LOS ANGELES — While a tightly framed video circulated and hot-take tweets and emoji launched across social media, Washington Wizards star John Wall remained silent.
“Washington coming in here Wednesday? They better beware,” Ball said, while channeling his inner carnival-barker-meets-wrestling-heel persona. “Because Lonzo ain’t losing again! Not in the same week!”
Yet, even as Wall’s teammate Marcin Gortat chimed in with crying-while-laughing emoji and a pledge that “@JohnWall will torture [Lonzo] for 48 minutes,” Wall did not join in the chorus of mocking LaVar Ball’s audacity. But that doesn’t mean Wall will keep his cool Wednesday night when facing Lonzo Ball for the first time under the Staples Center spotlight.
Always watch out for the quiet ones.
“Nah, no mercy,” Wall responded when asked if he would show leniency to the 19-year-old rookie point guard despite his braggadocious father.
“Certain matchups you really get up for. Like when you play [Golden State Warriors guard] Steph [Curry], you definitely want to have a good game,” Wall said. “I’m playing against [Ball]. [Gortat] said what he said about me. I didn’t say anything. His dad has been talking. … That makes me want to go out there and lead my team and play the best I can play.”
Last Thursday, the young Ball spent his NBA debut trying to play despite the fouling, jawing and downright hectoring from Los Angeles Clippers troll Patrick Beverley. As a veteran nuisance, Beverley explained away his bully tactics as a response to the “riffraff” created by LaVar Ball.
Although Wall said he wouldn’t go as far as Beverley did in intentionally harassing Ball, he has expressed a familiar refrain from NBA vets who feel the father’s interviews are not helping the son. While most high lottery draft picks receive their share of hype — Wall acknowledges the media pressure that followed him throughout his rookie season as the No. 1 selection in 2010 — LaVar Ball has cranked up the noise even louder.
“His dad has gone on top of all that,” Wall said. “Forget what the media is saying. ‘This is what my son is.’ Which, I’m not knocking him. He’s hyping his son up but he’s already getting all that hype. … He’s just taking it to another level.
“We didn’t say nothing about him, nothing to him, and he says, ‘The Wizards better be ready because he don’t ever lose two in a row,’” Wall continued, then scoffed at the absurdity of the father’s boast. “Like, this is the league now. It’s a different ballgame.”
Gortat spelled out the reasoning behind his Twitter response.
“I’m just sticking up for my teammate and my team,” Gortat said. “The guy is going to go public and say stuff like that. It’s funny because he’s not even playing and he’s saying all this stuff, you know. He’s just putting his son in a spot, but at the end of the day, it’s all right. It’s nothing against Lonzo. I don’t know him. He’s a good kid. Talented kid, but he’s got to go against John.”
For his part, Lonzo Ball told reporters Tuesday, “I don’t pay no mind to it,” when asked about Gortat’s tweet.
Still, LaVar Ball understands a simple truth: Outrageous sound bites spark attention. As the face of the family’s clothing and shoe company, Ball stays in front of a camera because he is selling his Big Baller Brand. The promotion may rub people the wrong way, but, it can be argued, the tactics work. After all, Ball’s eight-second video has been laughed at and, more importantly, talked about, for more than a 24-hour news cycle.
While Ball’s comments did not sit well in the Wizards’ locker room, Coach Scott Brooks does not mind the bluster. Others may see a braggart, but Brooks simply recognizes a proud papa.
“You know what, hey, people talk about his dad all the time. Hey, I mean, my father left me at 2. I would love to have my father around like [LaVar] is around and talk to him and pump me up with confidence,” Brooks said. “To me, that’s every son’s dream. And for some reason he gets criticized. No question, he’s a little ambitious at times [with] what he says. But he’s around his son. I have no problem with that. And maybe he could temper it a little bit, but I would’ve loved to have my father do that.”
Following the Wizards’ win in Denver on Monday night, Wall and Bradley Beal briefly considered the conundrum: Should Lonzo Ball take grief from opponents because of what his father says?
“You heard this question, B?” Wall said, laughing and turning to his locker mate. “‘Do I take it out on the son because the dad is talking?’”
Beal repeated the question to himself, drawing out each word.
“Because the daddy’s talking?” the freshly showered Beal asked. “I mean — not really.”
When the players were reminded that Lonzo Ball has not trash talked publicly, only the father, Beal agreed.
“He’s really quiet,” Beal said about the younger Ball.
Then, Wall piped in.
“There’s my point. I mean, he’s quiet, but you know you have a dad –” Wall said, before switching his fast-moving train of thought. “His son is talented. He can play. You want your son to be a guy that talks. He’s not one of those types of guys.
“But I can’t control that because the type of person I am, I talk,” Wall said.
“He’s gassing up his son,” Beal said from the next locker.
“He’s gassing up his son,” Wall echoed. “So he’s got to back it up.”
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