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LaVar Ball is outlandish, but he's a good sports dad

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LaVar Ball is a loving, invested parent. Why wouldn’t he say hyperbolic things about his son?

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at UCLA Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

All LaVar Ball did was say that his son, Lonzo, was better than Stephen Curry and that he will be a star in the NBA. OK maybe that wasn’t ALL. He might have also said that Lonzo, a freshman not yet done with the college season, will only play for the Lakers. And when Charles Barkley called his assertions stupid, the elder Ball responded by saying: “If Charles thought like me, maybe he’d win a championship.” So that was a bit extreme. That’s all before he recently compared his son’s branding power to that of Michael Jordan’s, and his personal clothing line, Big Baller Brand, to Nike, and claimed he could beat Jordan one-on-one in his heyday. He’s selling T-shirts at $60 a pop.

This is what happens when you put paternal love and such a high level of personal investment in front of a microphone.

Ball stood his ground on Undisputed, saying that he believes in his son, he knows the work that Lonzo has put in, and that, in the age of alternative facts, he believes in his heart that Lonzo is truly better than Curry, regardless of what anyone else says or how delusional it sounds:

As for his $60 T-shirt line, Ball was asked whether he was exploiting his son’s image on ESPN’s feature on the family. He responded by asking what the interviewer thought UCLA was doing to Lonzo. Which is to say, that if the parents make money off their children it’s exploitation, but when the schools do it, it’s amateurism.

Contrary to what talk show hosts, Twitter eggs, and unnamed NBA executives would have you believe, there’s nothing bad about what LaVar Ball has said — nothing troublesome, nothing too surprising, and nothing all that embarrassing. This is what dads do, sports dads especially. They don’t live in a sensible world. They are hyperbolic by nature.

It’s not as if Ball said that LeBron James was sensitive and couldn’t survive in the ‘80s-era NBA, as Mychal Thompson did after Game 4 of last year’s Finals. This was after LeBron explained that he had a problem with Draymond Green’s flailing during an altercation that later got Green suspended. Thompson’s son, Klay, said that LeBron’s feelings were hurt and so dad chimed in to back his son.

Nor did Ball do anything like Dennis Marshall, Kendall’s father, who concluded that the only reason that his son was relegated to the Sixers’ bench last season was because of racism. And it’s not as if his son had to stop him from heckling a coach, as Jahlil Okafor had to do with his father.

All three of those events were much more embarrassing than anything Ball has said. Those comments were made by dads actively trying to change team dynamics to the benefit of their sons with the little power that they had. And they were dismissed without the type of circus surrounding Ball’s statements. Statements that, while a tad unrealistic, equal out to him just being a really loud cheerleader, rather than an invasive parent.

Charles Barkley got at the heart of the matter when he tried to end the war of words with Ball by simply stating: “His son’s life is his life, not yours. No matter what he’s trying to accomplish, it’s not his.” Barkley is of the belief that Ball’s cheerleading is placing unneeded pressure on his son and that he shouldn’t live vicariously through his offspring.

Barkley’s request that Ball divorce himself from his son’s life misunderstands the world in which sports dads live. That separation is almost impossible. It can be done, but I would wager that what you would get is a more reserved approach, a Dell Curry, than an actual partition of the son’s life from the father’s.

These dads are invested in their sons’ lives because their sons are a reflection and recognition of their struggles and sacrifices. Every effort that Lonzo made to be great, LaVar was behind it. His life was the prologue to Lonzo’s story. All of those countless hours in the gym, on the court, and watching film, were administrated by LaVar, who had to make the conscious decision to mortgage his own life and immediate happiness for his son’s successes.

Being a sports dad also comes with the torture of parental pride that sees the adult taking on the extreme version of the child’s emotions. Individual setbacks become the worst things to ever happen, and triumphs become the greatest. It’s a tempest that can lead to someone like Diddy getting arrested on suspicion of assault of his son’s football coach. Just go to any youth soccer game, and it will quickly become apparent that the parents are much more affected by the games and the politics than the athletes are.

During the 2012 Olympics in London, Chad Le Clos beat Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly. During the race, Le Clos’ dad, Bert, was shown on TV screens wildly gesticulating and generally losing his mind. As he watched his son walk out of the pool after the victory, Bert exclaimed: “Look at him, he's beautiful, I love you.”

When Chad was interviewed afterward, he described the win as a dream of his. When his dad was asked about it, he went to the extreme: “I have never been so happy in my life … It's like I have died and gone to heaven. Whatever happens in my life from now on, it is plain sailing.”

That’s the way sports dads, like LaVar Ball, live. It’s not for reason or sensibility, and there’s no need for it to be. As long as he’s not being intrusive in contracts or meddling with the coach, then there’s nothing really wrong with it.

From all accounts, LaVar’s outspokenness doesn’t affect Lonzo’s perception of himself or his game. This situation is just a convenient and prominent version of one of the oldest relationships — the star player and his/her outrageous parent — that can be sensationalized before the NBA draft and as March Madness begins.

Lonzo is not better than Steph Curry. We all know that. There’s no debate about it. One has reached the pinnacle of basketball, and one hasn’t even begun his professional career. The Ball name is not as big as Jordan, and Big Baller Brand is not Nike. Talking about what LaVar Ball says is entertaining an issue for no other reason than entertainment itself. He’s outlandish and a nice source of controversial opinions, but ultimately he’s just one dad in the long line of sporting fathers who take too much pride in their sons. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

After all, there will be enough draft analysis, scouts, and pundits to tear apart his son’s confidence and game for years to come. At least Lonzo will always have one cheerleader who believes in him unconditionally. That’s all any child and athlete can really ask for.