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Padanilam: LaVar Ball needs to just let his son play

| Wednesday, March 1, 2017

At 26-3, UCLA is in the midst of a resurgent season, returning itself to the powerhouse program it once was not too long ago. And right at the center of that turnaround is its star player and freshman sensation, Lonzo Ball.

Yet, if you have been paying any attention to talk around the sports world, you might think it was his father, LaVar Ball, who was leading the charge for the third-ranked Bruins. Because while Lonzo Ball is the one actually playing, LaVar Ball is the one doing all of the talking.

He’s proclaimed all three of his sons will be “one-and-done” stars for the Bruins. He has promoted Lonzo as better than Stephen Curry right now, proclaiming to TMZ on Feb. 15 that his son was “better than Steph Curry. … Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.” And just this weekend, Ball said he wants Lonzo to play for the Los Angeles Lakers so much that he would discourage other teams from picking his son in the upcoming NBA draft.

When asked about his father’s statement, all Lonzo could say is, “All I do is go out and play basketball, man.”

Well, it’s about time his father took a backseat and let him do just that.

It’s great that Ball supports each of his sons and has so much confidence in them. But at a certain point, that support becomes a distraction. Lonzo is a talented player — and his Bruins are a talented team — but instead of being able to focus on taking one game at a time, Lonzo is already having to answer questions about his future and the immense expectations his own father is placing on him by comparing him to the reigning two-time MVP.

Ball has put his son in tough position every time he’s asked those questions, too. Lonzo is now forced to either dismiss or embrace his father’s comments publicly. He either risks disrespecting his father and the support he’s shown him by disregarding Ball’s very public statements, or he faces the immense criticism which would come with accepting the selfish, outlandish and immature comments.

And both risk tarnishing Lonzo’s reputation before he even gets the chance to step on an NBA court.

Sure, Lonzo is not the first player to be hailed at this level before he’s even played a game at the professional level. LeBron James was dubbed “King James” and “The Chosen One” before he entered the league straight out of high school.

But fair or not, those were expectations James embraced. And he became a controversial player for them, loved by some and hated by others. Between his first game and his first ring, it took years before James earned league-wide respect as not just a talent but also a mature, well-spoken individual.

In contrast, Lonzo was not given the opportunity to choose these expectations; his father just continually showers them on him regardless. Unlike his youngest brother, LaMelo — whose 92-point game. which earned him his recognition, rarely saw him cross half court to play any defense — Lonzo hasn’t said or done anything to warrant the villain persona which many branded superstars must often deal with during their careers. James had to do it before, and Kevin Durant is currently dealing with it.

And now, so is Lonzo Ball.

Because there will be many people in basketball — both collegiately and professionally — hoping Lonzo fails. At every step of the way, he will face more criticism than almost any draft prospect or NBA rookie.

And it will all be because of his father.

Whether or not he realizes it, Ball is putting his son in a losing proposition. If Lonzo succeeds, his father shares the spotlight and likely will only put further expectations on him. If he fails, there will be many people happy to see it just because of his father’s constant desire to draw attention to himself and his son.

And that is not what Ball should be doing. Because it is not even what Lonzo seems to want from him.

All Lonzo wants to do is go out and play basketball. So it is about time Ball just let him do that.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin