LAS VEGAS — Grass-roots hoops meets in Las Vegas this week with multiple high-profile events backed by multibillion-dollar sneaker companies.
The Fab 48, The Las Vegas Classic and the All-American JUCO Showcase all produce substantive tournaments.
Only one character and event — LaVar Ball and his presence at the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships — went viral, both locally and abroad, attracting crowds, concerns about fire code violations and thousands of night owls tracking the Big Baller Brand through Facebook Live.
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On Wednesday, Ball and his team welcomed a sea of fans and ignited the opening day of the Adidas event, separating the matchups at the Cashman Center from their youth hoops competitors scattered around the city.
On Friday morning, Ball drew scrutiny after demanding the replacement of a female official who’d given him a technical foul — Adidas obliged and found a new, male referee midgame — after promising to take his lucrative squad off the court if the woman, whom he later denounced in a biting rant, stayed.
On Wednesday, we witnessed the best of Ball. On Friday, we watched Ball at his worst.
In 48 hours, Ball unveiled his unrivaled power to turn a grass-roots event into a party — or a mess.
He is uniquely equipped to market an event that added his Big Baller Brand to deliver the numbers and attention Adidas gained this week. Ball is equally capable of sabotaging his own momentum.
On Wednesday, he argued with officials, he smiled, he snapped selfies with fans and he seemed to enjoy himself and the moment.
On Friday, his tirade against one of the few female officials at the Cashman Center this week and the comments that followed — Ball claimed the woman was “out of shape” and told her to “stay in your lane” — led to claims of sexism.
That’s the risk that comes with Ball. He can make you laugh or puke. Depends on the day.
He’s brash. So brash he can’t help but ooze audacity.
The walking reality show’s willingness to say whatever he wants woos a collection of supporters who enjoy his approach to life. That’s why kids surround him after every game. He’s confident, raw and charismatic.?
He is also mean, inconsiderate and scathing if he’s in the mood to chastise.
If he disagreed with the official’s calls Friday morning, he had the right to challenge her, but that’s not what happened. He hurt her and perhaps her career as a Division I women’s official when he questioned her qualifications with personal, empty postgame jabs.
Ball knows how to entertain. He’s just not sure how to stop himself when entertainment becomes embarrassment. He’s convinced they’re the same thing.
He’s brash, though.
And brash people roll through life with a carefree perspective, not bothered by their critics and adversaries. They push forward when others hesitate. They do not worry about the naysayers. They do not perform. They demand you accept them for whom they are.
Sometimes brash people will steamroll you and dismiss anyone who offers careful suggestions. If you analyze them, it’s only because, in their minds, you can’t be like them.
That me-and-mine attitude can convince brash people they’re the only good ones left, searching for someone, anyone who can understand their realness.
That’s how LaVar Ball acts at times.
He talks about his love for the kids he coaches. He praises his sons — three elite athletes — and resists the doubters on their behalf. He drives the team van. With cameras surrounding him, he’ll say, “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids.”
He has raised, coached and developed undeniable talent through a relentless commitment to excellence. He elevates.
All praiseworthy components of his resume.
He also makes far too much room for the questionable behaviors that undermine every tenet he preaches.
On Wednesday, many assumed we’d eventually enter Saturday’s games talking about the uncanny court vision of LaMelo Ball or the unbound athleticism of Zion Williamson. Yes, we all knew we’d continue to talk about LaVar Ball, the biggest basketball attraction in the city this weekend.
We should also be talking about the kids who played beyond expectations, the parents who sacrificed so much to support their careers and the dozens of staffers who created the grand event in Las Vegas. We should be talking about the new faces and names in the coaching pool chasing their first recruiting classes at their next stops.
Instead we’ll enter Saturday’s games pondering the impact of Ball’s recent comments and his effect on the grass-roots basketball scene. We’ll wonder how he’ll respond to the next technical foul.
When he’s fun, energetic, passionate and engaging, Ball makes any basketball event more interesting and, as Adidas discovered, more lucrative.
Now the same folks at Adidas will finish the final stretch this weekend hoping they can undo the damage of Friday’s replacement ref fiasco.
That’s the risk anyone accepts when they deal with Ball, the coach. He can build it and they will come, but will they ever come back?
LaVar Ball saved the Adidas tournament on a weekend filled with good basketball throughout the city. Who will save LaVar Ball, however, from himself in those moments?
Ball would probably answer: “Me.”
That’s the problem.