LaVar Ball is, to put it lightly, a lot to deal with. He’s an insane shit-talker, a genius marketer, and a shrewd businessman who has done a truly admirable job of promoting his children while sidestepping the NCAA’s bullshit amateurism rules. He’s also, plainly, a dickhead.
Ball, as you well know, has made various braggadocious claims about his eldest son Lonzo over the past six months. For the most part, they’ve been harmless, obvious attempts to drum up publicity and notoriety for the Ball family and subsequently the Ball merchandise wing, Big Ballers Brand. And the act works! Most any profile or piece on the man will link out to six other stories about wild shit he’s said; he’s buddy-buddy with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN; he trends on social media at least a couple times a month. So long as you don’t take Ball’s bloviating too seriously, the act is bearable.
But then there’s the way Ball actually treats people in real life. For insights here, we can turn to two articles—one from USA Today, the other from The Undefeated—that detail Ball’s interactions with his sons’ high school coach.
All three Ball children went to or currently attend Chino Hills High School. The team’s basketball program was of little note before the Balls arrived; once Lonzo came along, so did the state titles and 30-win seasons, thus improving the likelihood that LaVar would be granted a say in on-court matters. Unlike Lonzo’s UCLA squad, these teams played tight man defense, pressing constantly, and they thrived on NBA-range treys and transition offense—all products of LaVar’s preferred system. Chino Hills head coach Stephan Gilling was even trained by LaVar as a teenager. With Gilling now 30 years old and in his first season as head coach at Chino Hills, Ball believed his sideline coaching style—literally him yelling which schemes to run at the Chino Hills players from the sidelines—would still fly.
The USA Today story hops in here to grant the first example of how LaVar handles being told he’s not in control of his kids’ team. At this December’s annual Tarkanian Classic, Chino Hills was down 12 at the half, with failed attempts to trap Roosevelt High School’s guard against the half-court line and sideline leading to easy layups and jumpers in the paint. Noticing that the method (the constant ball-pressure method LaVar had his sons run on his AAU teams) wasn’t working, Gilling told Chino Hills—which fielded LiAngelo and LaMelo at the time—to just play man-up.
From the sideline, LaVar can be heard on video screaming, “Double team!” throughout the second half; Gilling can be heard yelling, “Stop trapping!” Chino Hills eventually won by eight after LaMelo started to heat up in the final 10 minutes, and, for the most part (LiAngelo trapped multiple times after looking at the stands), they listened to their coach and played man down the stretch.
According to USA Today, after the game, LaVar, miffed that Gilling would do something as basic as run a different defense in an attempt to win, left the stands, went in the Chino Hills locker room against Gilling’s request, and refused to leave.
“He comes to me and says, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m trying to win the game.’
“He turns around and walks to our locker room,” Gilling said. “I said,
‘LaVar, don’t go into the locker room.’ He continues walking. I said, ‘LaVar, why are you trying to embarrass me?’ And he just kept walking and goes into the locker room. He’s in there sitting down with the team. And I’m like, ‘LaVar, get out!’”
Gilling says Ball refused to leave the locker room, so Gilling told his team to follow him back to the hotel while Ball’s sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, stayed behind.
When the Chino Hills team made it back to their hotel, Ball still hadn’t cooled down. In fact, he was just getting started.
“An assistant coach comes up to me and tells me that he sees LaVar rallying the team up,” Gilling said. “I guess he got them out of their rooms on the 18th floor and tells the team that it was his system that won. That we’re doing what he says. ‘I run Chino Hills! I run UCLA, about to run the NBA!’
The Undefeated picks up the story (in a very pro-LaVar light, it should be noted) two months later, after Chino Hills lost an overtime game 83-80:
“He committed the cardinal sin of cussing out Melo after the game,” LaVar said of Gilling. “He blamed the loss on him. That was it. So I told my boys to do an acting job. Nod your head when he talks, but when you’re on the court, do what I tell you.
“He told my boys not to let your father in your head. What?”
“He had to go ahead and be a hardhead and try to do things his way,” said LaVar. “This is his last year. One-and-done. He’s gone. I will definitely have a hand in picking the next coach. He’s not welcome here anymore.
Chino Hills athletic director Jeff Schuld told USA Today last week that Gilling has his full support. Ball told the publication (which he no longer speaks to) that the reason his team had “problems” this season, was because Gilling—a 30-year-old man paid to coach a team—“got his own mind.” Chino Hills finished 30-3 this season.
And then there’s Ball’s most recent television appearance, on this morning’s episode of Second Take on FS1. While Lonzo sits beside mute beside him, LaVar once again talks about the beef with Gilling, and even implies that the coach is suffering from bipolar disorder:
Strip away all the theatrics associated with the Ball family and set aside whatever critiques of a broken and corrupt system LaVar’s act is making, and what you are left with is simply a man being a cruel bully. Going on national television and airing out a high school coach for daring to implement a different scheme before accusing that coach of being mentally ill, all while his son sits next to him in what appears to be silent agony, is not harmless fun. It does nothing to advance the careers or earning potential of his children, either. It’s just something an asshole would do.