LaVar Ball’s house is the only one in his Chino Hills subdivision with a black garage door. Out back, it’s the only one with three different basketball hoops and a shooting machine. Two of them are professional and the third, a gift, is set up over the pool so his kids can jump off and practice dunking. Of course, that’s not the only thing that makes it remarkable. Much like the wisdom handed down to multiple generations of young people who were shot down for dates, it’s what’s inside that counts. And what’s inside is the outspoken scion of the premiere young hoops family in America.
Ball’s sons, Lonzo, LaMelo and LiAngelo are all to varying degrees prep phenomena. All three starred first for Ball’s Big Ballers AAU team, then Chino Hills High, and will all at one point pass through UCLA. Lonzo is the first one to make his way into the NBA, presumably to the Lakers with the second pick in Thursday’s draft. Don’t tell LaVar Ball there’s a chance he might not; Ball will brook no doubt about his son’s draft position (“I’m going to speak it into existence and guess what?” he tells Rolling Stone. “It’s gonna happen.”) But you’ll only find a single bit of evidence of his son’s prep basketball dominance: The ESPN the Magazine cover featuring the elder Ball standing behind Lonzo, both wearing intimidating grimaces, hanging over the stairs Ball used to teach his sons the broad jump as part of what he calls “the ghetto Olympics.” The spartan walls are on purpose; Ball says he’s given away all the trophies his sons have won, partially to keep them hungry and partially because none of it matters anyways.
Controversy has, naturally, followed Ball wherever he goes. There’s him demanding no less than $1 billion in sneaker contracts for his three sons. There was the video of him berating his AAU team during a blowout loss, the rumors that he was undermining his sons‘ coach at Chino Hills, his comments about Kyrie Irving’s family, his strange maybe-threats against The Herd co-host Kristin Leahy (Ball denies that he was threatening her), his assertion that he would “kill Michael Jordan one-on-one,” his comments about LeBron James’ kids, and his claim that Lonzo is better than both James and Stephen Curry. That’s just this year.
Make no mistake: Ball is a talker. He’s a big guy at six-feet and five-inches who speaks with force and emphasis. When he wants to make a point, he drums the fingers of both hands loudly on the sectional he’s sitting on. When he really wants to make a point, he leans forward, clasps his hands and makes extremely intense eye contact. His eyes shine while he speaks; if he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, you’d never know it. But you sense he cares, and that he loves his kids deeply. It’s unclear whether that’s because of what it would mean for him, or what it would mean for them, but he cares more than almost anybody you might ever encounter in your lifetime.
Obviously the draft is coming up. How much are you paying attention to the sort of rumor mill chatter going around?
I don’t pay attention to nothing. On the fact that I know what’s going to happen. They gonna get my boys, the Lakers. It’s already been lined up. Like I said, I’m going to speak it into existence and guess what? It’s gonna happen. It just is what it is. Now all this other stuff that goes along with it, it’s entertaining. So, you have to say some different things. What they don’t want is they don’t want me to be in control and say, “LaVar said it was going to happen, and it happened.” So it doesn’t look good on they part where it’s like that. It’s like damn, so, whatever LaVar says, that’s what’s going on?
Why do you think they don’t want that?
Because it makes me seem like I’m just pulling all the strings. You see, I lined up for this right here. Those Lakers, I knew they were going to be a bad team.
Yes. Everyone did.
On the fact that, you got to understand, they were good 20 years ago. You get this type of player that ‘Zo is every 20, 30 years, man. I know by the time they was gonna be all finished up, they won their couple of waves with Magic. Then they went on it with Kobe and Shaq and then it dwindled down to nothing. And when all them fools are gone, guess what? It was perfect timing for my boy to be there. I looked at this a long time ago.
You planned it out 18 years ago.
Long time ago from having my boy. I’m like look at this. These year’s gonna go by. I told them before my boys was even on the scene, I said, when people think about Chino Hills, before they can get Chino Hills out, they’re gonna see the Ball Boys. Everybody looking at me like, nah that’s not going to happen. And now it’s just here.
When did you become 100 percent sure?
I was a 100 percent sure when I had him. From birth. These boys got a drive. Here’s the thing. My dad made us faster and stronger than everybody, but he didn’t put us in sports. We didn’t play sports until like we were in the 10th grade in high school. But we were faster and stronger than a lot of people. So, when I had my boys, I said I’m gonna put them in super early. When they were like 4, 5 and 6 I was like, hey we’re fixing to get busy.
You got in some hot water recently about your comments like, Big Baller Brand’s not for women.
Right. I didn’t say Big Baller’s not a brand for women. That’s what they said.
The Leahy girl, she didn’t do her fucking homework. What I mean by that, she was saying, “I would never wear nothing that says Big Baller.” That’s when I went defensive on her, on the fact that, whoa, if I create it just for my boys, it’s the Big Baller Brand. I don’t know how you looking at it, if I have my wife wearing it, my mother-in-law wearing it, my mother wearing it. I’m like, we have a women’s selection, we had a women’s … Before my wife had gotten a little sick, she was running all that wing.
Cause, it kept her out of my way. Cause I be like, Big Baller Brand, we for guys. Then, she was like, I need my part. I was like, you know what, the girls do most of the shopping, we got to have a section for them. That’s when Tina took off. So we had sports attire, we had all kind of stuff. We had leggings for women, t-shirts, everything.
Can you see yourself marketing it to women as well?
Big Baller is not just having a lot of money, you can be a big baller at whatever you do. If you a big baller at cooking, okay. You got dedication, you got determination and you feel that you can make whatever you’re doing, go up. Awesome, that’s what Big Baller Brand is all about.
It’s not about, the way some of these people think it is. Has a sexual connotation of something like this, just because it says “Big Baller.” No, that’s not it. Get your head out the gutter, and let it go.
Yeah. The second part of that controversy, is it seemed like people said that it seemed like you were threatening her. With the thing where you said, “something is coming.”
How do you threaten somebody from, you looking forward and they behind you?
You can’t. That’s like you walking down the street and saying, “I’m going to kill all these people!” Who? So for her to come out with the, you know, threatening part, that’s okay. I know she trying rile up somebody. You threatened me. How have I threatened you when I ain’t said a word to you.
My thing, it’s genuine, like I said, when I told her, “Stay in your lane.” Stay in your lane. What happens when you try enter the freeway from the carpool? You gonna get in a wreck. Stay in your lane and everybody going to get where they’re going. But, once you get in somebody else’s lane, you’re going to get in a wreck or something. And that’s what I meant by that.
So let’s talk about Big Baller. The $2 billion …
I gave them a billion dollars as a discount. See everybody laughs at that, nah, that’s the way of saying, come on LaVar, a billion? I have three boys. You would’ve gave all of them $300 million, we would’ve found the other $100 million and we would’ve been at a billon.
So you’re selling the three Baller package?
As a package. Now, they done messed around. Before, this all started I had a little Bic lighter. And that’s all I had. I could’ve had my thumb on it. You don’t want no fire, just let it go. Give me my money. I gave them a break down. 10 years, $100 million a year.
There’s your billon right there. You’d been fine. You would’ve co-branded with me, let me do my little thing, and go on about my business. Now, it’s a full on blaze, you can’t put the fire out now. Now, I’m in the shoe industry. I’m in the shoe game. I don’t need no co-brand now. It’s just about me producing shoes now. You know, once you in that lane, uh-oh. That’s a wide variety.
You know how, you have the Kobe Ones, Twos, Threes, KD Three’s … They making them a shoe every year. Check this out, I can make ‘Zo a shoe every 90 days. They don’t want that. Everybody been following the same lane all these years, I’m dangerous right now.
Now I’ve got sandals, shoes and it’s independent. Where I can put a price wherever I want. Here’s the thing, people keep saying, “He’s not going to sell a million, two million shoes.” You don’t have to. Cause here’s the bottom line, here’s the bottom line for me, if I only made 50 shoes, they all ‘Zo’s. He got his own brand and his own shoe. So we not into volume sales, we not trying say, “Let’s put this at 80 bucks so we could 80 million of these.” Mine is more of an exclusiveness. If you want this, go get it, if you don’t, leave it alone.
‘Zo didn’t wear the shoes for his Lakers workout? Why not?
Why would you wear a shoe that you’ve not even played in for a while?
But it’s the best.
You better wear something that’s comfortable, first. He was solidified with the Adidas that he was wearing. The Hardens, that’s what he was comfortable with. Now, his shoe, now, come one man, we’ve got to play in it, man. Look at these right here. Really nice, ain’t the word. Feel inside of them.
Man, these are the best shoes ever. Look how slick they look, you know why? Look they don’t have three stripes right here. ‘Zo’s sign is in the back of this bad boy. That’s his, his logo is bigger than everything. But the triple B’s right here and right here. At the bottom, ‘Zo’s signature. I’m going to do this three times. This is the ZO2. ‘Gelo will be G3. ‘Melo will be M1. Now within the Big Baller Brand, you just get, which signature series you want. You want the ‘Zo signature? You want the ‘Gelo? You want the ‘Melo’s?
What if ‘Zo gets injured?
What if ‘Zo gets injured? Who cares, whatever happens to ‘Zo. Here’s the thing, people are like, he got to do something before he gets this shoe off. No, the shoe is symbolic, it’s the first one ever, that’s independent. That allows him to say, how much your shoe worth? To me it’s worth $495.
Have you spoken with Kobe?
No I haven’t spoken to Kobe. I met him one time up at ESPN, but that’s about it.
I’m not stuck on that. I’m not in awe of Kobe. I like the way he play, I like his game, but he can’t help me doing what I’m doing. Somebody ask me, “Hey, can Kobe help him?” I said, no. He ain’t been helping him.
Well, he’s not on the team.
Here it is. If ‘Zo wants to take some advice from Kobe, on doing what? Passing, shooting? Him and Kobe don’t even have the same game.
‘Zo can take whatever he wants from him, but I’m looking at it like, ‘Zo is where he’s at because of what I have done with him. If Kobe wanted to come in five or six years ago and then help, when you at the top of your game. Don’t wait till my boy get where he at. Now, all these names want to come in and be like, “Oh LaVar can I help you do this, can I help you do that?”
Well, Kobe was …
Kobe, to you guys, he’s the ultimate player for the Lakers, that’s what you guys are stuck on. This is my son, and I put all the time and stuff in. It’s just like with the shoes. Kobe, you were Nike, but you don’t have your own, so you can’t help me do my thing.
What I’m saying is the advice, what advice can you give me? That I haven’t already been through and do things my way. They don’t even like the AAU, but look how my boys turned out doing AAU, my way.
So you talk about investing in your kids, and obviously Lonzo, let’s say goes to the Lakers. Luke Walton, great coaching staff. Are you prepared to take that step back and say …
I don’t step back, like I told people, I don’t step back for nobody. I ain’t going back, if I got to ride in the back seat, usually I drive. That’s how I roll.
That’s what I’m saying, everybody is stuck on, LaVar is involved too much. What do they mean by I’m involved too much. I’m not going to let you take advantage of my son. I’m involved because … They say, “Yo, he costing him $10 million.” How? I’m not even using his money.
But it’s not about taking advantage. It’s about if, Luke Walton, say, tells Lonzo to do X, and you don’t agree are you going, is there going to be a …
See that’s what everybody is insinuating on.
I’m not insinuating, I’m just saying.
No, listen, if you’re reading books and you reading these magazines on, LaVar needs to step back because he says this about that. The beginning is the high school, if you want to say I’m controlling the high school, that’s good, because I am. The only way you can control it, you got to be a trainer, got to have your own AAU, you got to have some skilled boys, a system in place. I got all that. So now, little Johnny can’t go try out across the street. How you going to come out and be able to play, if you going against a guy who’s been training for three years and played against guys in the AAU circuit that’s 3-4 years older than them. Those guys coming in were way more prepared than little Johnny on the street like it used to be. It’s a public school, everybody tries out. Ain’t like that no more.
How do you handle those moments of doubt, I’m sure they’ve popped up.
I don’t have no moments of doubt.
Not for you, for your sons.
For the son. How is there doubt? There’s no doubt. What has he done? Made it to the NBA. What has he been trying to do? From day one? Make it to the NBA. Your goal is accomplished. It’s what you do from there. Let’s say, ‘Zo never plays again. Let’s say three years go by of a guaranteed contract, or whatever you get, let’s say a million or two million dollars. If you’re a knucklehead you’re going to be broke, but when you get a jump on like and you get an extra million or two, you don’t know how to invest it, you just a dummy.
You don’t have ‘Zo buying 10 cars, going out to the club, making it rain, have three or four baby mamas’. The extra shit, you don’t have that.
It seems like that is happening way less in the NBA now.
They looking at what’s going on, it still happening, but it’s low key.
It’s not out there like that. Because like I said, when you’re reporting anything the negativity is way better than the positive. You can have a hell of a career. You know Tiger Woods was swinging, they couldn’t wait … They waited a lot of years to get that picture of him on DUI.
They build your ass up, so they can break you down. To say, we put you on a pedestal, we had you up high. But don’t think you can just stay up there on your own. That’s one of the things they can of, going against me, cause they can’t catch me doing nothing wrong. I ain’t that dude. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, they ain’t going to catch me at no clubs. They ain’t going to catch me with four or five different women. The only thing you going to catch me doing is talking.
And I say the same thing. I have my own opinion, I can say what the hell I want, I don’t answer to nobody.