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Commentary: ESPN, Others Complicit in Enabling Ball

  • American basketball players LiAngelo and LaMelo's father LaVar Ball speaks during a news conference at the Harmony park hotel in Vaizgaikiemis village, Prienai district, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have both signed a one-year contracts to play for Lithuanian professional basketball club Prienai - Birstonas Vytautas in the southern Lithuania town of Prienai, some 110 km (68 miles) from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.(AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

  • The father of American basketball players LiAngelo and LaMelo, LaVar Ball attends during the training session at the BC Prienai-Birstonas Vytautas arena in Prienai, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have signed a one-year contract to play for Lithuanian professional basketball club Prienai - Birstonas Vytautas, in the southern Lithuania town of Prienai, some 110 km (68 miles) from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.(AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)



The Dallas Morning News
Sunday, January 14, 2018

As members of the press, we have a nasty habit of taking the slightest criticisms as attacks on the First Amendment. When it comes to covering the White House, those critiques are real and dangerous and should be taken as such, but this is far from that.

This is a collection of NBA coaches expressing displeasure and dismay at the media’s fascination at everything the father of Lonzo Ball says or does.

I have a hard time faulting Rick Carlisle or Golden State’s Steve Kerr or Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy for their recent comments. Only when Carlisle said initially that reporters should seek stories that put coaches in a good light has he said anything silly. Backing off from that in his office before Tuesday’s game with Orlando, Carlisle said he would never tell reporters not to criticize coaches, that he is acutely aware of what this business is all about.

But he would love to see the media stop and think about whether every LaVar Ball utterance has real news value. Like other coaches, he was incensed that ESPN made a major story out of Ball saying Luke Walton had lost the trust of the Lakers players.

Ball said this while wearing a Big Baller Brand hat and a Big Baller Brand shirt. He said this from Lithuania, where his sons would play a basketball game with a Big Baller Brand logo at center court and with referees — yes, the referees — wearing Big Baller Brand shirts.

If anyone can’t see who’s getting played here, they need help.

“Loud, mindless ignorance poses a serious threat to the great sport of pro basketball,” Carlisle said. “The NBA Coaches Association is going to be proactive in protecting our coaches.”

Carlisle is the president of that association. He said the coaches aren’t seeking an apology, aren’t refusing to meet with ESPN broadcasters before games and certainly aren’t looking to remove credentials from anyone. They are simply speaking their minds.

And the issue that the coaches have isn’t necessarily with Ball himself, but the manner in which he has been elevated to expert or insider status.

“I don’t have a problem with LaVar Ball,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a grown man. He can say what he wants. I have a problem with ESPN deciding it’s a story.”

Van Gundy initially said he would stop talking to ESPN announcers before games but has backed off on that.

There are two issues here. One deals solely with ESPN and the other is broader. In the case of ESPN, this is not the first time the network has run into trouble because it is, on the one hand, a rights-holder paying billions to the league and, on the other, a massive journalistic enterprise filling websites, TV and radio shows with content.

An inherent conflict exists. There’s a level of trust coaches provide ESPN, a trust that the microphones in their huddles and locker rooms will not be used to produce sound that discredits a player or a team.

And ESPN does not violate that, but Ball’s steady stream of nonsense getting nationwide attention feels like it does to the coaches.

Kerr called Ball “the Kardashian of the NBA,” not the first to suggest as much and precisely what Ball is seeking to be as he markets his sons and his mouth for his brand and reality shows and whatever else lies ahead.

It’s unfortunate that the one son we know can play at the NBA level has refused to be a team player and defend his coach. Lonzo, who was in Dallas with the Lakers on Saturday, apparently believes the only team he plays for is Big Baller Brand. When asked the simple question of whether he likes Walton as a coach, Ball said, “I’ll play for anybody.”

His refusal to challenge anything his father says will only serve to diminish him as time passes and the senior Ball continues to rail against anything and everything to promote his brand.

As an organization, the Lakers have failed badly here in managing the situation, even creating a rule that prevents the media from talking to players’ parents inside the Staples Center. Restrictions are not how you handle this story.

We all have a fascination with players or coaches who provide good quotes. We live for those. Now we have stumbled upon something new — not just an outspoken father of a professional athlete, but one determined to stay in the spotlight in order to sell shoes and all the rest.

Carlisle said he had recently heard from at least a dozen people at ESPN, where he worked for one year between his Pacers and Mavericks coaching jobs.

According to Carlisle, the responses ranged from “message received” to “amen.”

This is not a First Amendment story. No one is seeking to silence LaVar Ball. People are asking if what he says is more worthy of daily scrutiny than every other parent of a professional athlete in this country.

Given what he’s trying to sell in the process, I would say his words are worth decidedly less.