Home College Basketball Armour: LaVar Ball Lurks Over UCLA’s Decision to Discipline Players Accused of Shoplifting

Armour: LaVar Ball Lurks Over UCLA’s Decision to Discipline Players Accused of Shoplifting

Armour: LaVar Ball Lurks Over UCLA’s Decision to Discipline Players Accused of Shoplifting
UCLA basketball player LiAngelo Ball arrives at LAX after flying back from China where he was detained on suspicion of shoplifting on November 14, 2017 in Los Angeles. Photo: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Sure, it was an international incident that threatened to spark a diplomatic crisis and required the intervention of the U.S. president.

That was the easy part.

With LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley finally on their way home a week after Chinese officials accused them of shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store, UCLA officials now have the delicate task of determining a suitable punishment.

And by suitable, I mean one that won’t incur the wrath of Ball’s father, LaVar. Or prompt him to yank another son out of school.

This isn’t meant to make light of the situation. While the players haven’t addressed the incident publicly, ESPN reported there is video surveillance. It’s worth noting, too, that Georgia Tech players who were initially questioned were let go without any charges.

But regardless of what happened, the three players embarrassed both UCLA and the Pac-12. They supposedly caused President Donald Trump to spend time pleading their case when he could have been talking with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping about, oh, I don’t know, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the threat they pose to the rest of the world.

If that doesn’t warrant at least a handful of games on the bench, I don’t know what does.

There’s no guarantee UCLA and Bruins coach Steve Alford will do the right thing, however. Not when there’s another Ball still left to suit up for the Bruins.

“I want to be clear that we take seriously any violations of the law,” UCLA chancellor Gene Block said in a statement Tuesday, after the players had boarded a plane home. “In this particular case, both Athletics and the Office of Student Conduct will review this incident and guide any action with respect to the involved students.”

That this hasn’t already been done raises doubts about whether UCLA has the stomach for a confrontation with LaVar Ball, who has already said the arrest “ain’t that big a deal.”

I mean, it’s not as if UCLA officials are waiting for the players to get back to hear their side of the story and consult with their families. Or that they haven’t had time to run through all the options, given that the players have been confined to a luxury hotel in Hangzhou for the past week.

But players spending time behind bars in China is no longer a concern. LaVar Ball very much is.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at Ball, with his outlandish claims about his and his sons’ skills and oldest son Lonzo’s overpriced shoe. But Ball takes himself very seriously, and doesn’t react well at what he considers disrespect.

He pulled his AAU teams off the floor because he wasn’t happy with a female referee. He pulled youngest son LaMelo out of high school earlier this year and said he’d home school him because he didn’t like the way the basketball program was being run. (This after getting a previous coach fired.)

So if LiAngelo is suspended, even for meaningless non-conference games, you can be sure LaVar will have something to say about it. And he’s not likely to limit it to LiAngelo’s punishment.

LaMelo is one of the country’s top high school prospects, and he’s already committed to UCLA. But LaVar also has floated the idea of his sons skipping college and going straight to the NBA when they’re eligible.

Now, this was in regard to what he’d do if the NCAA tried to rein in the Big Baller Brand. But it can’t have gone unnoticed by UCLA.

So, too, LaVar’s comments about LiAngelo’s arrest.

“He’ll be fine,” Ball told ESPN. “Everyone’s making it a big deal. It ain’t that big a deal.”

After all, LaVar knows how to make a deal out of something.

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.


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