On Nov. 20, 2017, Chris Cuomo filled in for Don Lemon on CNN Tonight. Cuomo is a licensed attorney, so when news item or a person of interest needs to be dissected or investigated on one of CNN’s shows, he is a great person to call. While Cuomo does not carry the clout of, say, Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper, he is usually at his best when a guest needs to be backed into a corner, and going for the attack.
I say “usually” and not “always” because, on Nov. 20, Cuomo ran into a got-dang wood chipper the likes of which he has never seen before: LaVar Ball. In this circumstance, staring down the barrel of the human hurricane known as LaVar Ball, Cuomo stood no chance, because no one in 2017 stood a chance when put up against the patriarch of the Ball family.
UCLA basketball? Nope. The institution of the NBA Draft? No way. Lakers coach Luke Walton? No sir. The President of the United States? Who is that in Ball’s eyes? (The answer is a chump.)
Ball went from a loud sports dad who occasionally got on the air during UCLA games when his eldest son, Lonzo Ball, was a star in Westwood last season to … something. I do not know the word to describe Ball, but he was definitely more than a passing curiosity — when he wasn’t busy being a full-blown cultural phenomenon.
Simply put, he was LaVar Ball. He is a father of three boys, and he wants what he deems to be the best thing for said boys. If LaMelo’s head basketball coach in high school isn’t getting the job done, screw it, he’ll coach LaMelo himself. If Steve Alford isn’t doing what he needs to do to make sure LiAngelo is the best Bruins basketball player possible — regardless of any off the court transgressions LiAngelo may have gone through — LaVar is going to step in and send his two youngest children to Lithuania.
Even Walton’s approach to coaching Lonzo and the rest of these young Los Angeles Lakers is not immune to feeling the wrath of the biggest baller on earth. LaVar felt the need to criticize the way his eldest son was coached, and when Magic Freakin’ Johnson had to have a face-to-face with the man to tell him to tone down his behavior, it did not matter. LaVar does what LaVar wants.
When he decided he needed to be more ambitious (or whatever), Ball thought it would be fun to take on president Donald Trump and the institution of college basketball. With the latter, he announced that he was setting up a league that would give, in his mind, highly-regarded college basketball players the opportunity to play semi-professional basketball and get compensated during their required year between graduating high school and playing in the NBA. When he announced this, he decided to specifically call out the hypocrisy of NCAA president Mark Emmert, who of course, was critical of him earlier this year.
And with regards to Trump, well, let’s go back to his interview with Cuomo. The set up: Trump says that he personally helped the trio of arrested UCLA basketball players from spending a decade in Chinese prison for shoplifting. While that wasn’t actually ever going to happen, he did speak to Chinese president Xi Jinping, and in return, he wanted the players to say thank you.
All three players did during a press conference when they returned to Los Angeles, and even though at least one of them (you can guess who) didn’t plan on thanking Trump, they all did, anyway.
But LaVar Ball wasn’t willing to thank Trump. Why? Well, who knows, really. He says it’s because he didn’t have to thank Trump for reasons we’ll all enjoy momentarily, but deep down, maybe he voted for Hillary Clinton and thinks Russia helped Trump steal the election. Maybe he disagrees with Trump’s general approach to the presidency. Maybe he just thinks Trump is a jerk, or maybe he is just a narcissist who does not ever want to thank people.
So in a highly-anticipated interview, we had Cuomo on one side and Ball on the other. What ended up happening was 20 minutes of Ball taking Cuomo on a walk through LaVar-ville.
He was able to do this because LaVar Ball owned the sports world in 2017. It wasn’t always good — his appearance on Colin Cowherd’s radio show where he told co-host Kristine Leahy to “stay in your lane,” only to make and sell shirts referencing the incident was really gross and bad — but somehow, a sports dad managed to be at the center of discussion for sports fans all year.
It was a weird, wild ride — one that will not end in 2018, because he has three sons playing professional basketball, a hoops league to launch, a footwear/clothing brand to grow, and at this rate, a fistfight with French president Emmanuel Macron and launching a rocket into outer space that leads to the first human stepping foot on Jupiter is on the horizon. Who knows what Ball’s brain is going to have him do next.
Of course, he could also just go watch his sons play basketball, either in Los Angeles or in Lithuania, and keep a relatively low profile. That’s not going to happen, though, because he is a big baller, and big ballers never stop going in.