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If you thought LaVar Ball sounded outrageous when he said his son Lonzo, a freshman point guard at UCLA, is better than Stephen Curry, well, you haven't heard anything yet.

"Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one," said Ball, the 49-year-old basketball dad who is 6-6 and 270 pounds and has a mouth to his size.

The mouth was motoring during a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports while LaVar Ball stood in the kitchen of his home here, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles and heaven knows how far from reality.

"I would just back (Jordan) in and lift him off the ground and call a foul every time he fouls me when I do a jump hook to the right or the left," Ball said. "He cannot stop me one-on-one. He better make every shot, 'cause he can't go around me. He's not fast enough. And he can only make so many shots outside before I make every bucket under the rim."

It's worth noting that Ball played basketball for Washington State during the 1987-88 season and averaged 2.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game before transferring to Cal State-Los Angeles in search of more playing time. Jordan, meanwhile, averaged 35 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Chicago Bulls that same season and is widely regarded as the greatest player in basketball history.

"Now in a game of five-on-five, (Jordan) might do some damage, but I'm going to do some damage too," Ball added.

Air Jordan vs. Hot Air is how the critics might bill such a showdown, not that Ball minds the tag. Look -- and listen -- for him when the NCAA tournament starts this week.

"Even if you don't want to hear me," Ball said, "you're going to hear me."

Billion-dollar boys

During the interview, Ball also said he was prepared to package Lonzo and his two other sons -- LiAngelo, a high school senior who has signed with UCLA, and LaMelo, a high school sophomore who has committed to UCLA -- for a marketing deal with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour.

"A billion dollars, it has to be there," Ball said. "That's our number, a billion, straight out of the gate. And you don't even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 mil over 10 years."

The Ball boys already are riding in style -- at least the two that have driver's licenses. Lonzo and LiAngelo each drive $100,000 BMWs, said LaVar Ball, who is a self-employed personal trainer and whose wife, Tina, is a middle school physical education teacher.

"To get my boys a little $100,000 car, that's nothing," he said. "I don't have to pay for education. I'm saving over $1 million."

The math is sketchy. UCLA's tuition for in-state residents is $34,000 a year, meaning Ball could save about $400,000, if each of his sons stayed at UCLA for four years. Lonzo is expected to go pro after this season and is projected as a top-five pick in the NBA draft.

Meanwhile, Ball dismisses the notion that his comments could have a negative impact on Lonzo, who is averaging 14.6 points, 7.7assists and 6.1 rebounds per game.

"They try to twist him up," Ball said. "'Ah, man, your dad's distracting you. What's he doing?' His dad ain't out here on the court with no hula hoops going, 'Hey, make a shot through here. That's distraction.'"

"I told him, 'Son, hurting you is not talking about you. Hurting you is cracking you upside the head.'"

Ball's mouth and his sons' success have turned him into a celebrity. At UCLA's regular-season finale at Pauley Pavilion, for example, he posed for at least a dozen photos. Charles Barkley will not be among those asking for a selfie with Ball.

"I know you can be proud of your son,'' Barkley told the Sporting News, "but at some point, it becomes stupidity."

Showing he might have a better chance going mouth-to-mouth with Barkley than one-on-one with Jordan, Ball told Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports 1, "If Charles thought like me, maybe he'd win a championship."

And to USA TODAY Sports, Ball said, "You talking about a dad, me, that talks too much? I know some of these dads are not even there. Alcoholics, drunks, waiting for their son to make it. 'Hurry up, son, we in poverty right now, hurry up.'"

A brand-new game

Apparently there's no hurry for the Ball boys. The family lives in a five-bedroom house with a pool nestled into a quiet neighborhood -- quiet, that is, unless LaVar Ball is outdoors. He was in peak form March 4 at Pauley Pavilion.

Standing outside of UCLA's locker room after the Bruins' 77-68 victory against Washington State, Ball greeted UCLA coach Steve Alford in inimitable style.

"Steve Alford!" Ball boomed. "Hey, man, you all right? I got some tissue for you."

It was Senior Night, and Ball said he'd spotted tears in Alford's eyes during the pregame ceremony when Alford's son Bryce, a senior guard, walked across the arena floor.

"To make me cry," LaVar Ball said, "you've got to hit me with a 2-by-4."

The punchline triggered laughter from Ball's entourage, and an intriguing entourage it is. The members include:

Darren Moore, a family friend who LaVar said he has paid to live in Westwood this season and keep tabs on Lonzo. Moore said he has attended every UCLA practice and road game.

A photographer and videographer chronicling the life of LaVar Ball and his boys for a potential TV show.

Alan Foster, a family friend who said he is helping develop a signature basketball shoe to be sold under the family's apparel line, Big Baller Brand, that drew scrutiny from the NCAA.

On the the website Bigballerbrand.com, the family sells T-shirts for as much as $60, hoodies for as much as $70 and hats for as much as $100. In February, LaVar said, UCLA told him he would have to remove a photo of Lonzo from the website or Lonzo's eligibility would be at risk.

NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from using their name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind. And LaVar Ball, who said UCLA was aware of the site long before it asked for the photo to be removed, was not pleased.

"I was going to tell them, Big Ballers style, see if you can go win this (NCAA) tournament without my son," Ball said. "I said, 'Let me tell you guys something right now, if I come down there, it ain't going to be about no complaints. I'm coming down to get my son.' And that's when they was like, 'LaVar, it wasn't us. It was USC.'"

Tim Tessalone, the sports information director at Southern California, confirmed that USC contacted UCLA about the website but said UCLA indicated it was aware of the issue and already working on it.

Saturday, the NCAA issued a statement saying it had worked with UCLA on the matter and no action would be taken against Lonzo.

The Ball family continues to wear Big Baller gear at UCLA games, and one of LaVar Ball's favorite T-shirts is baby blue, yellow and white.

"I told them, 'I'll wear your colors, but it ain't gonna say UCLA,'" Ball said.

'He's kind of arrogant'

The son of a personal security guard, Ball said he developed his brash way while growing up in South Central Los Angeles. And he said he conceived of the idea of his own Ball boys -- three sons he would groom to be basketball stars -- before they were conceived.

"You only need three," Ball said. "You need one down the middle and two down the sides."

He said he discovered his ideal partner in 1989 when he spotted his future wife, Tina, then a 6-1 basketball player at Cal-State Los Angeles.

"I was one of the most popular dudes in the school," Ball said. "All the girls was like, 'God dang, that's the one that's cut up with the green eyes.' And Tina was like, 'Hey, he's kind of arrogant.'

"When I first saw her walking down the hall, I just stopped and I said, 'I don't know what me and you are going to do together, but we're going to do something.'"

They gave birth to the now-celebrated Ball boys.

"Obviously his wife must have unbelievable talent," cracked Kelvin Sampson, who coached Ball at Washington State. "The thing I remember about LaVar is ... he looked like King Kong out there."

Though less muscular than their father, the Ball boys are making almost as much noise on the court as LaVar Ball is off the court. This season, while Lonzo has established himself as one of the top college players in the country, LiAngelo scored 72 points in a game for Chino Hills in November and LaMelo topped that with 92 points in a game for Chino Hills in February.

Ball said his wife was unavailable to be interviewed, but he said she handles all of the academic affairs and Ball takes care of athletics. He said he has coached the boys since they first started dribbling and, along the way, matched them up against players as much as seven years older than they were.

They were unstoppable, Ball said, and could have been great football players. In fact, Ball said Dennis Erickson, the former football coach at Washington State, asked him to come out for spring practice and try out for the team as a tight end.

"So I go to the little spring practice and I'm just catching the ball," Ball said. "But every time they call for blocking plays, I tell the other guys, 'Come on in, I don't do no blocking.'

"Erickson said, 'Oh, you're awesome, you're good to go. But LaVar, they're going to know it's a different play if we don't have you blocking.' I go, 'Well, you got these big dudes, let them block. And I'll tell you this, out of four downs, I need the ball twice. If I don't have it twice, I'm gone.'

"He said, 'It don't work that way, but you'd be a helluva tight end,' and I said, 'Nah, I'm good, man.'"

Erickson said he doesn't recall Ball but knows all about the bombastic basketball dad.

"How can you help but not?" he asked.

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March 14, 2017
 
 
 

 

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