Led by Lonzo, Ball fam­ily steal­ing the show in Las Ve­gas

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

LAS VE­GAS» The line kept stretch­ing back, wind­ing hun­dreds of feet down the mall cor­ri­dor. The kids at the front had showed up at 6 a.m. Sun­day, more than five hours be­fore the Ur­ban Ne­ces­si­ties shoe store a mile from UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Cen­ter would open its doors.

Less than 24 hours ear­lier, a record 17,500 fans, many of them decked in Los An­ge­les Lak­ers pur­ple and gold, had surged for­ward in their seats each time NBA rookie Lonzo Ball touched the bas­ket­ball. They sprung to their feet min­utes into a sum­mer league game when Ball’s 3-pointer splashed the bot­tom of the net, giv­ing the Lak­ers an eight-point lead over the Bos­ton Celtics. They roared when a break­away dunk in the fourth quar­ter gave Ball the first triple-dou­ble at the sum­mer league in at least seven years.

It was a scene that pre­viewed the po­ten­tial star reach pos­sessed by the top pick of one the most sto­ried fran­chises in sports. But the scene at the mall Sun­day — when Ball, his fa­ther, LaVar, and his broth­ers, LaMelo and LiAn­gelo, walked by the mouth of the mas­sive line — il­lus­trated some­thing more. The Big Baller Brand, and all the flash, bravado and, yes, tal­ent that cre­ated it, had firmly gripped Las Ve­gas.

And that may just be the start. “Look how many Laker fans are out here,” LaVar Ball boasted af­ter his son’s sum­mer league de­but Fri­day. “He changed the cul­ture. That’s what it’s about. It ain’t about be­ing a su­per­star, it’s about him chang­ing the cul­ture. In­stead of go­ing to the movies, every­body is go­ing to watch the Lak­ers and Big Baller Brand.”

Just 45 min­utes af­ter ar­riv­ing at Ur­ban Ne­ces­si­ties, Lonzo Ball headed out of the mall as a crowd of cell­phone pho­tog­ra­phers fol­lowed closely be­hind the 6-foot-6 guard, who had to get to a Lak­ers prac­tice. The rest of the Ball clan stayed in the store, LaVar laugh­ing and hold­ing court as he danced a Sharpie across T-shirts — at $50 a pop — em­bla­zoned with “BBB” lo­gos as loud as Amer­ica’s most bois­ter­ous bas­ket­ball

dad. As Lonzo reached the end of the line and stepped out of the doors, the crowd chanted “Lon-zo! Lon-zo!”

Sneaker cul­ture has long been in­ter­twined with bas­ket­ball. Since Michael Jor­dan signed with Nike in 1985 and un­leashed his first sig­na­ture shoe, the Jor­dan I, the space has been dom­i­nated by es­tab­lished brands. Nearly ev­ery player in the NBA has a shoe con­tract of some de­gree with Nike/Jor­dan Brand, Adi­das or Un­der Ar­mour, the mas­sive com­pa­nies that make up a large part of the nearly $20 bil­lion sneaker in­dus­try.

Play­ers who en­ter the NBA typ­i­cally sign an en­trylevel en­dorse­ment con­tract with one of those com­pa­nies. The more high pro­file the player, the big­ger the deal. But mem­bers of the Ball fam­ily turned their noses at con­ven­tion, choos­ing in­stead to put Lonzo, who grew up near Los An­ge­les in Chino Hills and played at UCLA, in his own sig­na­ture sneaker — the Big Baller Brand “Zo2,” with its hefty price tag of $495 per pair.

The an­nounce­ment of the price drew back­lash months ago. LaVar Ball, who mar­kets his fam­ily’s com­pany through sheer force of per­son­al­ity, de­clared that if you couldn’t af­ford the shoes, you weren’t a “big baller.” But if the line and fer­vor within it were any in­di­ca­tion Sun­day — when only ap­parel, not the sneak­ers, was be­ing sold — an or­ganic con­sumer base is swelling.

“To ca­sual peo­ple who don’t fol­low busi­ness that much, they’re not go­ing to get it,” said Ar­mando Perez, a 27-year-old ar­chi­tect sales rep from Los An­ge­les who drove to Las Ve­gas to watch Ball play, then found his way to the line in hopes of meet­ing the fam­ily. “They’re not go­ing to get the en­deavor and what it takes to ac­tu­ally put your­self out there like that. But if LaVar Ball has the back­ing and is con­fi­dent in his boys, hey, all the power to him.”

While LaVar’s con­fi­dence is loud and brash, that of his el­dest son is more col­lected and in­ter­nal­ized. Crit­i­cism wasn’t hard to find af­ter Lonzo made only 2-of-15 shots in his sum­mer league de­but Fri­day. He fol­lowed with 11 points, 11 re­bounds and 11 as­sists Satur­day, set­ting the tone with an elite pass­ing abil­ity that thrilled the pro-Lak­ers crowd.

The shots still weren’t fall­ing for Ball, but his con­trol and play­mak­ing set an eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able tone.

“It’s def­i­nitely con­ta­gious,” he said. “My team­mates are telling me I’m too un­selfish. I gave up a lot of layups and dunks. But when I make the ex­tra pass, ev­ery­one else does too.”

As the Lak­ers at­tempted a late rally that fell short, a fan wear­ing a home­made Ball jer­sey im­plored the crowd around him to raise its level of noise. Then Ball grabbed a re­bound and sped down the court.

He fin­ished at the rim in a man­ner be­fit­ting of the Big Baller Brand move­ment that swelled in the desert heat over the week­end: Loud, and with force.

Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Rookie guard Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, posted a triple-dou­ble Satur­day while play­ing in the Las Ve­gas sum­mer league for the Lak­ers.

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