Every great athlete started somewhere, and inherently parents view their child, or children, to be superstars. While the positive reinforcement is a pleasant thought, this belief rarely translates to long term success and the life-changing payday at the end of that rainbow. I refuse to consider the NCAA play-in games as part of the NCAA tournament, so today (to me) is the start of one of sport’s greatest spectacles, March Madness. But, it’s not the just the action on the floor that’s must watch TV. LaVar Ball, former college basketball player and father of UCLA stud Lonzo Ball, is taking to the added attention of the event to market Lonzo – and his two younger brothers – as well as the family brand.
Up for some one-on-one?
Let’s start with the outlandish, well the most outlandish, claims from a confident father. There may be some debate atop the list of all time NBA greats, but it’s ridiculous to say Michael Jordan isn’t in the top five players of all time (tough to say he’s not the greatest of all time). Well, LaVar Ball, a man that averaged 2.2 points a game in his one year of Division 1 collegiate basketball, believes "Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one.” This is completely reasonable, considering for his career Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game, won five regular season MVP awards, six NBA Finals MVP awards and six titles. I don’t know why anyone would discredit Ball’s confident claim.
Jordan need not defend himself, as Charles Barkley grabbed the banter baton and is running with it. He responded to Ball Wednesday morning while appearing on Mike & Mike:
“Once I found out he averaged two points a game [in college]. ... Listen, you need to slow your roll. He says I didn't win a championship. I said to myself, 'I need to go back and Google this guy, because maybe I missed the Ball era, when he was dominating and winning championships everywhere else.' Listen, I'm too old and fat to play basketball, but I'll challenge Mr. Ball to a one-on-one. How about that? I don't even know how old he is – he's got to be around my age – but no guy who averaged two points a game can beat me at one-on-one. I'm positive of that.”
Ball, clearly not one to shy away from the spotlight, via ESPN.com retorted. Basically telling the former NBA Star to do what he’s good at:
working at TNT and eating doughnuts. Barkley didn’t limit his comments to the Jordan tomfoolery, as recently Ball made the claim that his son Lonzo is going to be a better NBA player than two- time league MVP Steph Curry. “You can't say a guy is going to be better than Steph Curry, a guy who has played 30 college games,” Barkley told Sporting News. “I know you can be proud of your son, but at some point, it becomes stupidity.” Wait, there’s more.
The billion dollar Ball boys?
Amidst the flurry of headlines was a billion dollar question. What sneaker company wants to sign the Ball boys to a billion dollar deal? That’s right, a billion dollars. Need I remind you that eldest son Lonzo is 19 years old and played in only 33 college games, but this deal would include the trio of Ball brothers. Let’s look at some endorsement deals in place for context:
This list doesn’t include the $100 million a year Michael Jordan still sees from Nike and the details of the Steph Curry deal because they are undisclosed. But, according to Business Insider, it could result in a $14 billion windfall for Under Armour.
At this point it’s unclear if his words are stronger than oak in this regard, but Ball notes that if no major brand is willing to take on the Ball boys, the family brand will.
Queue the “Big Baller Brand.” Bell told Time, “It's the brand I created for my boys… Lonzo's going to be the first one drafted with his own brand.” The three B’s signify the three Ball boys (in age order); Lonzo , LiAngelo (18) and LaMelo (15), and with the launch LaVar began the battle to brand the family business, legally. On March 7, 2017 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered the Big Baller Trademark for apparel.
Both the NCAA and UCLA have received complaints about the matter, as the website appears in clear violation of NCAA bylaws in addition to possible licensing infringement – i.e. selling hats with UCLA colors and leveraging Lonzo on the website. When UCLA asked Ball to remove Lonzo’s photo from the website, he responded with a taunt to the school, wishing them luck in winning the NCAA tournament without his oldest son. That’s when the school revealed cross-town rival USC was behind the request.
Long story short: as long as Lonzo continues to play for UCLA, he’s not allowed to profit from the venture. While it seems for now that BBB is safe, Ball is walking a fine line in loophole land, and with two more boys having to play in the NCAA. An excerpt from the NCAA bylaws is below:
"After becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual ... permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind."
Having said that, is LaVar Ball marketing the Ball brand bad for business? From a Big Baller Brand perspective, the onslaught of media attention is a win-win. Ball is betting on his boys to avoid eating some humble pie, and so far they have yet to disappoint. Lonzo’s UCLA Bruins are one of the top teams in the country, with a legitimate chance to be hoisting the Naismith Trophy in Phoenix a few weeks from now. As long as Ball lives up to his billing, big time NBA lottery and endorsement dollars are headed his way, and the path is in place for young LaMelo and LiAngelo to follow.
We live in a digital era of viral sound bites and reckless presidential tweeting. Like wildfire, Ball’s brashness spread quickly – Print and TV, to social media, the Internet at large and water coolers worldwide. The Ball boys are doing their best to upstage March Madness – think it’s a lot now, wait and see if Lonzo is able to urge his Bruins on to the Final Four.
LaVar Ball is doing what he feels a good father should do. Unfortunately, just because you have a few talented kids, a mouth and some ego doesn’t give you the right to make crazy claims. But, as a father, he’s going to promote his boys as though they are the best. And, if the Ball boys get the billion dollar deal or not, the sports world is well aware of the trio – so I’d imagine if they are as good as advertised there are some NBA scouts chomping at the bit to bring the young talents on board.
This is the place for opinions. I’d love to hear yours! Is this bad for the sport? Is social media or society to blame? I’m passing the microphone, who’s grabbing it?
Become a Mad Marketer columnist! Want to contribute your expertise to a growing audience of Marketing professionals? Become a writer, blogger or columnist for the Mad Marketer Web site. Contact us for details.