O’Boyle: LaVar Ball might not be so crazy after all
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, May 2, 2017
“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”
Feedback, the fifth track on Kanye West’s 2016 album “The Life of Pablo” is admittedly not one of Kanye’s best tracks, found in an album that — despite so many moments of brilliance — doesn’t get the genius/crazy balance quite as right as the Chicago rapper’s other works. But that one line deserved instant iconic status, capturing both Kanye’s career and a universal truth in just six words.
Everyone knows about Kanye’s reputation for arrogance. He thinks he’s the greatest ever and isn’t afraid to let people know it. Before “The Life of Pablo” dropped, he tweeted, “I am the Jordan and Steph Curry of music, meaning I’m the best of 2 generations.”
It’s bold to liken yourself to both Jordan and Curry. It would be even bolder to declare yourself better than those two. Comparing basketball ability straight-up, instead of apples-to-oranges comparisons, it would maybe be too bold even for Kanye.
Enter LaVar Ball.
As has been hard to ignore, Ball said his son Lonzo — set to be a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft — was already better than Curry last season. Then, drawing the attention to himself, claimed that he would beat Jordan in a one-on-one game. Unlike Mr. West’s assessments of his own greatness, both of Ball’s statements are completely incorrect. Two months ago, Ben Padanilam said the Ball patriarch should keep his mouth shut and let Lonzo play. But there’s a chance that LaVar may just have that flair of genius in him.
In the past week, word spread that LaVar made a decision that could cost his son greatly, or benefit him and change basketball as a business massively. Although Lonzo is a likely top-two overall pick in the NBA Draft and an All-American, Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all refused shoe deals with the former UCLA guard. Why? Because LaVar didn’t want an endorsement deal. He wanted licensing of his Big Baller Brand.
Getting rejections from the three biggest names in basketball footwear sounds like a disaster, but if LaVar is committed to the strategy, he’s taking a chance that may just work out in the end.
Basketball endorsement deals are big money — LeBron James famously signed a lifetime deal in 2015 believed to be worth over $500 million, while Kevin Durant’s deal with the Nike brand is worth around $30 million per year — yet those numbers are small compared to what the companies make from the superstars. In 2016, Morgan Stanley analyst Jay Sole said Curry’s value to Under Armour may earn the company as much as $14 billion. Fourteen billion. That dwarfs anything a player will make from the deal.
Like any player who has yet to appear in the NBA, the chances of Lonzo Ball reaching Curry’s level are slim. But LaVar is gambling that he becomes a star, and if he does, shoe companies will have to respect players in endorsement negotiations like never before. His sons will be the first to benefit if the plan succeeds, but he may not be the last.
If Lonzo reaches his full potential, people will buy his merchandise. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter who makes the shoes, the Ball brand will be a serious player. And some brand on the fringes of breaking into the NBA market will most likely take the chance and give LaVar something closer to what he wants.
Maybe LaVar Ball is completely crazy, caught up in the belief that his sons are impossibly good. But if Lonzo is the real deal, then LaVar may just come out of this looking like a genius.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.