Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 | “Bittersweet Victory” + “Forging a Path” | Aug. 31
A couple of weeks ago, I sat in an Uber with my boy when Gucci Mane and Drake’s hit “Both” came on the radio. See the power of the mind is not a joke, the Canadian kingpin rapped in one of the 2016 song’s more recognizable lyrics. Man, I said that I would do it and I did. “I’m surprised LaVar Ball hasn’t taken that line,” my homey said with a laugh, “and ran with it.” Call the man a lot of things, but make sure “right” is one of them. Love LaVar, hate him or be annoyed by him — Father Ball called his shot.
It’s tough to remember the first time the name “LaVar Ball” made ripples in my corner of the universe. It seems he’s always been in the public lexicon despite the fact that he’s still a relatively new name in pop culture — and one that even has Jay-Z buying into what he’s cooking. Ball, the person, isn’t foreign to anyone familiar with the AAU circuit. He’s an overly involved dad invested in his kids’ professional athletic future. Go to any AAU game in the country and there’s a LaVar Ball — or 12 of them. The only difference is LaVar’s sons are all Division I-bound — and, in his eldest son’s case, the most recent No. 2 overall draft pick by the Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball is already an insanely hyped lottery pick in the NBA’s most historically glamorous franchise.
Ball’s antics — loving, comical, arrogant and problematic — have all led to the reality series (properly titled) Ball In The Family. The 10-episode trek, airing on Facebook Watch, chronicles the life of basketball’s newest first family. There’s Lonzo and his younger brothers, LiAngelo (who recently played in a pickup game with LeBron James) and LaMelo (who recently played in the most publicized amateur contest of the summer versus phenom Zion Williamson and became the youngest player ever with his own signature shoe).
There is also their mother, Tina; Lonzo’s high school sweetheart, Denise; and, of course, the Dre Johnson of basketball himself, LaVar. Broadcasting the show on Facebook, the world’s most popular social media platform with nearly 2 billion monthly users, may just ensure that the Ball family revolution is digitized.
If the first two episodes seem to resemble another high-profile, polarizing family, you’re not tripping. Bunim/Murray Productions, the minds behind Keeping Up with the Kardashians, have their hands on Ball. The series kicks off by taking a look into life leading up to Lonzo’s big day in June. The Ball brothers are comically familiar in terms of personality types. Lonzo’s the oldest and most chill. LiAngelo is the GQ model of the clique. And Melo’s the goofy younger brother (with Nick Young shot selection) who is treated as such.
There’s a designed system at play, and one that’s so ingrained in not only LaVar but the entire family too — so much so that LiAngelo moves into Lonzo’s UCLA apartment intending to focus on school and basketball, not parties. All of the sons follow the same path that Lonzo broke the barrier for, and which was mapped out, on the show as apparently in real life, by sports’ most outspoken patriarch. There are no new or explosive revelations in the first two episodes. No plot twists. The family is who we thought they were: laser-focused on the success of dad and sons, which is either a huge selling point or a huge deterrent depending on what side of the aisle one sits on.
On an “unscripted” date night with Lonzo and his girlfriend, the future of their relationship is the topic of conversation. This leads the No. 2 pick to joke that he can’t see how their relationship will change now that he’s in the NBA — except for when he travels to Miami on the Los Angeles Lakers’ annual East Coast road swing.
But let’s do the math here, though. Lonzo is a 19-year-old, living in Los Angeles, who gets lit to the Migos and Future. He’s the face of the Lakers and a household name before he’s even scored his first official bucket in the league. And the All-Star Game is in L.A. in 2018, too? If he’s half as good as most expect him to be, then Jesus be a faithful commitment between these two young and in-love souls.
The most revealing part of the 18-minute episodes centers on a part of the Ball family we knew little about: LaVar’s wife, and the boys’ mother, Tina. Mrs. Ball suffered a stroke in late February, and in the first two episodes she is attempting to learn how to walk again. She’s learning how to talk again. And if there’s any humanizing moment for LaVar, it’s his “private” moments with his wife. LaVar successfully rejects the idea of a speech pathologist helping his wife, insisting instead that he be the one to be there with “his girl” each step of the process. The idea seems insane but status quo for a man whose stubbornness is the reason he landed this documentary. In a particularly memorable scene, he teaches his wife how to say “I love you” again. Lonzo, LiAngelo (called “Gelo” in the show) and LaMelo also express love and adoration for their mother. They’re insanely attached to her, and her stroke did scare them. In the Balls’ rise to fame, she has often been kept out of the news cycles, for obvious medical reasons. Now appears to be her time to step into the spotlight.
LaVar is, of course, the series’ main attraction so far. At least through the first two episodes — 10 in total, with the next seven released in weekly installments — he’s more than enough to hold your attention. The characters basically hold a middle finger up to pro basketball norms as they relate to taking control of one’s own destiny. Pass or fail, if the Balls actually do ball out, it’ll be because they built and walked on their own path.
There is one surprise, though. Lonzo orders his steak medium well. I threw up a little bit in my mouth. The best steaks are medium rare or medium. Any other temperature is for the people who confuse “your” and “you’re” in texts and justify it by saying it doesn’t matter because it’s a private conversation. It does matter! And it absolutely matters that Lonzo Ball is purposely cheating himself out of the delicacy that is steak by essentially ordering a piece of leather for his entrée. I’m really starting to second-guess my hot take prediction for the season of him finishing with at least 22 10-assist games. It’s like I don’t even know who this kid is anymore.