Two weeks ago, while refereeing an all-day soccer tournament in Chestnut Hill, I had to break up a fight between parents.
It didn’t reach the point of physical blows but it was moving in that direction.
One father was actively shouting instructions to his son, Mustafa, for the better part of 50 minutes.
“Kick the ball there!”
Having heard enough, a father from the opposing team turned around and said, “I thought I told you to shut the f@#k up?”
That’s when he walked up to Mustafa’s dad and threatened to clean his clock.
We hustled over to the sidelines, got between the dads, and defused the situation.
The point of the story is this: Mustafa scored the game-winning goal. He was probably the best player on the field and while his dad was admittedly annoying, his behavior didn’t really have anything to do with what transpired on the pitch.
Mustafa’s dad is LaVar Ball: loud, obnoxious, and truly invested in his child.
You can look at Ball as an attention-seeking blowhard, or you can view him as an active and engaged father of three. Maybe he’s both of those things at the same time.
But he’s not the one playing the game. There’s no world where LaVar Ball, even if he’s better than Michael Jordan, would be suiting up alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
— Joe (@SeattleGuy32) May 18, 2017
Sixers fans may recall previous issues with players’ parents in the doldrums of the Process. Kendall Marshall’s dad called his son’s lack of playing time an issue of racism during the 2015-16 season. Last season, Jahlil Okafor’s dad threatened to beat down a Liberty Ballers blogger for tweeting something negative about his son.
Chukwudi Okafor also allegedly harassed Brett Brown from the crowd during a game against the Clippers during Jahlil’s rookie season.
These are different issues completely.
Marshall was last seen playing in the NBA Development League for a team called the Reno Bighorns. Okafor was a highly-touted prospect, but his disappointing on-court performance had little to do with his father. It was more about his ability and effort.
The Ball family baggage is overrated.
At the time I’m writing this, the Sixers have not had contact with Lonzo’s people ahead of the June 22nd draft. Recent reports suggest that the Lakers, with pick number two, seem to be lukewarm on Lonzo, which would probably see him fall to the Sixers at number three.
That could, of course, be a smoke screen coming out of Los Angeles. Who knows?
There’s no workout scheduled in Philadelphia, but I think it should happen, because Ball would immediately fix the Sixers’ point guard issues.
In one season at UCLA he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, 6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.
That assist number was the highest in the country. Ball is an elite distributor with a great eye who has drawn legitimate comparisons to NBA greats like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash.
That’s not to say that “distributing” and “handling” are the same thing, and there’s room to improve the latter. Ball is a decent, if spotty, defender, but also needs to get better in that department.
It does raise the question of Simmons’ role, should Ball run the Sixers’ point.
People say there’s an “overlap” with their skill-sets, which I also think is an overrated topic.
First off, Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball have played zero NBA games. We have no body of work to look at beyond last year’s summer league and some college tape.
Second, Ball is not a selfish player. His usage rate was a modest 18 percent, which is an eye-opening number when linked to his statistical averages. He likes to move the rock around and isn’t going to shoot at a Russell Westbrook clip.
Ball only took 27 shots in three NCAA tournament games and his UCLA squad had incredibly balanced scoring numbers, with five players in a range that spanned 12.3 to 16.3 PPG. Ball was actually fourth on the Bruins’ squad in field goal attempts, despite playing the most minutes.
There will be plenty of touches for Simmons, Embiid, and everybody else.
In game two of the NBA finals, both the Warriors and Cavaliers found a way to get double-digit looks for three players.
If Golden State can spread it out for Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson, then surely the Sixers would be fine with a Simmons-Ball tandem. I think it’s a combo that could really push the pace, move the ball in transition, and play a high-powered, exciting type of game.
Lonzo Ball only had an 18% usage rate in college and unknowledgeable Sixers fans still worry about him taking plays away from Simmons ?
— Hoops Reference (@RTHoopsTalk) May 26, 2017
Lonzo’s style of play isn’t reflective of the seemingly self-absorbed rhetoric you hear from his father.
You’d expect him to be some sort of crybaby ball hog, but that’s not the case at all. It’s probably the exact opposite.
Plus, there’s no proof that LaVar’s behavior has had any kind of tangible impact on his son’s performances or attitude. That’s something that’s always going to be hard to justify.
There’s just no empirical evidence for that kind of judgment, not unless Lonzo says, “Yeah, my dad is a pain in the ass.”
UCLA coach Steve Alford is on record saying that LaVar was not a distraction at all. That sentiment was also echoed by teammate Bryce Alford, the son of the coach.
And, most importantly, when a player of this caliber comes along, sometimes you just live with the “off the court” stuff. In Lonzo’s case, having a pushy dad isn’t 5 percent as bad as the domestic violence issues that plague the National Football League. This ain’t the Bengals taking on a gamble on Joe Mixon.
I’m reminded of Pro Bowl defensive back Brent Grimes, the Philly native whose wife has basically gone after anybody and everybody on Twitter. Miko Grimes’ most recent episode was a mini-tirade against writer Gregg Rosenthal, who identified her husband as a weak spot on the Tampa Bay defense.
— Miko Grimes (@iHeartMiko) June 2, 2017
To Miko’s credit, her husband had a hell of a debut year in Tampa, landing as a top-15 overall cornerback in most post-season rankings, even at 33 years old. The combination of age and a loud wife has done in a lot of people, but not Grimes. It’s had no effect on his performances.
Lonzo Ball would be a great fit in Philly, and if you’re worried about things that his dad says, then you should stay in your lane.