By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
LaVar Ball is a self-important blowhard. Most of what comes out of his mouth is self aggrandizing dribble, with little basis in reality (“Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one.”) While it’s easy to appreciate his passion for each of his sons, the method in which he uses them to promote his own personal agenda (“If you can’t afford the ZO2’S, you’re NOT a BIG BALLER”) is often times nauseating.
But from the “Even a Blind Squirrel finds an Acorn” department comes LaVar’s first good idea.
Ball wants to start a professional basketball league for young players who don’t want to attend college. His working title is “Junior Basketball Association” sponsored singularly by his “Big Baller Brand.” He pledges to pay players up to $10,000 per month. Not bad for a teenager getting his first minor league gig. And of course, they’d all have to wear Big Baller Brand shoes. Duh!
Interviewed by ESPN, Ball said his goal was to have 10 teams – using NBA facilities – in some of the nation’s biggest markets. Not really a “minor” league in that respect…but you’d expect nothing else from LaVar.
“Getting these players is going to be easy,” Ball told ESPN. “This is giving guys a chance to get a jump-start on their career, to be seen by pro scouts, and we’re going to pay them because someone has to pay these kids.”
Grandiose thinking is nothing new to Ball, and all those pesky details involved in something this enormous – like player acquisition, contracts, etc. – would obviously be left to other people to figure out. Ball obviously can’t do this alone, which is precisely why it won’t happen (at least as he envisions it.) LaVar works alone – for himself. For this to work, he would need multiple deep pocketed partners and actual big name $ponsors before anyone in any city would take it seriously. If you’re a prospective owner in a large venture like this, LaVar probably isn’t your idea of the perfect partner type. He doesn’t seem to work and play well with others. Can you imagine ANY partner with cache being accepting of taking a backseat to LaVar? Can you imagine players jeopardizing their college eligibility on the promise they’d get paid solely by a wanna-be shoe company?
The plan for the Junior Basketball Association as LaVar has laid it out is shallow and ridiculous. But the concept of a league for high school basketball prospects who don’t want to be “one-and-done” players in college, and who want – or need to – earn a paycheck soon after graduation is actually a very good one. Not everyone is cut out for college and attending for one year – actually for a single semester as it works out in hoops (we’re looking at you, Ben Simmons) – is also ridiculous, even though that’s the current reality. The NBA and the NCAA are equally to blame for this mess and the fact that it continues to damage the game at both levels.
While there is a need, it’s hard to envision a league run by LaVar Ball having any redeeming social value at all. Who on earth would want to be a referee for this guy? Talk about job INsecurity. Who would want to coach Ball’s two youngest sons? What happens when there’s a dispute of some sort that the “Commissioner” needs to rule on? The Junior Basketball Association would be “undisciplined” at best, chaotic at worst.
But the NBA and its “G” League (sponsored by Gatorade) could take the idea and make it work. They would not have to give LaVar a job, just as long as they gave him the credit (and had a couple of players wearing his shoes.) In a perfect hoops world, the NBA’s G-League would function the way Ball envisions his JBA doing. The NBA’s version of a minor league should discard the NBA rule that mandates a player be 19 to enter the league, and allow high school prospect the chance to be drafted and sent to an actual functioning minor league system for two years of development, on and off the court. When said player is ready for a call up, the parent NBA team could do so. The NBA product would be much better, and so, incidentally, would college hoops, where players sticking around school for more than a single season would bring an immediate upgrade in continuity and an improvement in the quality of play.
This way the NBA would be getting NBA-ready players coming into the league from both systems.
If the NBA G-League functioned like baseball’s minor league system, players who want to get paid out of high school would have that chance, and players that wanted to play in college could do so for a minimum of three years (and some might actually earn degrees!) As fans, that is what we’d get to watch and be able to call some ‘big ballin.’