with UCLA, and LaMelo, a high school sophomore who has committed to UCLA — for a marketing deal with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour” … but only for a Dr. Evil payday.
“A billion dollars, it has to be there,” LaVar Ball told USA TODAY in a March interview. “That’s our number, a billion, straight out of the gate. And you don’t even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 mil over 10 years.”
Nike co-founder Phil Knight later said the brand had “an interest” in signing Lonzo Ball to an endorsement contract once he went pro, but that he wasn’t so sure about meeting LaVar’s asking price.
“If he can get it, get it,’’ Knight said. “It’s a little steep.”
LaVar’s, shall we say, exuberance has rubbed some people the wrong way. (Including among those who continue to believe in amateurism.) During a panel discussion at the Sports Business Journal’s 2017 World Congress of Sports earlier this month, George Raveling — Nike’s global basketball sports marketing director — called LaVar Ball “the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years.”
LaVar Ball responded to that charge with an Instagram video in which he says while grilling chicken, “That’s because everybody been in the darkness for a hundred years,” before saying he knows he’s “on the right step, ’cause if nothing ain’t happen like this in a hundred years, guess what? We in a new lane, baby.”
“That Big Baller Brand ’bout to be your competition,” he added.
First, though, the brand needs a partner.
With the main companies in the industry apparently deciding to take a pass, LaVar Ball told Rovell he’s not giving up on his idea of partnership — and, in fact, that he’s going to expand his reach:
Now that the traditional shoe companies are out, Ball said he will reach out to the Chinese brands, which include Peak, Li-Ning and Anta, and he’s not counting out taking on an entrepreneurial partner outside the business.
“That includes Facebook,” he said.
Well, now, that’d be something.
On one hand, it’s hard to knock LaVar Ball for making a play for his family to own its own brand so that the Balls, not some other company, capitalizes the most off the talents of Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo. On the other, this development suggests that getting the project off the ground might be more challenging than LaVar might have anticipated.
During a recent interview with Shams Charania of The Vertical, Lonzo Ball spoke about his father’s “unconventional” approach:
“Since we’ve been little, we’ve been close,” Ball told The Vertical. “We never get outside of our family and never stray from the plan. We stay together and move as a unit. From top to bottom – my dad to [brothers] LiAngelo to LaMelo – we’re on the same page. We have a playing style on the court, and a way we move off the court.” […]
“I’ll give the same answer to everyone: My dad is going to be my dad, he’s not going to change, but what I do on the court has nothing to do with what he says,” Ball told The Vertical. “He’s off the court and doesn’t impact how I approach the court. It doesn’t affect me in any type of way. I play the same way every game.”
Nike, Adidas and Under Armour walking away from the table, though, suggests that it might affect him off the court. It ought to be fascinating to see how this all develops.
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