I have spent most of the last six months being a silent spectator to LaVar Ball and his show-stealing antics but, on the heels of his latest stunt, I felt compelled to write a piece on the polarizing figure that is Ball and how I, as a high school and travel coach feel about his actions both on and off the court.
Just days ago, at the Adidas Summer Championships, Ball was handed a technical foul for his language and comments towards officials during the tournament by a female referee. Adidas has since been under fire for appeasing Ball and replacing the female official in the game with a male one. The company that supplies the referees for the tournament, Court Club Elite, has ended their relationship with Adidas after expressing their dissatisfaction for the actions taken by tournament staff to appease Ball. If it wasn’t enough that this dollar store rip-off of Bobby Knight dictated his own rules for the game, after the game, he gave the media some great soundbites about how the female referee in question should “get in shape” and “build up her resume” before finishing with his now trademarked “stay in your lane” catch phrase.
So, to be clear, the coach with no noteable prior coaching experience in the sport of basketball who started his own AAU team for his sons (every helicopter father’s dream), thinks this woman needs to build up her resume. The coach whose team is made up of some of the best players from Chino Hills High School (the No. 4 high school basketball team in the nation last season according to USA Today) and one of the top players in the country, and is no stranger to losing by 50 or more points in tournament play, thinks a female official’s job isn’t to give techs or look for fouls, it’s to “learn the game and stay in shape.” The man, whose Wikipedia page speaks more about his time as an NFL practice player than it does about his 2.2 points per game for Washington State, thinks a female official should “stay in her lane,” and “coach little kids.” The Big Baller AAU program has pages of press about Ball’s antics and tournament losses, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any articles touting team success in tournaments, because, well, they don’t have much team success.
This isn’t LaVar’s first run-in with an official, in fact it’s the second run-in with an official in a week. On July 21 at the Double Pump tournament in California, Ball pulled his AAU squad off the court after receiving a technical foul from a male official for questioning the official’s manhood and using profanity to argue the call. Big Ballers AAU is a non-profit organization that is funded largely by donations that claims to help mentor young players in the Chino Hills area. If you need any more proof that Ball isn’t in this for the kids and mentoring, just look at this game. Most college exposure for young kids in the sport of basketball is during AAU tournaments, Ball took it upon himself to pull kids from the court and in doing so, limited their on-court exposure and instead replaced it with an expletive-laced tirade in front of the team that I’m sure college coaches will love. If I were a donor to the Big Ballers, I’d be pretty pissed that Ball felt it was okay to waste my money that I’m giving to kids to play basketball, to continue to make a name for himself and in the process paint the Big Ballers as a team of quitters when things don’t go their way. Some may argue that Ball is sticking up for his team and his kids, but at the end of the day, AAU is about getting kids the right kind of exposure that lands them in college, not on TMZ sports.
In a pre-game interview with ESPN in Las Vegas, Ball crowned himself, “The best coach ever.” When asked why, he said, “Because I said so.” I want someone to go ahead and find me a soundbite of Gregg Popovich or Bill Belichick calling themselves the best coach ever. This was of course, before the best coach ever lost a game to SC Supreme and the No. 2 player in the nation, Zion Williamson. Ball went on to say how great he was because he essentially coaches a team of kids nobody wanted for free, despite having several players from Chino Hills High School, one of the top teams in the country, on his team. I find it hard to believe no one wanted them. You have to do a deep Google search to figure that out though, because no one other than his son gets much press from Ball. He’s also apparently doing things no other coach is doing and training the team himself, which may explain why he’s losing tournament after tournament with players from one of the best high schools in the nation. He even rebranded his hissy fit during which he removed his team from the court into a valiant display of love for his team in which he was looking out for his player’s safety. He was proud of his team for their blind loyalty in walking with Ball as he took his ball and his cash from generous donors and left the gym after the on court-disagreement.
In addition to his mistreatment of referees and his inability to handle adversity in games where the calls don’t go his way, Ball is creating a toxic environment in which his players are berated for all the world to see. Prior to his choice words with officials, Ball recently blasted his entire team (in front of a dozen or so parents with smartphones) after a 10 point loss in another tournament. Many on the Internet praised Ball for criticizing the team’s effort, questioning their commitment and their obsession with their phones, he even blasted his own son for selfish play in the loss. For many, it was a shining moment for Ball, but for me it was a glimpse at a coach whose own selfishness and lack of commitment was on full display. While I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot that he said, his methods in delivering his message were wrong. Ball chose to address his team outside of the arena, in front of several groups of adults and onlookers.
The cameras were rolling and the show was on for the whole world to see. Ball, conveniently decked out in his Big Baller Brand apparel, didn’t disappoint, spewing another profanity laced tirade in which he questioned his players for not having heart or mental toughness to finish a game, when a week later, he would pull his team off the court and refuse to finish a game because he disagreed with a foul call. This might have been a necessary conversation, but it should have been reserved for the team in private and could have been done without the “mother fuckers,” and the racial slurs he felt the need to drop into the now infamous post-game speech. My favorite part, however, comes at the end. After nearly seven minutes of questioning his team’s commitment to the game and claiming they are too distracted, Ball, the team’s head coach has no idea what time their next game in the tournament is, or if they’ll even have one. “All y’all standin’ there, somebody find that shit out,” shouted Ball to the crowd of parents,”Thirty-five of you standing there and none of you know…” You are the head coach Ball, you should know. His entire seven-minute speech loses it’s luster and meaning so fast because he doesn’t even know his own team’s schedule and in true Ball fashion, it’s not his fault he doesn’t know when the next game is, it’s everyone else’s fault.
As a head coach you have a responsibility, while the individual stakes at the AAU/travel level of sports are higher and the focus is on skill development and exposure, you are still the leader of the team. Any coach worth his salt knows you never publicly berate your team. You may have choice words behind closed doors but you never throw your players under the bus for the entire Internet to see. I couldn’t care less if you paid for the uniforms or the plane tickets, you never do it. Not once did Ball take any of the blame himself in a seven-minute video and unless he’s the first coach in history to coach a perfect game in a 10 point loss, I’m sure there’s something he could have done better, if he doesn’t think so, he’s an even worse coach than I thought. The buck stops and ends with you Ball. You want your players to focus on the tournament? Lead by example and at least have your schedule on hand to consult when your next game is. You want your team to fight through adversity? Maybe don’t walk off the court mid-game with them because you disagree with a foul call. You want your kids to be mentally tough? Maybe don’t lose your temper and have an official removed from your game because you disagree with her call. It seems Ball thinks it’s only the coach’s fault when it’s anyone but him, like at Chino Hills High School, where he had a hand in the school firing his son’s former head coach, Stephan Gilling, back in April, despite coaching the team to a 30-3 record forcing the school to find its third coach in as many seasons, because Gilling didn’t want the outspoken parent in his locker room.
As a coach in both the high school and travel venue for two sports, I am appalled by what I have watched Ball do to the coaching profession over the past several months. While people can defend him for having his son’s best interest in mind in building his own apparel company to ensure his kid’s financial well-being, it’s hard to defend the toxic behavior on the court as a coach that is manifested both as part of an act to sell shoes and is the result of someone who doesn’t have the necessary skills or characteristics to be a head coach or a leader of men, however, if Ball were to take his own advice and stay in his own lane, we’d be watching YouTube videos of him as the angry dad being escorted out of the gym, rather than taking his ball and running home when he’s tired of playing coach.