There are many intriguing stories this NBA off-season. One of the most interesting figures in the league right now is neither a player nor a coach. In fact, he’s technically not in the league at all. LaVar Ball – father of number two overall draft pick Lonzo Ball – is sure to make plenty of headlines this season and for years to come.
LaVar Ball: A Quick Overview
For those who don’t follow basketball, LaVar Ball is the father of the Ball Brothers and creator of the Big Baller Brand. His eldest son – Lonzo – was a star freshman guard at UCLA and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers a few weeks ago. The middle Ball son – LiAngelo – is set to start his collegiate career this fall, also at UCLA. The youngest Ball Brother, is a rising junior and also a star basketball player.
The Ball Brothers are really good at basketball, but it’s their father LaVar’s mouth that grabs the biggest headlines. He’s very outspoken about his sons’ potential, even comparing them to some of the greatest past and present NBA stars. He’s open about driving his son’s to be world-class athletes. He’s unwavering with his unorthodox plans to build the Big Baller Brand. He’s vicious in this defense of his comments and his actions.
Many have been critical of LaVar Ball. Others have lauded him as a positive example of black fatherhood in a world flooded with deadbeat black dads.
The LaVar Ball phenomenon is not good. He’s not good for the NBA, but more importantly, he’s not good prototype for black dads. Here are five reasons why LaVar Ball is bad for black fatherhood.
1. LaVar Ball is a bad treatment for a misdiagnosed illness.
Let me preference my statements by saying that fatherlessness is a real issue. Too many African American children grow up without their dad in the home. This is not God’s design for family. There are many great single moms we should celebrate and support, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with this as the norm.
That said, the concept of the absent black father is overblown. Yes, too many black dads don’t live with their kids, and too many black dads aren’t married to their children’s mothers. Still, research – including a study from the Centers for Disease Control – has shown that among fathers who do not live with their children, black fathers are more likely to be involved in the lives of their children than their white or Latino counterparts. What inferences can we draw from this data? Black fathers want to know and build relationships with their children. Many do. Not all do, and not all who try are good at it, but black fathers are not dramatically more opposed to fatherhood than men of other races.
If black fatherhood is more complicated then the stereotype we see on the Maury Povich show, do we really need to point black dads towards LaVar Ball as a role model? What about the many, many black dads who are involved in the lives of children, without making a fool of themselves or embarrassing their families on national television?
2. He has an unhealthy view of family.
Ball seems to equate his success as a father with his ability to manage, train, and brand his sons. He’s stated that he chose his wife because he thought her “length, height, and breeding hips” would help produce superior athletes.
Family life in the Ball household centers on basketball. It’s good for parents to push their children to be diligent and strive for excellence, but only when they properly define excellence.
Conflating success on the court with success in life is not healthy. Teaching your children that being talented means always getting your way, even if it hurts other people is not healthy. There’s more to being a human being than winning games and making money. Good dads teach their children well and model good behavior. LaVar Ball’s words and actions are leading his sons down a destructive path.
3. He’s the poster-dad for vicarious parenting.
LaVar Ball is clearly living vicariously through is sons. He’s decided that since he wasn’t good enough to be an all-time great athlete, he’s going to have his three boys turn the sports world upside down. None of his sons have played a real NBA game, and one is only halfway through high school. Despite their youth, LaVar hast already planned out college and career for his sons.
It’s good for parents to support, lead, and guide their children. It’s not good for parents to live through their children.
4. LaVar Ball helps normalize bigoted and disrespectful speech.
LaVar Ball has said a lot of ridiculous things. Sometimes he’s just trying to make a headline, but other times he’s just plain nasty and detestable.
Exhibit A: Racial Bigotry
When Lonzo’s team was unceremoniously bounced from he NCAA tournament this spring, he blamed the inferiority of white athletes – particularly Lonzo’s white teammates – for the loss. His exact words were, “Realistically you can’t win no championship wit three white guys because the foot speed is too slow.” If you’re not sure what’s wrong with that statement, you might be a bigot. I don’t have the time to get into right now, buy you may want to look into that.
Exhibit B: Low Blow on Uncle Drew
All-star guard Kyrie Irving made some comments critical of Ball, and Ball struck back. First, he challenged Irving’s credibility, saying, “How you gonna tell me how my son should be when you don’t have a kid?” As a childless man who has taught and served in youth ministry, I found this comment particularly disturbing. It’s a myth that childless people have nothing to contribute to society in general or families in particular. Do we really want thousands of black dads running around challenging the authority of childless teachers to provide instruction to their sons or daughters?
Also, Kyrie Irving is actually a father.
LaVar then went for the low blow:
Maybe he don’t have the relationship that me and Zo got. And I don’t think he did. First of all, your mom wasn’t there, so something’s got to change right there. It’s not the same. Lonzo can come home and see his mom and dad all the time. We’ve been together. Most people, with this talent, usually has a single parent. Not two of them together.
Translation: Kyrie, you don’t get to speak, you’re just another single parent home gutter bum.
For context, Irving’s mom passed when he was a small child. Yup, he went there. Mean and nasty, and totally unnecessary. Is this the example we want for black fathers?
Exhibit C: Shaming Low Income People
Even though Lonzo has yet to play a real NBA game, LaVar has already created a shoe for him under his Big Baller Brand. You would think a new shoe from an unproven brand marketed by an unproven athlete would be priced competitively. If so, you’d be wrong. The ZO2’s were announced with a retail price of almost $495. Of the high price, LaVar tweeted, “If you can’t afford the ZO2’S, you’re Not a BIG BALLER!”
Ball comes off as mocking people of low or moderate income. How does this make Ball a good example of black fatherhood? The last thing black youth need is to feel insecure or ashamed because they don’t have overpriced sneakers. The last thing black dads need is to feel pressured to buy $500 sneakers for their kids.
It seems that LaVar Ball has taken a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook and decided to make mean and bigoted speech normal.
5. The Ball Plan will work and spawn copycats.
The whole point of LaVar Ball’s words and actions is to draw attention to his family and advance his sons’ careers. For him, the ends justify the means. In reality, doing evil is never justified, regardless of the “results.” Still, he’ll probably get the results he’s looking for. It’s already working. Tell me there aren’t fathers across the country right now planning to implement the Ball strategy with their kids.
All the attention that LaVar draws will probably keep his sons’ name in the press, which means attention on the court and money off the court. If money and fame are the goals, it’s a winning strategy. However, if money and fame are your objective as a father, you’re a bad parent.
We shouldn’t be pointing black fathers or any fathers towards LaVar Ball as an example. We should first be pointing towards the perfect Father: God. There are also thousands upon thousands of godly, present, responsible black dads – men like my father, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, pastors, neighbors, and friends. They’re not abusive. They don’t teach their children to be mean or nasty. They don’t idolize fame and fortune. These good fathers don’t tear others down to build themselves up. They understand that ill-gotten gain is not gain at all.
We are not lacking for examples of good black fatherhood. We should pass on LaVar Ball as a role model.
What do you think? Leave your comments below. You can also read more of my thoughts on father-son relationships in this throwback article.