LaVar Ball—the supremely annoying father of upcoming lottery pick Lonzo Ball, and two younger basketball teens—is in the headlines yet again. Darren Rovell reports that Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour—the three companies that combined control 99 percent of the basketball shoe market—have all declined to sign a shoe deal with Lonzo, who could be the first pick in June’s NBA draft.
It is not that these companies don’t want to sign Lonzo, or that he is demanding too hefty of a contract. Instead, they don’t like the conditions imposed upon any deal by his father:
In his meetings with all three companies, LaVar insisted that they license his upstart Big Baller Brand from him. He also showed the companies a shoe prototype that he hoped would be Lonzo’s first shoe.
LaVar later compared himself and Big Baller Brand to Uber, disrupting the taxi-like shoe companies, and WhatsApp, a money-losing business that was bought by Facebook for billions. He also said he might take on Facebook (???) as a partner to produce a shoe.
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. LaVar Ball is an extremely overbearing sports dad. I’m sure his shoe prototypes look awful. He’s a dickhead. He’s a troll. We’re going to spend the next 20 years talking about him. I regret even starting this blog.
But that’s all a different thing entirely from being wrong here. Why shouldn’t someone take on the Big Time Sneaker Brands, and their assumptions about who is marketable and how? If Steph Curry can singlehandedly raise Under Armour’s fortunes, why can’t Lonzo Ball do that with a Chinese shoe company, or a company that doesn’t yet exist?
LaVar Ball has more leverage here than your typical overbearing sports dad. He has two more kids committed to playing at UCLA. Next up is LiAngelo—who currently doesn’t project to be an NBA player, but will probably get at least a look because of his last name—and 15-year-old LaMelo, who scored 92 in a game earlier this year.
With few exceptions, even the biggest rookie shoe deals are only worth a few million dollars a year. Taking a deal reduces risk—you still get paid even if you’re a bust—but also reduces the potential upside. If Lonzo Ball is as good as his dad thinks he is, signing a fixed contract means leaving millions on the table.
Can LaVar Ball actually pull this off? No idea. But we’ve never really seen this before—an overbearing sports dad with one NBA lock and potentially two more in his brood, who actively wants to take on the big shoe companies. If it fails, he’ll be Marv Marinovich, and everybody will conclude that he ruined his kids. If it succeeds, he’ll be seen as Earl Woods, and everybody will conclude that he ensured his kids’ success.
But don’t write it off just because he sucks.