- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LaVar Ball’s talk has cornered his son. LaVar talks and talks, finding a new microphone or camera stuck in his face because he talks and talks and talks, a master of the modern-day media environment where everything is something, even when it is not.

To this point, there have not been repercussions for his inane, perpetual ramblings. In fact, the opposite. His everlasting stream of words has fooled the fools enough that he’s priced a pair of basketball shoes named for his eldest, Lonzo, from $495-$695. His ramblings have been profitable in an age where surface skimming is all the rage.

LaVar was rambling again Monday. He tilted his head, like an actor poorly playing a role, then fired off a warning when informed by a Ballislife cameraman that the Washington Wizards would play the Lakers on Wednesday: “Washington coming in here Wednesday? They better beware. Lonzo ain’t losing again. Not in the same week.”

Go back and watch a preseason on-court interview with even-faced Lonzo. He stands looking at the interviewer. His hands are behind his back. When answering a question, he responds quietly, politely, then thanks the interviewer at the end. It’s a stunning counter to his father’s bluster, leaving LaVar as a Bundini Brown without an Ali.

Maybe this is how the duo planned it. Or at least how LaVar, 49, planned it. He’s going to talk, take the heat, deal with the media attention, stir the pot with a boat motor. Lonzo, just play, play in the unselfish way that runs so counter to dad’s chest-thumping and lip moving.

That strategy has a fault. Its error rests in the base drive of the NBA and was exposed in the Lakers’ opener. Ornery Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley was the first to guard Lonzo. Veterans know of Beverley’s bumping, chopping, not-give-an-inch style. He’s motivated daily by his youth on the west side of Chicago, where his family members were shot, where the high school has been compared to a prison and where his odds of leaving intact were slim. Beverley once said he has a mountain, rather than a chip, on his shoulder.

This was the man LaVar had been unwittingly poking. Each time he was in front of a camera, selling his son out, leveraging other people’s irritation toward his offspring, Beverley and the rest of the league was listening. The results were predictable. Beverley harassed Lonzo opening night on national television. He had a straight steal of his dribble, knocked him down on purpose at midcourt, held him to zero points on the 29 plays he guarded him, then went to the locker room shouting obscenities about Lonzo’s manhood, or lack thereof as he saw it.

LaVar’s current miscalculation was apparent a month earlier. Beverley saw a tweet with a LaVar projection that Lonzo could hold his own against Steph Curry. Beverley snatched it, then touted that he was going to guard Lonzo in the opener. That tweet was confirmation of more difficult path LaVar had put forth for his son, daring fate and defenders to come at him.

“All that daddy talk doesn’t help you against grown-ass men,” Charles Barkley said postgame.

“I told him after the game, due to all the riff-raff his dad brings, he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him,” Beverley told reporters postgame.

Lonzo was better in his second game against the defense-free Phoenix Suns: 29 points (on 27 shots), 11 rebounds and nine assists. Then, a step back; 3-for-13, eight points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. In five years, he should be one of the league’s best players.

But, first-year life in the NBA is difficult enough. Ask John Wall. He shot just 40.9 percent his first season in Washington after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2010. Like Lonzo, he was expected to come and fix a franchise. Unlike Lonzo, Wall’s job did not come with a publicity-stunt father or the looming legacy of one of the biggest franchises in sports. This was the Wizards, not the Lakers.

Wednesday, Wall and the 3-0 Wizards face Lonzo in Los Angeles. It’s the second game of a four-game West Coast trip. Washington is 3-0 for just the fourth time in franchise history. It is the lone undefeated team remaining in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 1974, when the then-Bullets opened 7-0. Recognition of the team’s start has been usurped by, wait for it, LaVar Ball.

His comments about the Wizards were picked up by Washington center Marcin Gortat. He gave a scouting report on Twitter:

“Man….. pleaseeeeee!!! @JohnWall will torture him for 48min”

This is the world Lonzo lives in because of his father. When Lonzo was the bigger kid, the more skilled, the kid playing against others his age, it was different. Now, he’s new to the highest level on the planet. It’s difficult enough to operate in silence. Even more so when his father serves as an opponent’s tail wind.

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