LaVar Ball doesn’t need much prompting to start talking. Ask a question and he’ll take off, bouncing from one topic to another at a moment’s notice. When something’s on his mind, sooner or later it’ll come out of his mouth. The father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball made a reputation for himself as the UCLA prospect became one of the top picks in the NBA Draft.
Along the way, LaVar Ball became a household name along with his sons, showing up on national television, launching his own sportswear company and helping his boys launch not one, but now two signature shoes. The latest Big Baller venture is a reality television show airing exclusively on Facebook Watch, a new platform the social media site hopes will be its next big thing. Ball is betting big on Ball in the Family, which debuted its first episode on Thursday and will air each episode on Sunday nights starting on Sept. 10.
Ball talked to DIME by phone while in his “fabulous spot” — the kitchen of his Chino Hills home. He’ll talk about just about anything, but his responses aren’t as off-the-cuff as they may seem. Often he’ll repeat the question, giving himself a few extra seconds to come up with something clever or meaningful to say. And his sentences come with long pauses, as if he’s reconsidering his answers, adding to them as he sees fit.
In the span of 20 minutes, Ball had a surprising pick for his favorite NBA player, talked about how people use his name to gain attention, and predicted how people will view his family in a new light once they see the show air.
One thing was clear in speaking to the Big Baller Brand patriarch: he doesn’t regret the role he’s taken on in the basketball world. In fact, it’s clear that he intends to build his company — and his family — into a lasting presence in the sports world.
The “Ball Dynasty,” as he calls it, has already begun. And LaVar says he’s just getting started.
Your family has certainly had an interesting year or so. Have you been able to take any time and reflect on how things have changed for you and your family?
No, I ain’t really taken time to reflect on it because it’s supposed to be happening. This was in the works for a long time. Like I said, the good thing about this with Facebook is that I don’t have to act. I’ve been like this for a long time and now they’re following us with cameras. And it’s a beautiful story. So what better way to get it out there than Facebook? Nobody’s watching TV no more. And this is so genuine. So it’s gonna be a success.
So I haven’t sat back and said ‘Oh my god, this is great.’ Because I haven’t had any hard times. Where, ‘dang, I gotta make ends meet’ or “I don’t get to spend time with my family.’ So this is great.
This show is very natural for you, then? Was it strange having cameras, or at least more cameras than usual, follow you and your family around?
No, it didn’t change nothing. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh shoot we got a bunch of money coming in and we doing this and people love us.’ I was always an outgoing person, it’s just more people coming up and it’s fine.
Lonzo was a huge basketball prospect in high school and they always get a certain amount of attention, but did you know that this level of attention would be coming?
I knew this kind of attention was coming. Listen, my last name is Ball. I expected it since I was a baby. And picking my wife and having our babies, I knew this was coming.
When people start writing about basically everything you’re doing, or putting cameras in your face at airports and at AAU games, does that kind of attention get to you?
Man, the way I look at it is: everybody’s got an opinion. And probably 50 percent of the people are gonna say ‘Ah, he’s great.’ And another 50 percent are gonna say ‘Ah, hell, he ain’t shit’ See what I’m saying?
But it’s cool, that’s what keeps everybody saying ‘Wow, why do we keep following this guy?’ Because you can’t stop. Because everybody has an opinion. And it’s just a hot topic.
Knowing that those opinions are going to come, that’s something you’ve tried to prepare your children for as well. How much do you think that helps them on the court?
It’s very useful them. I taught the from day one that this basketball thing, it’s not pressure and it’s not life or death. It’s just entertainment. And all this comes with it. Some people have good reviews of the show and some people have bad reviews but it’s the same show.
They’re still coming to watch. Instead of going to the movies or something, come watch the Ball boys.
You’re given a ton of interviews and covered a lot of topics over the last few months. Some things you’ve said have earned you a lot of critics. Is there anything you’ve said that you’d want to take back if you had the chance?
I’m not taking back anything that comes out of my mouth. The only thing I’d take back is a bad chocolate chip cookie. I can’t take that, it’s gotta be good.
With so much of what you’re doing being uncharted territory — a show on Facebook and LaMelo getting his own signature shoe while in high school — are you trying to show others they can follow a similar path?
What I’m showing is independence. Independence. If you really want to do something, you can do it on your own. But you must be able to suffer the consequences, whether they be good or bad. If you’re built for this, then you can go ahead and do it. But sometimes things get real difficult and people will stop. ‘You know what, I’ma do something else because it’s getting real difficult now.’ They’re not built for this.
What I’m saying is they’re not taking the time to go a little further and a little further. You can do exactly what you want, but don’t try to do something you want and then try to back it up and say ‘OK, because you guys said I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ and leave it at that.
The Balls, we’re not built that way. We disrupt.
Is that a message you want others to hear? Are you trying to lay the groundwork for families that come after you?
All I want to do with this is let people think and understand that you can get out of a line and go a separate way. If you want to be safe, stay in line and do exactly what they tell you.
It’s just like let’s say you have a water fountain and (the line’s) 20 miles long. So you get to it and everybody’s lined up to get some water. But yet, you can cut through these trees in this forest and there’s a creek over there.
But nobody wants to get out of line and go see. Because they say ‘I’m thirsty, and this is the way to the water.’ But not knowing, you can get off this road … And you might die. There might not be no creek over there. But what if there is? That’s how we roll. We’ll worry about the situation when we get there.
There’s an effect that happens with you where you make a statement about something, then many different people are asked to comment on your statement. It often means you get a lot of advice through the press. Is there any advice of that sort you’ve considered or actually taken?
Everybody has an opinion. But as long as I know what I’m about, and what my family, my boys, know what I’m about, I’m good with that. So it doesn’t matter what people say on the outside, whether it be good or bad.
And that’s the way I look at it so I don’t hold it, saying ‘You know what, they’re saying something bad about this. I don’t have to justify myself to nobody. If they ask me a question, I’m going to give them my answer. My answer. My opinion. It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, But it’s right, because it’s coming out of my mouth, to me.
That’s what shocks a lot of people, because they want to say some of the stuff that I say but I say, ‘Listen, you can’t say it.’
Why do you think you shock people?
You can’t control me, that’s what it is. Because sometimes when people have jobs you can’t be out there talking wild like me if you got a job and you be working for somebody. You have to be quiet. You get things done. Otherwise, go ahead and speak your mind, Whatever they do, get your ass out there and don’t be crying back and act like ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.’
But when you have your own stuff, who am I going to cry to? What am I going to say wrong? And it’s my stuff, just like they was talking about the exploitation of kids, or whatever. And everybody was like ‘Well LaVar wouldn’t be nothing if it wasn’t for his boys.’ They have to look at this: who the hell do you think made them boys? They didn’t just pop out and be like that? I’m the one who made them like that. If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be here. So that’s what a lot of people on the outside have to take.
Getting that kind of direct platform like this has to be exciting for you, then. Was that the goal in getting your own reality show?
See, that’s what’s good about the Facebook show. It shows the real stuff that’s going on behind the scenes that none of these people see. They’re just hearing the sound bites and listening to writers write things.
With Facebook, which is great for me, is they get to see the real family and what it’s about. This ain’t no fake stuff. Without that platform, you’re just going to have your own opinion. A lot of those opinions are going to start changing. Because we have 10 episodes. Ten weeks of this. and people want to know.
There’s a lot of things going on with a lot of people. But the success that we’re having and the route that we’re going, it’s all documented. Facebook is documenting it. I don’t have to take family photos and all this now. This shit’s going to go on forever. I can go back 50 years from now and say ‘Man, remember when we did this with Facebook? That was great. This is how the Balls turned out.’
When Lonzo has kids and I have grandkids, man, forget about the family photos. Look in the archives on Facebook on Watch and it’s all there. How the Ball dynasty came about. Because this is history in the making and they’re the first ones on the set taking it all in. And the time we’re doing all this, it’s so natural that it’s fun. So they winning and we winning. So we’re all grinning.
How involved were you in putting together the episodes and deciding what footage they use?
We got to see the footage after they gave us the footage. They just got a lot of b roll footage and put it together so nicely that we’re not in here trying to change things as far as ‘Let’s create the perfect family’ or ‘Let’s create the most drama.’ Where I got a mistress or it’s going bad with a girlfriend or my boys is fighting. We don’t have all that. It’s a close-knit group that’s about family. Like I said, you don’t have to write these facts in. We’re just dealing with them. We didn’t have to write, after you see all this fun stuff happening and we joke and stuff, that my wife has been sick. Had a stroke.
We’re not trying to hide that. But they’re showing it in a light like, ‘OK, they have family problems, too.’ Because everybody has a stroke every day. It’s just when it hits your family that you go ‘Uh oh.’ You still have to deal with it. But we’re not going to deal with it like ‘Okay let’s drop everything and just hold her hand at the hospital and hope she gets better. We all got work to do, we all stay in our lane and get it done.
So as long as we have that Facebook platform, people are gonna want to see it because its totally genuine.
Your wife’s health was something that wasn’t really talked about by you or your sons publicly. Was that just because people didn’t ask, or was it something you were trying to avoid at the time
People were wondering, like, where’s my wife. And they kind of had me on a runaway train with this. Like, Lavar’s in the media so much, he’s got a big mouth, his wife said ‘You know what? I can’t take this shit, I’m gonna go. I’m gonna divorce this guy and leave and go do my own thing.’ They was running with stuff and I was never saying nothing. But if that was their thing, that’s fine.
But I told my boys, if anybody asks you what’s going on, tell them she’s handling family business. This is family, this is our business. So I didn’t want everyone feeling sorry and trying to put all this stuff on my boys like ‘Well, the reason they didn’t play good is because they’re thinking about their mom. The reason they played good is because they’re playing for their mom.’
No, they’ve been playing for themselves for as long as I can know. What I’m trying to explain to my guys, my boys, is if you try to please everybody on the outside, this ain’t for you. You’re trying to please yourself and keep it going. There’s gonna be a lot of people that say you’re a terrible player, or say you’re a star. But you can’t take either one of them and go with it. You can’t say you’re sorry because now you don’t have the confidence to succeed. And you can’t succeed and then everybody is saying that you’re good when you’re not there yet. So don’t take either of them. You’ve got to be self-fulfilling. As long as you got that, you good.
We’re talked a lot about how your sons are similar to you in their mentality and how they approach the game. But how are they different than you?
Here’s the thing: they’re not different than me. Why do they have to be? I raised them. So guess what, you’re going to raise them the way I am. I’m not going to raise them somebody else’s way. It’s just like me being loud and stuff like that. You guys just don’t catch them in the right light.
Now Facebook? They’re going to catch them in the right light. Because they’re here in that time. I see people write that about my boys, that they’re so serious and they don’t have fun. But with this media outlet, it’s going to show a lot of people different views.
You know how they always you don’t really know nobody? Well, you’re not going to get the different view of them because you’re only seeing them in certain lights. So this Facebook, to watch us on Watch, to allowed people to see the diversity in my boys. And people underwent it’s not just basketball basketball basketball basketball and no other life.
This is a beautiful thing for them and us. For them to capture the moment. And for us to be in the moment. And it’s not fabricated.
Lonzo is obviously your favorite NBA player now, but who was your favorite player before that? Was there anybody growing up you really idolized?
My favorite player in the NBA? Shit, guess who it was. You’ll never guess. Take a guess. See, you can’t take a guess, because me and him get confused. Charles Barkley! Light-skinned, strong, can run, fast, cocky. That’s my dude! But now he got over 50 and started talking crazy — it’s OK, I understand that he’s changed.
But until my boys come along, he’s my favorite. He didn’t win nothing. No championships, but the guy was my dude. Strong, just had the wheels. Rebounded the ball. He just played reckless and gave it his all. But he was a bad dude when he played. He was a bad dude.
Michael Jordan, he was a little too thin for me. Charles was thick like me. He could move jump. Strong, heavy-set. I just liked his game. People would say “Oh, Lavar’ — particularly when I was bald-headed — you look just like Michael Jordan.’ I’d say ‘Don’t I look more like Charles Barkley?’ Skin tone. Tights, come on. Let’s keep it real. All black folks don’t look like Michael Jordan.
Did he know that he was your favorite player before you guys started talking back and forth?
Heck no! How would he know? Man, Charles ain’t worried about me. And the only reason he said something about my boys and me is to stay kind of relevant. Because he’d been talking a lot about a lot of stuff and the only thing that lingers out there is when you attach it to me.
You attach it to the Ball family, that’s how it lingers out there. Just like Jay Z! What do you know about Jay Z lately? The fact that he bought ZO2 shoes. He done put out a new album and twins and did some other deals and the only thing they talking about now is that he bought three pairs of shoes and he’s backing the Ball family and the Big Baller Brand.
Just like the BIG3. The BIG3 was going on the air long before Ice Cube and I shot those shots. Not too many people were talking about that but then we do a shootout at halftime and I’m 50 years old shooting and people are watching like ‘You gotta make one!’ You know? Now look at what they’re talking about.
Speaking of other people bringing you up, have you seen Keenan Thompson’s impression of you on SNL Weekend Update? What did you think?
Yeah, the Facebook people showed it to me on the computer. Making fun of the Big Baller. A lot of people say you know you made it when they make fun of you. Well, that’s your perception. I know I’ve made it when I can go out and purchase a Ferrari and Lambos in the same month. That’s when you know you’ve made it.
Is there anything in particular that’s on the show that’s going to surprise people?
I think the surprising thing is in episode three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten. Be sure to tune in.