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LeBron James is ‘proud’ of Lonzo Ball for ‘taking control’ of his business, whether he leaves Big Baller Brand for Nike or not

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All signs point to Lakers guard Lonzo Ball leaving Big Baller Brand, potentially for Nike, but no matter where he ends up, LeBron James seems happy to see a young player he appears to genuinely like starting to grow up.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When ESPN dropped a story on Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball having to cut ties with Big Baller Brand co-founder Alan Foster amid allegations of more than $1 million in company money being unaccounted for, it seemed like it might be another sad story of an athlete trusting someone they shouldn’t have.

Then things got a little sadder over the weekend, when Ball deleted all photos of his father off of his Instagram account, and also appears to have unfollowed Big Baller Brand on Instagram along with his brothers, who commented things like this on Ball’s Instagram post announcing that he’s “moving on to bigger and better.”

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Moving on to bigger and better #MyOwnMan

A post shared by Lonzo Ball (@zo) on

That post’s use of the Nike branding line of “it’s only a crazy dream until you do it” led to rampant speculation that Ball would be choosing checks over stripes for his next endorsement deal. But no matter where Ball ultimately goes or what he does, taking control of one’s own life and dealing with family issues is never easy for a young person, and especially not a young millionaire with this much money involved.

Ball’s teammate LeBron James has seen everything going on with his young teammate, and he told Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times that he respects how Ball is handling his business amidst difficult circumstances:

To James, last week’s separation meant more than Ball’s next shoe deal.

“I love the fact that he’s taking control of his [stuff],” James said. “I mean, he’s, that’s what’s really, really dope to me. Once I saw that story I just seen a kid turning into a man. ‘This is my career and I’m taking this. I done had enough with — whatever. I done had enough. Whatever. If I’m not going to be successful, I’m not going to be successful on my terms.’ I saw a lot of that. We’ll see.”

He added with a smile: “I mean he plays well when he has on Nikes.”

Ball has already said that if he weren’t with Big Baller Brand he would wear Nikes, which began speculation about what was next for him that his Instagram post above only further ignited over the weekend.

James has been with Nike his entire career, so he hasn’t dealt with the exact situation Ball was going through, but he told Ganguli that he could relate to the struggle of a young player agonizing over how to best manage their future:

“I just didn’t feel like I would be able to get to a point both on the floor or off the floor where I wanted to be,” James said. “That’s why I ended up departing from my agent at the time and start my own thing. It’s just tough when you’re 18, 19 years old you don’t know about that side. All you want to do is play basketball show up to the gym and work and work and work.”

In Ball he sees someone who just wants to get healthy so he can return to playing basketball. Ball has been out since Jan. 19 with a severely sprained left ankle, and James can see his frustration. The events of the last week, James believes, will help him start a new chapter.

Said James: “I’m more proud of him because I like the fact that he’s taking command of his [stuff].”

Ganguli’s whole story is worth a read for full context and more information on James’ comments, but what is clear from these recent statements — and from James’ actions this season — is that he really does seem to like and value Ball as a person and player.

James has been able to be seen laughing and joking with Ball on the bench all season, more so than many other teammates, and has spoken incredibly highly of Ball throughout the year, often totally unprompted. That would seem to indicate a genuine respect for Ball’s game as well as who he is, and so it’s somewhat unsurprising that James would be excited about signs of Ball maturing like this, even if it’s coming amidst difficult circumstances. James is also a huge advocate for player empowerment, so he surely appreciates that angle of Ball’s decision as well.

James’ seemingly legitimate appreciation couldn’t save Ball from trade rumors at the deadline, and while that’s obviously not totally in James’ control, it seems like a safe bet that if James had made it clear to Lakers management that he wanted Ball for the long haul no matter what, Ball wouldn’t have seen his name floated so prominently.

Still, James wanting to play with Anthony freaking Davis isn’t necessarily an indictment of what he thinks of Ball: Nearly anyone would make the same choice if presented with it. That doesn’t mean that James can’t still really like Ball and want to see him grow as a person and a player. It seems like Ball is taking steps towards that, and it’s cool to see that James seems to be taking genuine enjoyment out of seeing his young teammates’ progress as a person.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.