We have over-the-top Little League dads (and moms), as I’m sure any of you who have children know.
We have scary tennis dads (and moms) — hello, Gloria Connors, Stefano Capriati, Jim Pierce, et al. (My personal favorite is Walter Bartoli, whose daughter, Marion, stopped play in the middle of a 2011 Wimbledon match and demanded her dad leave the stadium.)
We have pushy, monomaniacal football dads (Marv Marinovich), golf dads (Earl Woods) and boxing dads (Floyd Mayweather Sr.).
And now we have a wacked-out, dominating, loud-mouthed, string-pulling, dictatorial basketball dad: LaVar Ball.
Father to three basketball-playing sons, LaVar is to gentle, relaxed parenting as a dung beetle is to perfume. He has declared his genetically connected group the country’s “First Basketball Family.” And if that is so, basketball royalty needs abrupt intervention from pest control.
LaVar, 50, has never seen a microphone he couldn’t eat, a courtesy he couldn’t trample, a boast he couldn’t top, a dignity he couldn’t demolish, a promise he couldn’t lay on his poor, robotic sons.
Indeed, he had this dynasty thing planned out the way a gardener plans out rows of beans.
“That’s why I married my wife [Tina, a former basketball player at Cal State Los Angeles],” Ball told CBS Sports. “Before [the boys] even came out of the womb, I said, ‘I’m having three.’ And with the way I’m built and the way she’s built, I knew I was going to have three killers. So this thing was planned long ago.”
I wonder why he didn’t just have five boys and call them Ball State? Or figure out a way to clone himself, since he’s living through his sons the way an emphysema patient lives through an oxygen mask. His Frankensteinian domination of his family exposes a man who has no sense of self-worth except that which he derives through the achievements of his puppet sons. Tina, 49, who had a stroke last February, is essentially absent from any comments on the arranged Ball hardwood consortium.
Being a Southern Californian of a certain age, LaVar Ball certainly took a cue from the Los Angeles-based Marinovich, the nut job who all but ruined his son Todd’s chances of being a reasonable, self-actualized human by frantically coaching him and surrounding him with football trainers while he was still in diapers.
Marv, you’ll recall, chose his wife largely because she was former USC quarterback Craig Fertig’s sister. This type of genetic selection will someday be transcended by test tubes and black-market splicing and dicing, but for now you have, well, LaVar Ball as madman scientist and marketer. That young Todd Marinovich eventually went completely off the rails as a drug abuser and lost soul who seems irrelevant to this tale. So sadly.
Oldest Ball son Lonzo, a rookie with the Lakers, has been brutalized by opposing players, such as the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, simply for his father’s arrogant boastings.
Lonzo has struggled with an awkward shot that is almost as strange as that of the classic bizarro forms of Shawn Marion, Bill Cartwright, Carlos Boozer or, worst of the worst, Joakim Noah. Yet he has definite point guard skills, and if Dada would simply leave him alone, he might blossom into a superstar.
If LaVar’s boys — Lonzo, 20, LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16 — don’t have mental breakdowns because of Daddy at some point in their manufactured careers, they are stronger than superheroes facing Kryptonite or puppies with carbonadium blades (poor Wolverine).
My genuine fear is that LaVar, who has said he could beat a prime-time Michael Jordan one-on-one (a premise so laughable as to be insane) will be seen by young fathers around the world not as a menace but as a role model.
Ball, who played football and low-level college basketball, feels he can manipulate and manufacture and mandate that his boys end up ruling the world through hoops and his Big Baller Brand company, of which he is the founder and CEO.
But the thing he doesn’t understand is that in the long run, his progeny will have to make it on their own, despite their dad.
His middle son, LiAngelo, was recently caught shoplifting during a UCLA trip to China. The freshman spent a day and a half in jail, and upon his return to the U.S. — partially arranged by our braggart supreme president, Donald Trump — LiAngelo promptly dropped out of college.
Dad told the press he would work hands-on with LiAngelo and get him super-prepped for the NBA and big bucks. Which is all that matters.
The whole thing is pitiful enough to make one rethink sporting success. And shed a tear for the Ball boys.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.