Column

The big blowhard: LaVar Ball has made a living off the backs of his children

Just in time for the holidays, LaVar Ball has been good enough to advise us on one way to obtain a pair of his company’s odd $495 sneakers.

Steal them?

The father of UCLA freshman basketball player LiAngelo Ball has spent the last week telling the world his son and fellow Bruins Cody Riley and Jalen Hill didn’t really do too much wrong when they were caught shoplifting in three stores during the team’s recent trip to China.

They were detained, confined to the country beyond their scheduled departure, released with the help of two presidents, publicly admitted their wrongdoing and are serving an indefinite team suspension.

But according to the family patriarch, a man whose publicity-seeking craziness has been excused because he is a good father, theft isn’t that big of a deal.

To ESPN recently, Ball actually said, “It ain’t that big of a deal.’’

On CNN Monday night, he doubled down on the ignorance, saying, “The way I look at it, OK, [LiAngelo] was shoplifting. He wasn’t physical. He returned it. He fessed up to it. … Nobody got hurt.’’

Nobody got hurt? Nobody except the three shops from which the kids stole the items, his son’s now-depleted team and, most of all, his son’s shamed university.

When LaVar Ball said nobody got hurt, he meant LaVar Ball didn’t get hurt. While his son was confined by the school to his Hangzhou hotel during the investigation, his father was out hawking shoes in cities as far as two hours away. While his son was watching his team’s first game against Georgia Tech while sitting in that hotel, his father was actually in the stands, because who needs the kid on the court when you can peddle a branded T-shirt on TV?

LaVar Ball once seemed like a genius salesman worthy of examination, but in recent months the curtain has been drawn to reveal a shallow and shameless huckster. He once enhanced the Los Angeles sports landscape, but now he only infects it by continuing to bleat messages filled with delusion and disrespect. For someone who once epitomized sexism by telling a female sports-talk show announcer to “Stay in your lane,’’ Ball has veered far from his original lane.

When all this started, he was this lovable loudmouth sports dad from Chino Hills, a shining light in a world of fatherless homes, the strong and protective parent of three fortunate young men.

But now he’s looking a lot like a lousy dad whose children’s best interests have been trampled in his rush to go full Kardashian.

His oldest son Lonzo is a good and humble and respectful kid who is living through many of the normal bumps of a 20-year-old learning to play in the NBA. He may not be a transformative star, but he’s going to be a good player, he just needs time.

However, LaVar’s constant bluster has robbed him of that grace period while making Lonzo the most hassled kid in the NBA. Fans boo him, opponents rise up against him, many people openly revel in his failures, and the media naturally hold him to a closer scrutiny than the many other struggling rookies, all because of lovable Pops.

His second son LiAngelo apparently isn’t a great player, and he did a really dumb thing in China and deserves to be suspended for the season with the other two Bruins, but say this much: He did apologize while thanking everyone involved for helping him come home.

However, LaVar has overshadowed that apology by going on television to rationalize the wrongdoing and then refusing to thank President Trump for helping intervene. Yes, Trump’s tweeted demand for gratitude was typically boorish, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you’re the father of a young man arrested for stealing in China, you thank every person everywhere for helping him remain free.

Finally, there is LaMelo, who, at age 16, has already been yanked out of high school to seemingly help sell his own signature $395 shoe. He might be a great player one day, but he’s probably already blown his college eligibility with the shoe deal, and, as best as anyone can tell, his ‘’home schooling’’ consists of following around his father as they open popup stores.

The hey-look-at-me never ends with LaVar, who was at it again Tuesday in a Bleacher Report story in which he ripped how the Lakers coaching staff was handling Lonzo, saying, “They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son.”

Before the Lakers game against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, coach Luke Walton shrugged off the words, saying, “We’re not concerned with what parents think of how we’re coaching the team.

“We’re concerned with the team and what’s best with our team and how we can continue to get better.”

Walton then even complimented LaVar, noting, “I will say this, I think he has done a phenomenal job as a father with Lonzo … [he’s] a special young man, he’s selfless, he’s unselfish, his teammates love him, he cares about them, he plays the game the right way, so he’s done a great job with that.’’

Of course, what is Walton supposed to say? Nobody on the Lakers is going to publicly criticize the father of their most important player. But somebody in the organization privately needs to do it. The shots taken by LaVar against the Lakers coaching staff, and it has happened twice now, put even more pressure on his son and fills the locker room with yet another distraction.

When Lonzo was drafted No. 2 overall last summer, Magic Johnson promised to handle LaVar if he started talking about the team. Well, it has started, and it’s time for Johnson to live up to that promise.

On LaVar’s shoe store website, it reads, “Big Baller Brand is a lifestyle apparel company founded on core family values.’’

Those values apparently do not include respect, gratitude, humility or common sense. At times, those values really don’t even seem to include family.

The media continues talking to him because he drives traffic. It is only hoped that one day soon, the masses will wise up and that traffic will come to a screeching halt.

When LaVar Ball started his sports apparel company on the backs of his three boys, he was applauded for his courage and innovation. The brand has eroded. Big Baller has become a big con.

Seriously, who in good conscience would even buy a shoelace from this guy?

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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