There’s only one reason LaVar Ball would feel comfortable releasing a signature shoe for his youngest son before his junior year of high school.
LaVar clearly cares more about promoting the Big Baller Brand than he does about 16-year-old LaMelo avoiding potential NCAA eligibility issues.
In a series of tweets that clash with the NCAA’s principles governing amateurism, the Big Baller Brand announced Thursday that the Melo Ball 1 is now available for pre-order at $395 pair. One of the tweets featured a picture of the youngest Ball brother wearing a Big Baller Brand shirt and displaying his signature shoes. LaMelo also starred in an ostentatious 56-second rap video intended to advertise the shoes.
There’s nothing in the rules governing California high school sports that would prevent LaMelo from playing for Chino Hills High School with his own shoe on the market. California Interscholastic Federation bylaws allow LaMelo to reap the financial benefits of his shoe as long as he doesn’t wear a Chino Hills jersey or logo in any advertisement or promotional appearance.
The rules get stricter in college, where NCAA bylaws prohibit athletes from using their “name or picture to advertise, recommend, or promote directly the sale of a commercial product or service of any kind.” At minimum, that means Big Baller Brand would have to stop selling LaMelo’s shoes if the UCLA-bound guard sticks to his plan of enrolling in college in two years.
“Generally speaking, a college athlete or prospect paid for use of their athletics reputation or ability risks their future eligibility in that sport,” an NCAA source told Yahoo Sports. “This includes profiting from the sale of items bearing the young person’s name. NCAA rules, however, do allow prospects to promote commercial products prior to enrollment provided it is not for pay.”
Assuming Big Baller Brand isn’t actually paying LaMelo directly for the use of his name or likeness, the NCAA will have to decide whether proceeds going to a company owned by his father qualifies as “for pay.” Multiple compliance sources told Yahoo Sports they believe the shoes could impact LaMelo’s ability to play in college.
Said one former compliance coordinator at a Division I school, “It is a huge red flag from a compliance standpoint. I don’t see how it would not affect him as he is profiting off athletic utility.”
Added another veteran compliance official who asked to remain anonymous, “I think [LaVar] just cost his son a chance to play college basketball. The receipt of money based on name/image/athletic skill and his father acting as a marketing agent would impact his amateur status and collegiate eligibility.”
While LaVar did not return a request for comment from Yahoo Sports, his response to ESPN.com hinted that he doesn’t think it matters whether LaMelo ever plays college basketball.
“We’ll worry about it when we get there,” LaVar told ESPN. “Who cares? If he can’t play, then he can’t play. It doesn’t mean he’ll stop working out and getting better.”
That comment suggests LaVar is prepared for battle with the NCAA and relishes the publicity that could come with it. Either LaMelo becomes the crusader who finally toppled the NCAA’s draconian amateurism rules or he loses the fight, gains a torrent of publicity for the Big Baller Brand and spends a year in the D-League or overseas before entering the NBA draft.
The youngest brother of Los Angeles Laker rookie Lonzo Ball and UCLA freshman forward LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo is Rivals.com’s No. 17 prospect in the 2019 class. The UCLA commit has prototypical size, vision and skill for a high-major point guard, but he needs to limit his turnovers and improve his shot selection and defense.
UCLA cannot comment specifically about LaMelo because he won’t sign a letter of intent for at least another 14 months, but the school did issue a statement on Thursday noting that any prospective athlete’s amateur status would have to be certified before he can play. It was merely the latest example of UCLA having to scramble to respond to a headache created by LaVar.
UCLA’s 2016-17 season began with LaVar guaranteeing a national title and ended with him insisting starting “three white guys” made it impossible for the Lonzo-led Bruins to contend for a championship. LaVar also repeatedly used Lonzo’s likeness to promote Big Baller Brand items, a choice that suggested the threat of the NCAA ruling his son ineligible didn’t particularly faze him.
It appeared instead that he valued the publicity and commotion surrounding potential NCAA violations over his eldest son completing his lone season at UCLA without distraction.
Those same principles appear to be governing LaVar’s plan for LaMelo too. The difference is Lonzo was already a surefire NBA lottery pick by the time LaVar launched the Big Baller Brand, whereas LaMelo still has some holes in his game to fix to ensure an NBA career.
Earlier this year, LaVar brazenly promised that all three of his sons will go to the NBA after just one season at UCLA.
Now there’s seemingly a chance LaMelo won’t play in college at all.