LaVar Ball has done what once seemed impossible.
Not create the world’s greatest basketball player – the jury will be out on that for a while, though early indications are not promising. Nor did he create a model athletic experience or dynasty that will be remembered for years to come.
No, what Ball has done is finally supplant Marv Marinovich as the worst sports parent ever, a title Marinovich had a lock on for 30 some years.
Until now, Ball has been a caricature with his outlandish claims and delusional view of his and his sons’ talents, the basketball equivalent of a Kardashian. With his announcement Monday that he is pulling youngest son LaMelo out of high school so he can make him “the best basketball player ever,” Ball crossed into troubling territory.
These are children he’s raising, not commodities, and the ramifications are huge when a parent forgets there’s a difference.
“My dad was a fantastic coach. But as a parent he lacked a lot,” Todd Marinovich said during a May interview with Dan Patrick in which they discussed the similarities between his father and Ball.
For those who have forgotten, Marv Marinovich raised his son to be an NFL quarterback. His regimented training program began when his son was still an infant, and he brought in specialists to hone Todd’s skills. Everything Todd ate was monitored — no refined sugars, nitrates, food colorings or fast food — and there were no days off.
Everything was geared toward making Todd an NFL star. Anything else was irrelevant. When Todd Marinovich transferred high schools as a junior, he called it a family decision but added that he and his previous coach “didn’t communicate well.”
“I don’t think Marv was looking for the limelight. I just know that it was his passion to, ‘Can I help an athlete enhance his athleticism?’ And he was great at it. He helped me become the athlete and player that I was,” said Marinovich, whose drug problems ended his NFL career after just two years.
“But there’s a lot of other areas to life.”
Which brings us back to Ball.
Whether he and his son recognize it, pulling him out of school robs LaMelo of an important piece of his adolescence. LaMelo told ESPN that leaving school won’t matter because he’ll see his buddies when they come to his house to train. But you don’t spend your life surrounded by your buddies, and school is when you start learning how to navigate relationships with those who aren’t.
And while it’s true that plenty of elite athletes are home schooled, the “Everybody else is doing it!” argument doesn’t mean it’s always right.
Especially not with the reasons Ball is giving.
Chino Hills High School hired Dennis Latimore as its coach last spring, and Ball has made it clear he’s not a fan.
“The coach made a comment the other day. He said, ‘All those 50 shots a game, that’s going to stop.’ So I’m like, ‘Wow,'” Ball told ESPN. “And every kid he talks to, he asks which AAU program they play for and as soon as they mention my name, he goes the other way.
“I’m not going to put my son through all that.”
So instead, Ball is going to teach LaMelo that he doesn’t have to listen to coaches. That rules are for suckers. That quitting is an acceptable solution to a challenge or adversity. (That not being allowed to take 50 shots a game could qualify as adversity is a whole issue in itself.)
That basketball is the only measure of LaMelo and his brothers’ worth.
The Ball kids are talented, no question, and their father has made them a nationwide brand. But there’s more to life than basketball, and there’s more to them than basketball.
Staying at his high school isn’t going to diminish LaMelo’s talent as a player. The same can’t be said for his development as a person.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.