Don’t expect the LaVar Ball show to appear in college football – ESPN

Even as he roams through the Las Vegas airport, Ricky Williams still moves with the same brisk stride he used to rush for 6,279 career yards and win the Heisman Trophy at Texas.

Years later, he has kept the rocks for shoulders and shed the abs. He has kept the serious demeanor he employed during subdued interviews in college and the NFL.

But a question about LaVar Ball inspires a chuckle, a common reaction to any query related to the basketball mega-personality, gifted teacher, father of point guard savants, alleged sexist and misogynist, opportunist, entrepreneur, loud-mouth, prophet and genius — or as Jay Bilas put it, “a buffoon.”

It’s a persona, Williams said, you will not see around most football programs. It’s just a different culture.

“You can have an ego in football but you also have to be able to be a team player,” Williams said. “You have to have a respect for the team because football is a tough job at any position and [you] put your neck on the line for your brothers.”

College football’s popularity would seem to provide the perfect platform to produce an abundance of Ball-like figures who might attempt to build their personal brands off the success of their children.

However, few sports at any level insulate players the way college football programs often do once the season begins, turning parents into powerless bystanders.

Notre Dame recently announced new rules requiring reporters to “shoot tight” when filming practice this season and limit live streaming of specific plays.

Two years ago, Clemson and other high-profile programs banned all players from using social media. At Big Ten football media day in Chicago last month, top stars such as Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley were absent and avoided the media scrums.

The collective message: college football coaches make their own rules with minimal concern for outside perspectives.

In college basketball, some coaches wonder if Ball’s act will spawn a generation of copycats. College football coaches dare any parents around their programs to attempt a similar coup of the program’s spotlight and focus or challenge their control.

“I think [Ball is] kind of an outlier, even in basketball. That’s kind of an extreme situation,” Penn State’s James Franklin said. “I think you have that in every area. Teachers are dealing with that more than ever in schools, elementary school all the way up to high school. High school coaches are dealing with that more than ever. I think that’s a little bit more of our society. I think that specific situation is pretty unique. I tell parents that you can come and talk to me 24 hours a day about social issues, about academics, about your son is not doing well because your girlfriend broke up with him. But don’t call me about playing time. Don’t call me about playing time.”

The structure of football at the youth level neutralizes any ambitious voices early in the process, too. Parents learn fast.

The loose system within grassroots basketball encourages people around top prospects to bask in their power and platform, a class Ball could teach if he’d like.

“The structure of our sport right now is still through the high school, through high school football, high school coach onto college,” Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin said. “Basketball, you don’t even hear about high school programs. It’s all about AAU. So there’s all these different people, whether it’s a parent or whoever, that are involved now, and they’re all the key players and now they have a voice. People have a voice, they start speaking up. Not that you don’t want parents to have a voice, but in the right way. … I think if you set those parameters and that structure right, it helps in our sport because it’s built that way. But it’s not in basketball.”

All comparisons to LaVar Ball should begin with a definition of LaVar Ball.

Ball the businessman turned an outrageous $495 price tag for a pair of Big Baller Brand shoes into a daunting, one-man global marketing campaign only Don King could equal.

Ball the teacher touts the skills of his three sons who have all secured Division I scholarships to UCLA, a powerhouse that has won an NCAA-record 11 national titles.

“… I think that’s a little bit more of our society. I think that specific situation is pretty unique. I tell parents that you can come and talk to me 24 hours a day about social issues, about academics, about your son is not doing well because your girlfriend broke up with him. But don’t call me about playing time. Don’t call me about playing time.”

Penn State coach James Franklin

Lonzo Ball, drafted second by the Los Angeles Lakers in June, turned NBA summer league into must-see TV. LiAngelo Ball will play for Steve Alford’s Bruins squad this season. LaMelo Ball, the youngest son and top point guard in the 2019 class per ESPN, possesses 2.3 million Instagram followers.

All three brothers finished with double figures when they led Chino Hills High School over De La Salle in California’s Open Division championship game in 2016, completing a perfect season.

Those who question LaVar Ball’s character can’t doubt his belief in his sons and their collective talent.

“I don’t know much about it,” Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I’m sure he’s like all parents: They want the best for their sons. Bottom line, just about every parent I’ve met, that’s the common denominator. They want the best for their child. That’s their most prized possession in the entire world. It doesn’t matter how much money they have or don’t have. That son or daughter is their most … heck, that’s how I feel about my seven kids. I want the best for them.”

Harbaugh made those comments before Ball threatened to pull his team off the court last month at an Adidas event in Las Vegas before successfully petitioning organizers to remove a female official who’d whistled him for a technical foul.

After the game, Ball then suggested the woman was “out of shape” and urged her to “stay in your lane,” comments that drew claims of sexism and misogyny — comments he failed to quell when he stood by them the following day.

The public relations nightmare prompted a response from Adidas headquarters in Germany, which said it would investigate the incident.

Ball averaged just 2.2 points per game in his lone Division I opportunity with Washington State in the late 1980s. He never moved beyond the practice squad in a handful of NFL opportunities. Yet, he’s said he’s better than Michael Jordan and Rob Gronkowski. He also said Lonzo Ball was better than Steph Curry while the NBA rookie was still at UCLA.

He’s an unrelenting jokester — or joke, depending on your perspective. But that’s not the destructive element attached to LaVar Ball’s presence. He’s also a potential distraction. During UCLA’s run to the Sweet 16 in March, Lonzo Ball faced questions about his father’s burgeoning profile.

“It’s pretty normal for me,” Lonzo Ball said then. “He’s been talking like this since I’ve been born, so it’s nothing new for me. Y’all get to see it for the first time and he’s always on TV. That’s the only difference.”

He’s the coach, father and mentor of a player who turned UCLA, which finished 15-17 in 2015-16 without an NCAA tournament invitation, into an offensive titan that saved Alford’s job a season after naysayers flew banners over campus calling for his firing. He lives in Los Angeles, where the Lakers needed — and drafted — a point guard like his son.

Those ingredients gave LaVar Ball a pulpit bigger than the NBA rookie’s once summer arrived. He’s had beefs with Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and others. His reality TV show, hosted by Facebook, will begin soon.

It’s more challenging to yield a Ball family-like effect on a college football team off one player-parent combo.

This year, USC’s Sam Darnold will enter the season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. In 2015, he redshirted behind Max Browne, and he started 2016 as the latter’s backup.

That’s the story of college football. Stars matter, but they’re all replaceable.

That reality makes the entire roster vulnerable and tempers ambitious parents.

“I mean, we have some parents that are outspoken, very involved. Not to that extent,” Northwestern running back Justin Jackson said. “I think [Pat Fitzgerald] would just make sure we were protected [if a Ball-type situation emerged]. For him, it comes down to the players feeling comfortable and that they’re in a good place.”

Age matters too, Ricky Williams said.

Ball, much like Richard Williams, the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, speaks on behalf of talented teenagers who say little about themselves. As they grow, however, Williams said the Ball sons might choose to distance themselves from their father.

“To me, it’s interesting because the thing about basketball … the NFL you gotta do at least three years of college,” Williams said. “In basketball, you have one-and-dones, you have 19- and 20-year-olds who are still largely influenced by their parents. So it’s going to be interesting just to see this unfold and what happens when a young man grows up and gets to make his own calls. How does he deal with it?”

After a turbulent stretch filled with drug use, jail and other obstacles, Todd Marinovich became his own man. The immense pressure of his father Marv Marinovich’s instructions and expectations — Marv was determined to turn his son into the “perfect quarterback” — contributed to Marinovich’s decline and quick dismissal after two years in the NFL.

“Yeah it changes in your late teens, early 20s,” Marinovich said. “It’s your life, where before that it is a family effort and everybody is all in.”

“I want the parents to be like themselves, just care about their kids, man. That’s all it’s about. It ain’t about being like me. It’s about being like yourself and provide for them youngsters, lead them. They the future. They the future.”

LaVar Ball

In the late 1980s, while in high school, Marinovich broke national passing records. Next up was a star-crossed run at USC. He did make it to the NFL, a first-round pick of the Raiders. But he lasted just two seasons, playing a total of eight games. Today, he’s a 48-year-old professional artist who will soon attempt a comeback with the World Developmental Football League.

If anyone understands the weight of playing for an influential father, it’s Marinovich.

“It’s kind of a red flag when a pro athlete parent is on stage like that,” Marinovich said. “My dad didn’t want anything to do with recognition. … But the comparisons are [LaVar Ball] being a parent that really wants the best for his kid. I think he does. It’s just out of proportion.”

He worries, however, about Ball’s long-term impact on his children. After the “show” ends, the attention and expectations, magnified by their father’s soapbox routine, can damage them, he said.

“For the most part, when I look at it, it’s not healthy,” he said.

During the Adidas tournament in Las Vegas last month, Ball was so popular organizers nearly stopped his team’s first game due to fire-code concerns. Fans chased him for selfies and autographs through a secured hallway, where his squad entered each game to avoid the chaos.

As he approached his team’s van after its loss in the opening game of the tournament, he reflected on the idea his blueprint for going viral could be copied.

“I want the parents to be like themselves. Just care about their kids, man,” Ball said. “That’s all it’s about. It ain’t about being like me. It’s about being like yourself and provide for them youngsters, lead them. They the future. They the future.”

That’s a hope shared by the coaches of top talents and their invested, vocal parents.

Ball wasn’t finished.

“I am,” he said before hopping into the driver’s seat of the team van, “the baddest dude on two feet.”

And that’s their concern.

Don’t expect the LaVar Ball show to appear in college football – ESPN

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