Dick Vitale is known for expressing endless enthusiasm about almost everything related to basketball. However, the ESPN analyst has been a sharp critic of LaVar Ball, and on Sunday, Vitale blasted his own company for following the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball all the way to Lithuania, where Lonzo’s younger brothers play professionally, to publish the patriarch’s latest complaints about Los Angeles’s coaching staff.
Ball, who has wasted no time in letting the world know how little he thinks of the job Lakers Coach Luke Walton has done, both with his son and the team in general, told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that the Los Angeles players are “not playing for Luke no more.” Ball said the coach, whose team was on a nine-game losing streak heading into a matchup Sunday evening with the Hawks, is “not connecting with not one player.”
Those comments, plus the lengths to which ESPN literally went to acquire them, were too much to bear for Vitale, who took to Twitter to vent his own frustrations. “Y do we chase LaVar Ball? R we that desperate for 1 of his absurd statements?” Vitale said, using some shorthand common to the social-media platform.
Vitale ripped Ball as a poor “teacher & role model” whose tendency is to “quit” and “blame everyone,” alluding to the patriarch’s decision to pull his two youngest sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, out of UCLA and high school, respectively. LaVar subsequently signed his sons to professional contracts in Lithuania, where Goodman went to hear Ball say of the 37-year-old Walton, “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more.”
Walton “has more CLASS & HOOPS knowledge on his pinkie than LaVar!” Vitale exclaimed. “So pathetic that LaVarBall just rips good [people]” such as Walton, the 78-year-old analyst added.
“His theory [is] everyone is wrong but me,” Vitale said of Ball. “He is so sad & we give him a forum for his classless comments!”
Walton and Lonzo Ball were asked Sunday to address the outspoken patriarch’s comments to Goodman, which included him saying of the Lakers’ possible offseason plans, “Even if you bring in a LeBron [James] or a [Paul] George, he can’t coach them guys. What is he gonna tell them? He’s too young. He has no control.”
“I’ll play for anybody,” Lonzo Ball told reporters in Los Angeles. When asked if there might come a point at which he would tell his father to “tone it down,” Ball replied, “He’s a grown man. Like I said, he’s going to say what he’s going to say. I can’t do nothing about it.”
“I’m fine with it, it doesn’t bother me,” Walton said of LaVar Ball’s criticisms. “My only concern with any of it is for ’Zo. As long as ’Zo is fine with it, and ’Zo can come in and play, and it doesn’t affect mine and his relationship, then it doesn’t bother me at all.”
After the Lakers’ 132-113 victory over the Hawks, Walton joked about taking Lonzo out in the first quarter of the blowout. “His dad was talking [expletive] so I took him out early,” he cracked.
Although Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has yet to play so much as half a season in the league, his father has seen fit to call out the Lakers’ coaches early and often. Just 10 games into the season, LaVar Ball said the team should let his son “play the whole fourth quarter.” Later in November, Ball was more pointed, claiming that the Lakers “don’t know how to coach my son.”
“He’s been away from me too long,” Ball said at the time of his son. “I see tendencies in his game — they’re trying to baby him a little bit.”
In December, after LiAngelo Ball withdrew from UCLA following a suspension for an alleged incident of shoplifting in China, Vitale said he told Bruins Coach Steve Alford that “Santa Claus came early” with “a great Christmas present — no more LaVar Ball to deal with!” Vitale, a former coach and longtime observer of college basketball, added that LiAngelo Ball was not deserving of having been on the team to begin with and that he had “a better chance of growing hair than that kid playing in the NBA.”
LaVar Ball, however, has made no secret of his expectation that LiAngelo and LaMelo will one day join Lonzo on the Lakers. “Get rid of everybody,” he told Goodman. “Give him LeBron and [LiAngelo]. You got a two and a three. And it’s a win. It’s a wrap. Then all you need are two rebounders — [Julius] Randle and [Larry] Nance Jr.”
While Ball could be interpreted as suggesting that the Lakers part with Brandon Ingram, a second-year small forward seen by many as the team’s most promising young talent, Vitale was not the only noteworthy basketball figure objecting to ESPN’s publication of his comments. Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the NBA Coach’s Association, said Sunday (via northjersey.com), “I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace, quite honestly.”
“Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust,” Carlisle added. “It erodes the trust that we built with ESPN. Our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that.”
Asked if he was implying that ESPN should only run stories that might please NBA coaches, Carlisle replied, “They should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or any validity. Or are they just blowhard loudmouths?”
Lonzo Ball said Walton approached him at an earlier point “to make sure I was cool” with the firestorms caused by his father’s continued comments. “I told him it didn’t bother me at all,” Ball said.
The Lakers have already tried to advise LaVar Ball to limit his verbal shots at Walton, in the name of a more harmonious organization, to little apparent avail.
“It doesn’t influence what we’re doing,” Walton said of LaVar Ball’s criticisms of the Lakers’ coaches (via ESPN). “I’ve said all along there’s always parents, and parents are going to get mad at things — that’s what they do.”
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