I wanna take a few minutes this morning to sing the praises of basketball dad, Lavar Ball. In the small off-chance that you’ve never heard of Lavar, he is the father of Lonzo Ball, who was a college basketball star at UCLA and the #2 pick in the NBA draft for the Los Angeles Lakers. He has two other younger sons who are also phenoms and received full scholarship offers to pretty much every college in the country to play ball.
I want to encourage you to ignore what mainstream media outlets say about this man. You may recall that the mainstream media also hate another Black father from Los Angeles whose two daughters, Venus and Serena, took tennis by storm. Richard Williams, in the middle of Compton, worked around the clock to help his daughters eventually become two of the greatest athletes in the world, but always seemed to be treated like a joke by the media.
Listen, Lavar Ball is brash and outspoken, but his kids aren’t. Same with Venus and Serena. It appears that these fathers both understood that to help samake a superstar in America, you have to say and do what nobody else is willing to say or do.
But yesterday Lavar Ball made what I think is the most important announcement he’s ever made. He announced that he plans to create what he’s calling the JBA – which stands for the Junior Basketball Association. It’s a professional basketball league for high school basketball stars who want to prepare for the NBA without playing college basketball.
Listen, I’m a huge proponent of higher education. The Tom Joyner Foundation has helped get thousands of students through college. College changed my life.
But it’s an absolute fact that college basketball in America is a profit-driven machine designed to pimp teenage black boys for a few years to the tunes of not millions, but billions and billions of dollars. Recently the University of Louisville, which is now embroiled in federal scandal, signed a billion-dollar contract with Adidas. College basketball teams around the country are signing similar deals.
And with that money, teams are paying coaches tens of millions of dollars. Those coaches are then signing dozens of endorsement deals of their own with every brand and company you can think of, to major national brands to local car dealerships. In most states right now, the highest paid government employee is not the Governor, but the college basketball or football coach.
In the meantime, players, many of them who already have hundreds of thousands of followers online, are banned from making even a penny off of an endorsement. They aren’t allowed to sell autographs. They aren’t allowed to receive even a percentage off of jersey sales with their number on them. And the NBA, with a backroom deal with college basketball, now requires that players have at least one year out of high school before they can enter the NBA draft – making it such that most great high school basketball players are doing what we now call “one and done” – that is they play one year of college ball then go pro.
We have to ask ourselves why are young kids who play tennis allowed to go pro at any age?
Why are young kids who play golf allowed to go pro at any age?
Why are young kids who play baseball allowed to go pro at any age?
It seems that predominantly white sports openly allow people to go pro at any age, but basketball and football, which are overwhelmingly black, force kids through a pipeline, not where they are getting a great education, but where colleges and universities make billions of dollars off of them.
I’m not sure if Lavar Ball’s JBA will be successful. Who knows? But I know the man is a visionary who has the guts to break out on his own – starting a shoe and apparel brand instead of signing with Nike or Adidas or Reebok and now starting a junior basketball league.
Many critics of Lavar have admitted that he’s one man who could perhaps make the idea work. But several sports historians have taken a different stance – they believe that college basketball, afraid of Lavar’s success, may finally change rules to benefit the players they are making billions of dollars off of.
If college players aren’t going to be paid, allow them, like every other college student, to be allowed to sign autographs for money. Give them a percentage of jersey sales. Allow them to have endorsement deals. Allow them to make money off of their social media accounts.
The NBA is also considering allowing players, as they used to do with guys like LeBron, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett, go straight to the pros from high school ball.
Whatever the case, Lavar Ball’s announcement about starting a pro league for high school players is a game changer. The man is brash, but he’s bold and full of big ideas. I support him and wish more of us would too.
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