Just days away from the 2017 NBA Draft, the entire basketball world has its focus on one father-son relationship. The rise of the Ball brothers -- Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo -- has been superseded by their father LaVar, who trained his three sons to play basketball growing up in Chino Hills, Calif., and has vaulted into the spotlight in recent months with his braggadocious demeanour.
During separate interviews in March, LaVar claimed that Lonzo was a better player than Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. He's also said several times that he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one. After Lonzo's UCLA Bruins lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, LaVar said "realistically you can't win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow."
In the immediate soundbites era, LaVar's comments have made him one of the most entertaining figures in sports, a wrestling gimmick come to life, all the way down to the Vince McMahon strut. As a marketing strategy, LaVar has succeeded in making Big Baller Brand -- his own independent line of clothing and sneakers, including a $495 signature shoe for Lonzo -- one of the most recognizable around, even if it has been subject to ridicule online.
While LaVar's comments have played well for headlines, some exchanges have been indefensible, including an interview with Fox Sports in which he told reporter Kristine Leahy after an exchange in which she slighted Big Baller Brand, "I never disrespect women. But I'll tell you what, if you act like that, guess what? Something's coming to you, and it's okay."
LaVar is not the first dad to play the overbearing father figure stereotype in sports. Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, comes to mind. Eric Lindros' parents reportedly kept charts of which Philadelphia Flyers teammates were passing to their son during games. Just like all of the relationships before this, the spotlight inevitably falls on the athlete, and while LaVar has drummed up plenty of buzz and controversy, all eyes will be on Lonzo starting Thursday when he will find out which NBA team will draft him.
LaVar has stated his preference for all of his three kids -- LiAngelo and LaMelo have verbally committed to UCLA -- to play for the Lakers, who have the second overall pick in Thursday's draft. For Lonzo, who averaged 14.6 points and shot 55.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three in his lone season at UCLA, which team he ends up suiting up for is a secondary concern to the target that will be on his back thanks to LaVar's media tour.
Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox, who had 39 points in the Sweet 16 win over UCLA, admitted his motivation in the game was to not only defeat Lonzo, but to "shut LaVar up." Markelle Fultz, the consensus No. 1 overall draft pick, has said he'll try to beat Lonzo "at everything." While everyone has chimed in on whether LaVar's comments will have a negative impact on his son's entrance into the NBA, Lonzo has mostly kept quiet.
Until this week.
In a Father's Day commercial for Foot Locker, Lonzo poked fun at his father's outspoken ways.
He followed that up with a first person piece in The Players' Tribune, where he defended his father's behavior in the lead up to the draft, saying, "I know there are a lot of kids who aren't lucky enough to have a father figure in their lives. That's a really tough obstacle to overcome. So regardless of what anyone else thinks of you, I'm just incredibly thankful to have you as my dad. If I didn't have you as an influence in my life, I don't think I'd be in the position I am today. Actually, I know I wouldn't."
In the same way that LaVar isn't the first over-the-top sports dad, Lonzo isn't the first player to enter the NBA draft with equal amounts hype and skepticism from the general public. Lonzo could become a star, or we might look back in five years and collectively laugh at the Big Baller Brand era. What we do know is that he's at least managed to handle the tension and expectations that LaVar has created with the best kryptonite: a sense of humor and a genuine letter to his father.
What comes next though is anyone's guess. On Thursday, Lonzo will find out where his NBA destination is. If it's the Lakers, the spotlight will be immense. But, wherever he lands, he will be hailed as the potential franchise savior for a lottery team and will be the story among the rookie class. Just the way his father drew it up.