Charles Barkley said he wished LaVar Ball could have been sent “farther away” than Lithuania. (John Locher/Associated Press)

Early in 2017, when LaVar Ball was just beginning to penetrate the national consciousness, one of his first high-profile feuds involved Charles Barkley. The basketball analyst and  former NBA great challenged the boastful father of then-UCLA star Lonzo Ball to a game of one-on-one, to which LaVar Ball responded with a jab about Barkley’s fondness for “Krispy Kreme doughnuts,” and it all seemed to be more or less in good fun.

However, fresh off rallying voters in his home state of Alabama to support Doug Jones over Roy Moore in a Senate special election, Barkley turned his thoughts back toward Ball Wednesday, and there didn’t appear to be anything lighthearted about his comments. Asked about the outspoken patriarch, who recently oversaw the withdrawals of his two younger sons from UCLA and high school, respectively, and their signings with a professional basketball team in Lithuania, Barkley blasted Ball as someone making up for a lack of “talent” by “exploiting his kids.”

The Ball family, famous for LaVar’s off-court circus, is still awaiting on-court success

“I just feel sadness that the media — CNN, ESPN — has given this guy a platform,” Barkley said on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” show. “He represents everything that is bad about sports. It’s all about him.

“I just feel bad for those kids, because everybody’s talking about how he might be a good father, this and that. No, he’s not. He’s just exploiting his kids.”

Barkley said he loved “the kid playing for the Lakers,” referring to Lonzo Ball, whom Los Angeles drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in June. Ball’s two younger brothers, 19-year-old LiAngelo and 16-year-old LaMelo, are set to play for Vytautas Prienai, a struggling team in Lithuanian, starting early next year.

“I don’t know the other two kids,” Barkley said. “He’s all about Big Baller Brand. He has no foreseeable talent. He’s trying to make money on his kids, and I just feel sadness for those kids, because they’re going to do whatever he tells them to do.

Around the same time Barkley was making his remarks, Ball and his two youngest sons were appearing on a New York radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” where he explained that there was no “Plan B,” in case basketball didn’t work out as a career for the teenagers. “If you’re 80 percent in Plan A and 20 percent in Plan B, you ain’t 100 in,” Ball said. “So don’t be mad if you didn’t make it, because you were worried about a fallback plan.

“Here’s the thing: People keep talking about the educational thing — ‘Oh, he took them out of school, they’re not going to be educated.’ Wrong,” Ball continued. “You can take your boys out of school when you’ve got a brand.

“When you’ve got a brand, you can do what you want, and that’s us. We can leave anytime we want. My boys are going to be fine.”

“I just don’t like the guy at all, plain and simple,” Barkley told the ESPN hosts. “And don’t tell me he’s a good father. Just because you exploit your kids, trying to make money because you have no talent, that does not make you a good father. That makes you exploiting your kids. I don’t like the guy at all, and I wish they would quit putting him on television, because he has no talent whatsoever.”

Regarding the new destination for LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, Barkley said that Lithuania had a “great basketball heritage” and mentioned playing against the country while on the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics. Barkley said he was not familiar with the league in which the boys will play, but he created chuckles by claiming of their father, “I wish there was a place farther away from America they could send him.”

“I don’t know where Lithuania is, but if there is another place farther away, I would love it,” Barkley said. “First of all, I would never leave my kids over there. If he’s a legit father, he should stay over there with those kids the entire time. That would prove something to me.”

“I think it’s a great situation,” Ball said to The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps on Tuesday, speaking of the Lithuanian town of roughly 10,000 which will host his sons. “I only think of what’s best for my boys, and they understand I never steer them wrong, and I don’t think I’m going to start steering them wrong now.”

Ball denied that going from enjoying celebrity status while living in the Los Angeles area to plying their trade in rural Prienai — for a fiery coach who reportedly speaks no English — would be “a big transition” for his sons. He added, “It’s very low, on the fact that we’ll play basketball anywhere. … All gyms are the same to us.”

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