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The complexity of the LaVar Ball-Lakers relationship and why it will never stop

Lonzo Ball seemed destined to be a Laker, just as LaVar seemed destined to be a lightning rod for controversy.

Zalgiris Kaunas v Unicaja Malaga - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Alius Koroliovas/EB via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers and everyone watching has learned what we already knew about LaVar Ball; he’s going to be a headline grab at any given moment. One of the asterisks about drafting Lonzo Ball was that LaVar is part of the package, and his latest comment about having the Big Baller Brothers together or getting Zo out of LA is exactly why. That you can point to his questioning of head coach Luke Walton throughout the season, his critiques of in-game decisions from players, or any number of off-hand comments as reason enough to feel that way is only more telling.

That baggage is there, whether the Lakers want it or not, whether Lonzo wants it or not, and whether the fans want it or not. The only way to progress beyond this simple fact is to look at it directly.

We’ve also learned that this situation isn’t necessarily about LaVar alone. So long as a myriad amount of media outlets pick up his every word, and social media wildfires spread at the drop of 140-or-more characters, this is going to continue to be a thing. It’s not LaVar’s fault that a soundbite comes out, gets passed like a dutchie to the left hand side and is exhaled as #Content 30 different ways. He puts those words into the world, but it’s the wind that carries them far and wide.

The tricky part, of course, is that it performs well by the metrics for publishers and producers. So long as people care, the media cares, and everyone’s holding hands in a circle at this point. Audiences consume, ad impressions are populated and the news cycle rolls on. It’s the nature of the beast, though it’s becoming a more self-aware one as the relationship between media consumers and creators evolves. Even in talking about it, it’s feeding into the frenzy by discussing the frenzy.

It’s all very complicated.

What LaVar Ball has to say doesn’t mean anything to the Lakers on a foundational level, and the Lakers have no right (or way) to mute him. Even if LaVar has absolutely no sway in what the Lakers do — which by all accounts appears to be the case — the onslaught of coverage puts the franchise in a precarious position. React and you’re giving credence to the words, say nothing and you’re showing weakness by staying in the shadows.

One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned was from my guy Dennis, who pulled 18-year-old me to the side once to break down this simple phrase: perception is reality.

The Lakers have no control over what LaVar says. The Lakers have no control over what the media says. The Lakers have no control over audiences being interested in both of these things. The Lakers have no control, seems to be the theme.

But for all the control they don’t have, the front office has remained leveled. Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson have kept it clean, while Walton has even joked about the situation during interviews. They’ve shown no cracks of their own, standing pat through the storms and keeping things quiet. The relationship — whatever it may be — doesn’t need the additional strain of a public dispute. That would only be a losing situation for LA.

The attention on the situation won’t stop, though.

The perception is LaVar Ball’s personality is so big it eclipses any and all logic. It’s time to trade Lonzo because LaVar proclaimed he wouldn’t re-sign with the Lakers if his two younger brothers weren’t able of joining him. It’s time to fire Luke Walton, or come out singing his praises to the moon, because LaVar challenged him. It’s time to forget about LeBron James because there’s no way he’d ever be a part of the LaVar show.

The funny thing about perception, though, is that once you take a step back, you can then see through it.

The reality? All of that is filler material, mostly for folks who have nothing to say but all of the space in the universe to fill. Some of it trickles in from the fan base, which is a fickle thing. Fans have the right to be concerned about the franchises they love, and LaVar is a new danger. There’s genuine reason to worry about this kind of tight-rope balancing, even if the Lakers are walking across it ever-so carefully.

There are also fans who agree with what he says — the calls for Luke to be replaced were loud and clear — and others who don’t give two hoots in a pitch black night about it. There’s something for everyone!

The fact is the consumption of LaVar Ball-related content is real. It’s Lakers fans, it’s Lakers haters. It’s sports fans, it’s TMZ viewers. If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense, as the great DJ Quik once said. There are dollars being made by everyone for this conundrum — except the Lakers.

The Lakers collected their loot when they drafted Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick, knowing full and well that they’d have to face this kind of music. Thus far, they’ve let it remain as a dull drone buzzing in the background of the actual noise of the NBA season. The quotes will continue, the headlines will be written and media will lean into all of it because it remains easy business to conduct.

Rinse, repeat.

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