In the last year, LaVar Ball has single-handedly turned his family into the Kardashians of American sports.
The father of the Lakers’ first round draft pick, Lonzo Ball, LaVar made waves in the basketball sneaker world after Lonzo rejected sneaker deals from every major brand. By choosing to create Big Baller Brand, the Ball family turned against the establishment, epitomizing the concept of “player empowerment.”
The latest stunt by Big Baller Brand did not involve Lonzo however; instead it was about the youngest of the Ball brothers, LaMelo. On Aug. 30, Big Baller Brand announced LaMelo’s new signature shoe, the MB1, available to preorder for $395.
With all of the hype and spotlight put on LaMelo in the past few months, it is not a complete surprise to see him become the first high school player with his own sneaker, considering the family’s penchant for big headlines. LaMelo’s 92-point performance last February made him the most famous high school player in the country, and after witnessing what LaVar had done to promote Lonzo going into the NBA Draft in June, it was only a matter of time before LaVar capitalized on LaMelo’s marketing potential.
While it may seem like an innovative idea, LaMelo’s shoe could pose a major obstacle for his NCAA eligibility, where he has committed to follow his brother’s footsteps to UCLA. But it’s not like LaVar even cares.
“He’s going to have a shoe, NCAA ain’t going to tell me s*** because they’re not my boss,” Lavar said while at LaMelo’s 16th birthday party last Saturday, according to ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes. “That’s what they do, but they’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, LaVar, you can’t bring that shoe out until we tell you.’ What? Something that I’m doing for my family? That’s mine? I’m not under no umbrella.”
We live in a capitalistic society, but the NCAA is supposed to protect players. In all likeliness, LaMelo has probably already cost himself his eligibility. The NCAA is anything but lenient and has been known to make more ridiculous rulings than fair ones.
A recent example is the case of ex-UCF kicker Donald De La Haye. De La Haye became famous for his YouTube videos, famous enough that he hit 10,000 lifetime views and was able to profit off of advertisements.
‘The issue was with NCAA Bylaw 12.4.4, which states that an athlete “may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete’s name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business.” After De La Haye refused to stop making videos, he was ruled ineligible for the upcoming season.
The public backlash was heavy. People saw the hard work that De La Haye had put into his videos and understood his position and desire to earn some cash. LaMelo on the other hand, merely designed a shoe and put his name on it, giving us a good feeling of where the NCAA will stand.
So maybe the college experience is not a part of LaMelo’s future. It is possible that his desire is to play overseas, which would allow him to start collecting paychecks when he finishes high school. Because of his fame, LaMelo does not need to establish himself as a star at UCLA in order to cash in on his marketing potential.
But if his ultimate goal is to make it to the NBA, then this decision could prove to be troubling. The overseas rout is difficult, although players like Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay have done it.
That being said, playing collegiately for UCLA would be more favorable to LaMelo and I find the sneaker decision extremely short-sighted, as it potentially closes more doors than it opens.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.