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