The insurmountable pressure on a first round draft pick begins to build up long before we even remotely have an idea of what the draft order will look like in late June. From the college basketball preseason through March Madness and beyond, basketball analysts spend much of their time determining where each collegiate star will end up falling in the upcoming draft. While guys like Maryland’s Melo Trimble go through the season undecided on their future, big name college stars such as Josh Jackson and Lonzo Ball treat the season as a resume builder for NBA franchises. This isn’t to say that every college basketball star is only focused on their future, because many of these guys pour their heart and soul into trying to win a national championship. The point I’m trying to make is that elite college basketball players are exposed to loads of unnecessary publicity for people of their age. The last thing these young guys need is more pressure added on by their own actions…or family members.
The way Lonzo Ball carried the 2016-2017 UCLA Bruins did not go unnoticed. While Jimmer Fredette’s ability to score at will for BYU during his premier year and Willie Cauley-Steins defensive presence in the paint for Kentucky two years ago helped carry their teams, there wasn’t an area of the game where Lonzo Ball didn’t succeed. With Chris Paul-like vision, Curry-like scoring abilities, and a defensive presence that allotted him almost two steals per night, Ball proved to be the backbone of this Bruin’s squad.
As I stated earlier, a season-long performance like this most certainly would not have gone unnoticed. However, thanks to eye-opening comments and comparisons from LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s father, not only did the college star not go unnoticed, but he became the center of negative attention. He went from playing for the love of the game to also trying to validate purposeless statements publicly made by his dad. There is a fine line between being a supportive father and fishing for unnecessary attention and pressure. If LaVar Ball wants to tell a reporter that he thinks his son can be the next Steph Curry, be my guest. I don’t have the slightest problem with that and in fact, I wish my dad would talk about me like that. HOWEVER, there is absolutely no need to take it to the level that LaVar has taken it to.
Before I get into specifics, let me remind you that if Lonzo Ball were to be an unsuccessful player in the NBA, he wouldn’t be anywhere near the first college phenom to do so. Remember that Jimmer Fredette guy? Yeah, he led the nation in scoring in the 2010-2011 season for BYU, won every National Player of the Year Award that you could possibly think of (Naismith, Wooden, AP, Sporting News, etc.) Where is he now, you may ask? Playing for the Shanghai Sharks. I guess the Utah YMCA All-Star Team ran out of cap space.
Anthony Bennett may not have been the best college basketball player, but he very well may be the least significant first overall pick of all time. Since draft night, the most excited anyone in Cleveland has gotten about Bennett is when they heard he got traded to the Timberwolves. It appears that draft night is, and will continue to be the only highlight of his career. Luckily for Bennett, he couldn’t tell the difference between the Cleveland fans booing for him and the leftover boos from David Stern’s introduction.
Finally, we have Harold Miner, otherwise known as “Baby Jordan.” Harold Miner was one of the greatest players to ever lace up for the Trojans and eventually became a 3-time member of the then “All-Pac-10 First Team.” During his time at USC, he was given the nickname “Baby Jordan,” which his former coach believes is still “the worst thing to ever happen” to Miner. Needless to say, he averaged 9 points and 2 rebounds per game during a dreadful four-year NBA career before retiring. It’s bad enough when you’re a promising college star and first rounder who disappoints in the NBA, but to do so when you’re publicly being given Hall of Fame comparisons before you even shake the commissioners hand, let’s just say it’s a full step down from a disappointment.
I understand and respect how confident LaVar is in his son. He has every right to be proud, but it baffles me how this man thinks it is even remotely beneficial for his son to go on national television and make unwarranted comparisons to guys like Steph Curry and Magic Johnson. It’s one thing for him to say that he believes Lonzo could be the next Steph Curry, but you are more than crossing the line when you start taking shots at Steph by implying that Lonzo would be more successful than Curry if Curry was in Lonzo’s current position at UCLA. Newsflash LaVar: THEY COULDN’T EVEN GET OUT OF THE SWEET 16.
Now more than ever, it appears that professional sports teams will do everything they can to stray away from bringing in players with extra baggage if their talent isn’t worth it. In the NFL, former Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick is currently jobless because of what most people believe to be teams avoiding the controversy he brought to the 49ers last year with his National Anthem protest. He is a prime example of a professional athlete with talent, but not enough to convince an organization to bring him in due to all the extra issues that make him less attractive to a franchise. On the other hand, Demarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are both well known in this league for creating problems within an organization. However, these happen to be two of the best big-men of this generation, and teams are willing to bank on them because their talent outweighs all else. Teams may look at LaVar’s comments and say, “Hey, this is also the same guy who said he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in his prime. Let’s not think too much of it.” Either way, it’s extra attention that a team does not need to take on.
As I previously mentioned, the amount of pressure that falls on first round draft picks to succeed in the NBA is already near its peak. So now, not only does Lonzo Ball have that pressure to deal with, but he will have a target on his back before the Summer League games even start. Maybe Lonzo Ball is one of those guys who thrives when playing with a chip on his shoulder, but you know what? Every great player in this league plays with a chip on their shoulder in one form or another. LeBron, Westbrook, Cousins, Carmelo. You name the star player, and I guarantee you there’s something fueling them from inside. The point I’m trying to make here is that if Lonzo Ball is that good, he will eventually be playing with extra incentives that fuel his game. Let him develop as a young star in the NBA and get to the point where he is the creator of that chip on his shoulder, not his dad.
I hope Lonzo Ball succeeds. I think he is a phenomenal basketball player who will most likely thrive in this league. What’s unfortunate for Lonzo is that due to his father’s inability to keep his mouth shut, you will see Lonzo Ball in the headlines whether he succeeds or fails because of the way in which his talent and abilities have been put on a pedestal by his father. LaVar Ball needs to look in the mirror and ask himself a question. Even if Lonzo turns out to be a future NBA All-Star, is the “I told you so” moment that he’s going to have if his son succeeds really worth all the unneeded scrutiny, attention and publicity that Lonzo will undoubtedly face on his road to fame? I believe we all know the answer to that question.