It was clear that one of the final concerns the Los Angeles Lakers had about drafting Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft was his outspoken father, LaVar Ball. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said as much during the team’s introductory press conference for Lonzo Ball a few weeks ago.
Johnson told reporters that the team cleared up any concerns about LaVar during their second workout with Lonzo, in which Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka went and watched the player they would ultimately select go through his day-to-day training routine and let LaVar cook them breakfast.
Other than watching Lonzo run up and down a hill with neighborhood children and dining on pancakes, Johnson said the biggest thing the Lakers gained that day was clarity that LaVar wouldn’t be a problem through a “man-to-man” conversation. Thanks to a sprawling, must-read feature from Ramona Shelburne of ESPN on the Lakers’ process that led them to select Ball, we now know what LaVar promised Johnson:
As Johnson recalls, "He said, 'Earvin, look, I'm not following my son. I'm not going to be hanging out in L.A. I'm going to be training these young kids [his other sons].'"
"'As far as training my boy, this is as far as I can take him,'" LaVar says he told Johnson. "'I'll leave it up to you to take him further. You can get him better with the film time and the coaching. You can take him to another level.'"
"I trust you with my boy. I just got a great feeling that you guys are going to take Zo to a whole other level.'"
It was the closing sales pitch the Lakers needed to hear. Less than a week later, they chose Lonzo No. 2 overall.
It makes sense that LaVar being a helicopter parent was a concern for the Lakers. What if his often-brash comments to the media — the only thing the team had to go on before their meeting — were the same behind closed doors? What if he really felt that in addition to beating Michael Jordan one-on-one, he felt that he could teach Lonzo to do so? What if it had led to him telling his son to disregard a direction or two from the Lakers’ coaching staff to do something LaVar wanted instead?
It sounds like those fears are unfounded, but Johnson and Pelinka had to sure before committing to taking Lonzo with a crucial second overall pick as they try to rebuild the Lakers quickly.
The public as a whole may have misread on LaVar if his words to Johnson prove true. He seemed like he might be the latest overbearing sports parent to make their son’s career more difficult, but since the draft all he’s really done is seem to enjoy his son’s success and avoid negative headlines.
It appears LaVar’s braggadocio is just the way he shows love for his sons, and with Lonzo now spoken on to the Lakers roster, he’s re-directing to try and help the younger two get there as well instead of interfering with what Lonzo and the Lakers do now.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.