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LeBron James would welcome Lonzo Ball to Nike but is mostly proud he’s ‘taking control’

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2019: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23), Los Ang
The Lakers’ LeBron James, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart watch teammates play against the Nets on March 22.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

When Lonzo Ball decided to cut ties with Alan Foster, a co-founder of his family’s Big Baller Brand, he began divorcing himself from the brand as well.

He removed references to Big Baller Brand on his social media pages and replaced his Instagram photo with one of himself as a child wearing a Nike shirt.

Ball has a teammate who is Nike’s most prominent active athlete. LeBron James played a little coy when asked what he thought about Ball possibly joining Nike’s ranks.

“Whatever the kid decides to do, whatever brand he comes with next — if it’s with Nike, obviously we would welcome him,” James told The Times. “I would definitely welcome him. I love the kid regardless of what shoes he had on. But we shall see.”

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To James, last week’s separation meant more than Ball’s next shoe deal.

“I love the fact that he’s taking control of his [stuff],” James said. “I mean … that’s what’s really, really dope to me. Once I saw that story I just seen a kid turning into a man. ‘This is my career and I’m taking this. … I done had enough. If I’m not going to be successful, I’m not going to be successful on my terms.’”

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He added with a smile: “I mean he plays well when he has on Nikes.”

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Coming out of UCLA, Ball opted not to sign with an established shoe company, which would have netted him millions. Instead, in part because of Foster’s advice, Ball became the face of Big Baller Brand.

Nike is interested in Ball, but no endorsement deal is imminent. That is in part because before exploring a shoe deal, Ball would have to separate himself from any potential contractual conflicts with Big Baller Brand. Ball’s attorneys spent the weekend determining if he should move on from Big Baller Brand and how he would do that, according to a person familiar with the situation. His ultimate goal is to remove any connection to Foster.

Ball believes Foster took money from him without permission. ESPN reportedly has seen documentation that Foster took $1.5 million from Ball’s personal and business accounts and could not account for that money.

According to people familiar with the situation, Ball’s camp also believes Foster mismanaged his finances in other ways. Foster became close with Ball’s father, LaVar, not long after being released from prison. Foster was convicted of defrauding dozens of people out of $4 million.

In a statement, Lonzo Ball said Foster had become like a second father to him over the years.

“Recently, I became aware that Alan is a convicted felon who used his access to my business and personal finances to enrich himself,” the statement read. “As a result, I have decided to sever all ties with him effective immediately. I have directed Humble [Lukanga, his financial advisor], Harrison [Gaines, his agent] and Darren [Moore, his manager] and the rest of my team of advisers to pursue all options to recover the money that was taken from my accounts. This has been a very difficult decision as I have a great deal of love and respect for Alan. But the time has come for me to take responsibility for my own career.”

James can relate to the challenge of finding the right people to trust when trying to navigate the financial, business and life decisions that come with becoming an NBA player as a teenager.

“That’s the toughest thing,” James told The Times. “Especially when you’re young like Zo, like myself coming into the league. You have to trust someone because we don’t know. You have to trust someone. And you hope that you’re guided the right way. That’s all you can do. That’s all you can hope for. When it’s not what you expect, it hurts. I know.”

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James referred to his early days in the NBA. He fired his agent in 2005, two years into his career, later signing with Creative Artists Agency. James eventually moved from CAA when longtime friend Rich Paul broke away from the agency to start Klutch Sports.

“I just didn’t feel like I would be able to get to a point both on the floor or off the floor where I wanted to be. That’s why I ended up departing from my agent at the time and start my own thing,” James said. “It’s just tough when you’re 18, 19 years old; you don’t know about that side. All you want to do is play basketball, show up to the gym, and work and work and work.”

In Ball he sees someone who just wants to get healthy so he can return to playing basketball. Ball has been out since Jan. 19 with a severely sprained left ankle, and James can see his frustration. The events of the last week, James believes, will help him start a new chapter.

Said James: “I’m more proud of him because I like the fact that he’s taking command of his [stuff].”

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When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday

On the air: TV: TNT, Radio: 710, 1330

Update: The Wizards are also out of the playoffs with only 30 wins, but guard Bradley Beal is fighting for a spot on the All-NBA team.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

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Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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