By Alexander Gordon
2017 was in many ways a year of lightning rod personalities and LaVar Ball is certainly on that list. Like our president, Ball has captivated the internet time and time again with intentionally inflammatory statements that lack any realistic backing. His “I could beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1” and Trump’s border wall bravado are eerily similar. The absurdity was to their advantage. Like it or hate it ,you tuned in, and in the age of the retweet, they both gathered more and more momentum. Ball was able to ride that into creating his own athletic apparel company and booked a reality TV show produced by Facebook. Trump, needless to say, is the President of the United States, in no small part thanks to our perceived ridicule. The more you attacked them the more they were seen, and the more they were seen, the more normalized and harmless they appeared.
The major difference being Ball is ultimately harmless; abrasive sure but his Luke Walton comments are not going to start a thermonuclear war. LaVar Ball, at the end of the day, is a father that used his platform to better himself and ensure his children and their children would be set financially for life. He understood that he could leverage his personality in a way that would allow him and his athlete sons a unique autonomy that is lacking professional athletics, especially in the world of competitive basketball. He is a bizarro 21st-century embodiment of the American Dream, and though many of us resent him, a piece of that resentment certainly comes from envy.
In early November, LiAngelo Ball along with two UCLA basketball players, were caught shoplifting in China while there on a team trip. The three were placed then placed on house arrest in their luxurious hotel and later were released and allowed to come back to the United States. Which is what sparked the Ball Trump feud.
Trumps eccentricity carries an unholy amount of weight now, however, and there are no shortage of angles that you can take when evaluating his decision to @ LaVar. There have been articles written about his pettiness: why even give this a passing thought when you are at the controls of the free world? There has been discussion of the racial bias and the poorly veiled disdain that Trump displays when confronted with black “advisory” on twitter. But what strikes me when reviewing the timeline is his well documented need for validation. Trump actually initiated this somehow by asking totally unprompted if the three players would thank him? And they actually did. So one would assume that the story would end there, as he got what he wanted.
He couldn’t lay down for LaVar though. In an interview about the shoplifting incident with ESPN LaVar, in one hell of a power play, responded with “Who?” when asked about whether he thought Trump played a key role in their release. It takes one to know one, and LaVar hit the right button. Trump responded as only he could, with juvenile name calling and inflation of his own influence. He goes so far by the end of the tweets to say that LiAngelo was facing 5-10 years in prison, while at maximum he could have gotten three weeks.
LaVar fired back by sending him a pair of his brand’s signature shoe in order to “chill him out.” This is where the beef sits now. While the arrest was a noteworthy international incident, it was, of no major political significance. Trump saw a way that he could insert himself into a hot story in a positive light, and maybe if he had approached it a different way we would have given him credit. He is unable to faint humility though, and as a result, LaVar Ball of all people got to be our anti-hero.