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‘Ain’t nothing out here but cows’: the LaVar Ball interview — and then some

LaVar Ball sits in his Rolls Royce near the entrance of a trail at Chino Hills State Park.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

LaVar Ball and his basketball-playing sons Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo helped put Chino Hills on the map.

The Times’ Andrew Greif talked to LaVar about many subjects regarding the past and the family’s future.

Here are excerpts of that conversation:

Take me back to when you moved to Chino Hills. When was that, and why did you pick Chino Hills?

I moved out to Chino Hills back in ’96. Yeah, I was finished playing football with the Carolina Panthers but it was a centrally located place, nobody really knew about. Only thing people really knew about Chino Hills was Chino, and not Chino Hills, but Chino, and that’s where everybody go to prison.

That, and the dairies?

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“Yeah, and the dairies, exactly. I thought it was a good area because first, my wife [Tina] had found a house out here. She said, hey, it’s a new spot out here in Chino, because I’m from L.A., OK. And one of the things is, I can stay anywhere but marrying Tina I can’t just move her out to the ghetto, she’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, so I was thinking I’d move out to West Covina and then she found this place a little further out, which was Chino Hills. They was just building them and it was a new area so I was like, oh, this is cool. But it was funny because on the way after I finished playing in North Carolina my wife came and got me from the airport at LAX, and this was during a weekday. She’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to drive you to the house.’ It took us like three hours to get to the house and I said, ‘Why in the hell did you move us way out here?’ I was like, ‘Oh my god. The house look good on pictures and all this stuff and I said but this is way too damn far.’ And then the next day on the weekend I went to my house in South Central and it was only 45 minutes, no traffic, no nothing. I was like, oh, this is perfect. It was one of the best moves. But I always told people back in the day they thought I was crazy. I was like, man this Chino Hills ain’t nothing out here but cows. Anyway, it was one of the best moves we made but I told people back in the day I was going to put us on the map and people thought it was like, he just talking. I was like, man, Chino going to be known for the Balls. Guaranteed. And now that it’s come to fruition everybody like damn, you say Chino Hills, it’s the first thing you think about is the Balls.”

What do you see as the long-term impact of your family on the name recognition of the city?

“It’s all good, but like I said we just getting started. It’s not a big thing for me on the fact that I’m not worried about putting Chino Hills on the map. When it’s all said and done the empire that I’m going to build is going to be worth a billion dollars. It’ll be one of the biggest brands ever and like I said, it’s just getting started. People don’t understand that but it’s going to be something to speak of. When you hear that Ball name just like you hear the Hiltons and the Rockefellers and all that, when I’m dead and gone you going to remember that Ball name.”

When LaVar Ball moved to Chino Hills to start a family, he found a planned community that matched his own ambition. A fascinating relationship ensued.

And you are building a training complex in Chino Hills?

“Eventually, yes, we’re going to do that, yes.”

You have the approval, at least?

“Yeah, we can get ready to do that but like I said, it’s going to be on a bigger scale, matter of fact that’s why we’re holding back on some things, but we loading everything up together. As a family that’s why people are going to realize how much we can do as a family. What I mean by that is it’s not like, OK, Lonzo you’re in the NBA, so we’ll just use all your money and we good. But now you got Melo being a millionaire, Lonzo being a millionaire, me and Tina millionaires, Gelo being a millionaire. Now if we all spread out it’s hard to do something but we all together? That’s one of the key things when I’m telling my boys is like, hey, we just have to get together and do what we going to do as far as buying property and setting up things and helping folks as a team because once you done bought everything, the main thing in life is you’ve got to help somebody because you just being empty if you have all this money just sitting in the bank and you ain’t doing nothing with it, you ain’t helping nobody you ain’t did nothing.”

And that facility will be in Chino Hills?

“Right. Most definitely. Like I said I’ve seen this thing grow as far as the city and stuff because I understood that when the boys were playing in high school. The boys were playing in high school and went undefeated and everybody and their momma tried to move out here so they built all kind of new stuff. They had built all these apartments around the school and stuff now. All because of us. Everybody was like, ‘We want to go to Chino Hills, we want to go to Chino Hills.’ Because Melo had two more years left there.”

Because he wasn’t there his whole high school career, do you feel like from your interactions around town that people around the city have really embraced his success?

“People have embraced the success of the Balls because it’s like I said before, there’s nothing about Chino Hills but some cows. But to create the boys I have, all three of them went to the NBA, that’s crazy. It’s like winning the lottery three times. Nobody gonna do that, but I already had a game plan of what I was gonna do and it was just growing from there and I knew what the big thing was, just like as I even told them, the year Melo came to Chino Hills, I tried to talk to the staff and everything and said, ‘Man, you guys going to need some more policemen, some more this. All of the games are going to be sold out.’ I’m saying this before the season even started and then that s--- grew into a wildfire just like I said. So now it’s funny because at one time you’ve got to get all these passes and all this stuff to get ABC or ESPN on the campus. And then soon as they start interviewing they wasn’t saying Chino Hills no more, they was saying the Ball boys, they wasn’t even saying the school no more. We was bigger than the school. Now they’re opening the gates for ESPN, ABC, CBS, they doing all that now.”

An in-depth look at the fascinating relationship between LaVar Balll and his family with the city of Chino Hills.

When that’s happening and the spotlight is at its brightest during the undefeated season, did you feel backlash from the community about the notoriety that you were driving?

“It wasn’t a backlash in the fact that it was like this guy is bragging but he’s doing it and it was just, because at the end of the day, this ain’t nothing but entertainment. And who don’t want to go to the biggest show in the world and to have it in your own backyard? Shoot. They embraced that big-time and man those tickets was selling out five minutes after they was sold and then what schools was doing when we were playing them, this is why we the best high school team ever. “

So, before the boys get to this point [high school], are you taking them around Chino Hills to certain parks, or I’d heard you took them to a hillside to train? Are you training them in Chino Hills when they’re young?

‘When they were real young, of course, we was right around the corner from the Chino Hills State Park so that’s why I did all their training in the hills so when I put them on flat land they’d run like deers. Never get tired.”

So they’d run the hills in the state park?

“Yep.”

What’s it going to be like next week, when you can’t attend LaMelo’s game [at Staples Center]?

“I’m not even worried about the game because like I said this, with the COVID and all this stuff, this is a different kind of season. My boys are performers. They’ll play in front of no crowds and stuff but the bigger the crowd the better they play and that’s what Melo and them was waiting on and I’m waiting on, you know one of these teams to take the chance and say you know what? We’re going to get all three Ball boys. And then watch what happens. Watch the show. Because I know what they can do all three together. Like I said, one of them is good, two of them is better but three of them together they’re at their best. They all got good height, can switch everything and they get rid of the ball quick so it’s going to be 40-50 points a quarter with those three out there, very easy.”

So, it’s almost like you say you helped put Chino Hills on the map, but you’re saying now, six years after that undefeated season when people think that was the height of the spotlight, you’re saying, no, we’re going deeper into the community and make Big Baller Brand even bigger of a presence there because you’ve put down roots there?

“Right, right.”

LaVar Ball moved to Chino Hills nearly 25 years ago to start a family with wife Tina.

Besides the training facility, where will you be doing all of this, and producing all of this?

“Everything is going to be here, like I said. We’ll end up like I said when my boys sit down and I explain to them if you like a certain thing — let’s say you like smoothies. So if you like smoothies stop buying them and get a smoothie shop out here somewhere. I like steaks and stuff like that, let’s buy a steakhouse place. And it’s just about me and my boys sitting down, getting together and saying you know what, this is where we’re going to invest this money and do this. And then once we do that things just grow. And then like I said at the end of the day we’ll just make things as big as possible. We’ll create that complex and the things for the AAU tournaments and stuff like that, it’s going to be huge.There’s a lot of things we can do and like I said at the end of the day if we can help 10 people we good, if we can help 1,000 people we good. As long as you helping somebody do something because at the end of the day that’s all you gonna be remembered by and I don’t mean remembered because you got all this money, it’s going to be whatever you done.”

I was going to say, you could have outgrown the area, certainly your boys. So you and Tina make sense because you’ve lived there so long. Why do you think your boys feel like they want to put down roots there too?

“They got common sense. They can look around and see what’s going on. You don’t want to be in all that traffic in L.A. This is also a place where you grew up so at the end of your career guess what, it’s a nice neighborhood, it’s a diversity of group of people around here, it’s a nice place to grow up, to live. And this is also the presence that we had. We behind the 8. We in a nice little area that’s tucked away so you gotta piece of mind. When you understand that part and understand how you grew up as a family and that’s what’s all triple-B is about, it’s a family brand, that’s why I say my boys ain’t going nowhere just because they doing some other things with Puma and whoever they doing it with, they still with Big Baller Brand because it’s a family brand, and that’s what people don’t understand.”

So, in a decade or so, when you envision Big Baller Brand, its presence in Chino Hills, what do you see? A training facility, what else?

“I see everything. It’s from a facility to a restaurant to real estate to whatever. It’s going to grow, and like I said, how do things grow? It’s just consistency and determination to have a vision on what you want to do. And my boys are very young, Lonzo’s 23, Gelo 22, Melo 19. They young as hell but they all millionaires so once they understand right here, the growth and when we go look for a building for a facility to build this thing with 12 courts or whatever for the AAU tournaments and stuff like that, we need a facility and that’s when the AAU thing is going to grow. That’s going to help other things get a lot bigger and I got some other things in the works right now that’s going to create that capital that’s going to make us crazy as heck — like in May, I got water coming out, and no brothers own no water. I own water. It’s going to be in Albertson’s and Sprouts. That’s going to go crazy.”

Big Baller Brand on the label?

“Of course. Triple-B water baby!

“That alkaline ph level is 7.7, good for your body. Watch when it come out, folks going to go crazy, the best-tasting water ever. It’s from Hawaii, and Hawaiian springs. It’s about to be crazy. And then like I said at the end of June I’ll have rims and tires out, tires that have triple-B on them and the rims will have triple-Bs on them.”

Where will you distribute those?

“We’ll be selling them out here in Anaheim, actually we have a warehouse and a shop where we make them. We’ll make three-piece rims. It’s one of the highest rims that you make is a three-piece and those are usually anywhere from $1,400 to $2,000 per rim and then like I said a monoblock is a one-piece rim that people can buy that’s a little cheaper. That’s a billion-dollar industry right there, just rims and tires alone. So that’s why I mean by creating the triple-B brand is something big and people will say, when I said it was worth a billion dollars they were looking at me crazy like, eh, no it’s not. Yeah, OK. What I do with these rims and tires and that water it will make the boys, like I said, they’ll be the first boys playing that are billionaires.”

The idea of empire-building is interesting, where you are at, when you have chances to go elsewhere and your boys do.

“I can show a lot of people around me that this is what can happen if you stick together as a family and don’t get greedy and have a goal in mind. Not a dream but a goal. And step by step you create that.”

Do people bristle against your big plans. If they feel like this is LaVar taking this town for himself. Do you get that feeling?

“I don’t get that feeling because at the end of the day all these folks is trying to make money. I get that. Like I said before I’m going to create things on my own terms and then a lot of people can’t jump off the ship before you get things going. What I mean by that, don’t talk all big and bold and you don’t have no plan to fall back on. Not really fall back on it but what if this don’t work this way can you do something else and they just don’t. It’s like OK, you can go ahead, if I was just making my money from ‘Ball in the Family’, now you can kind of strong-arm me because now I need some more money. But see you can’t strong arm me now because my brand is off the ground doing stuff with apparel, I got my water, my rims and tires, all this stuff is lining up where I don’t need one person. My rims and tires you ain’t got to go, I got my water. And my apparel. You see what I’m saying? I can’t be stopped.”


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