LaVar Ball has no doubts about when he thinks his 19-year-old son, LaMelo, will be selected in the upcoming 2020 NBA draft. “He’s gonna go No. 1,” the elder Ball says. “You can say what you want, but you take the most skilled and the most popular [player].”
But this year, with the draft process uprooted by the COVID-19 pandemic, LaVar, who has now raised a second likely top-five pick, has been relatively quiet, at least by his standards. Gone are the bold comparisons that he made in 2017, when he said, among other proclamations, that his oldest son, Lonzo, was already better than Warriors star Stephen Curry. A hypothetical LaVar-Michael Jordan one-on-one matchup was also never a First Take chyron.
The 53-year-old LaVar, though, is not any less confident in himself or his sons. “You put them on the same team and it’s a wrap,” he insists. And any public questioning about his relationship with them is just outside noise in his mind. “Every parent wants their kid to have the best or be the best in whatever they do,” Ball says.
Still, “[he’s] more calm now,” says LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s second-oldest son, who went undrafted after leaving UCLA in 2018 and is still looking for an NBA opportunity.
“He’ll give us the right advice and he’ll let us do what we want with it. He understands that we’re all grown up now.”
All around the Ball family’s lavish California estate are the three letters that have become tied to the family’s identity: BBB, for Big Baller Brand. The logo of the apparel company is in-laid at the bottom of the family’s swimming pool and mounted on a wall nearest to the hot tub. Big Baller Brand is engraved on the sides of a game-room pool table and a rotating BBB emblem can be seen in the middle of a living room chandelier.
“It just looks cool. It lights up and it spins. And it’s huge too,” says LiAngelo, adding that it’s his favorite BBB-related furnishing.
For a brief time last spring at the start of the pandemic, all three Ball brothers were reunited in the family’s Chino Hills, Calif. estate. They went on runs in the neighborhood and lifted together in their weight room, much as they had growing up. LaVar says he relished making them his “famous Big Baller breakfast,” which reads like an all-you-can-eat menu consisting of cheesy eggs, pancakes with strawberries on top, French toast and cinnamon buns.
“We cherished the moments when we were finally together for a while,” LaVar says.
But ahead of the draft, the house has been quieter. LaMelo spent a large amount of time in Detroit, working out with Jermaine Jackson, a former NBA player who is now his trainer and manager, as well as LiAngelo.
“He doesn’t need that much advice,” Lonzo, now a Pelicans guard, says of his youngest brother. “He’s taking a test that he already knows the answers to.”
The likely top-five pick has carved out a unique path before even reaching the NBA. In December 2017, LaMelo became the youngest American professional basketball player ever when he and LiAngelo signed deals to play in Lithuania. The now, 19-year-old prospect spent a year at SPIRE Institute in Ohio. And with college no longer an option, he signed on last year with the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League, where he averaged 17 points in 12 games. “He’s grown up a ton,” says Steve Ezell, the executive producer of the Facebook Watch show Ball in the Family. “He’s an adult now. He’s able to make decisions.
“He’s matured at a rate quicker than I would have expected knowing everything else that’s going on with him.”
LaVar describes LaMelo as the “eye-catcher” of his three sons. And at 6’7’’, LaMelo might be the best passer in the draft, showing a deft ability to use both hands as he finds teammates with pinpoint accuracy. While he needs to improve as a shooter to truly star, he also can already score creatively around the rim.
“Wherever he goes people anticipate so much to see him play,” LaVar says. “You gotta wait for the show. Wherever Melo goes, you’re giving the Big Baller Brand a whole city.”
But LaMelo will also be bringing another apparel company with him to whatever team selects him.
This past October, he officially signed a multi-year shoe deal with Puma. At the time of the announcement, Adam Petrick, the company’s Global Director of Brand and Marketing recently told Esquire that he “definitely can foresee signature LaMelo products coming down the line.” Lonzo is also in the market for a new shoe deal, having recently joined Klutch Sports as his representation.
“BBB always has my support,” Lonzo says. “It’s a family brand and I’m supportive as my dad keeps it going.”
“They’re always gonna be with BBB,” LaVar adds. “But you can do other things too. You can go do some other apparel stuff. You can go do some other things, that’s fine. But you’ll always be related to BBB ‘cause that’s what me and my wife came up with for our boys.”
The family brand launched in 2016, just prior to Lonzo’s lone season with UCLA. And LaVar recalls himself and his wife, Tina, printing T-shirts in their kitchen and selling merchandise from the family’s pool table.
As Lonzo prepared for the NBA, BBB grew immensely in popularity, drawing huge crowds at pop-up shops as it sold a variety of street-wear. “When I entered the league, the brand was definitely hot,” Lonzo says.
But public complaints about product quality and delayed shipping times put a damper on the initial buzz. In January of 2018, it also received an F-rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Legal strife additionally diminished any prior successes, at least publicly. In the spring of 2019, Big Baller Brand filed a lawsuit against Alan Foster, the company’s former business partner, for more than $2 million in damages, alleging that Foster “conspired to embezzle millions of dollars and then divert those funds for his personal use.” The lawsuit alleges that Foster orchestrated a scheme after gaining the family’s trust, “presenting himself” as an “experienced business manager with a vision for maximizing [Lonzo] Ball’s financial opportunities.” The Los Angeles Times, citing two law enforcement sources, reported at the time that the FBI was investigating whether Foster defrauded the family out of millions.
Months later, Foster filed a countersuit, claiming that LaVar intentionally misled his oldest son about Foster’s alleged theft of BBB funds in order to “cover up the fact that LaVar stole from, and continues to steal from, Ball Sports Group, Inc.,” among other entities. According to the countersuit, Foster claims he suggested that the two men “brand the ‘Ball’ family name and create basketball and entertainment related businesses.”
LaVar vehemently denies the aforementioned allegation, telling Sports Illustrated that Foster, who was convicted in 2002 of mail fraud and money laundering and sentenced to seven years in federal prison, “didn’t suggest that.” “Me and my wife came up with the idea of the boys having their own brand before the boys even got to the league,” LaVar says.
Foster did not respond to a request for comment. His whereabouts are unknown.
“The only thing that I did learn is don’t let one person say they can do everything,” the elder Ball adds. “And that’s what happened with [Alan].”
After a nearly year-long hiatus, BBB re-launched its website last February and debuted a series of new products. It still sells ZO2s, which first premiered as Lonzo’s signature sneaker, and it also produces G3s, which the company’s website says are “designed and engineered for LiAngelo Ball.”
LaVar says he’s “going forward” and “not worried about what happened in the past.” He says that his passion and determination are integral to his success. And he’s optimistic both about his brand and of course, his sons.
“I believe my boys are better than everybody,” LaVar says. “Why wouldn’t I?”