I wanted to start this with the definition of a Sports Dad, but the only definition I found, I did not agree with. It was defined as, “A commonly seen dad that is obsessed with their child’s athletic ability. These dads can become highly aggressive when their child does something wrong in a sport…” This definition came from Urban Dictionary, so we can only take this with a grain of salt. But I guess it’s all about perspective.
In my opinion, a Sports Dad is just a present Father who shares an interest in a sport with their child. So I don’t like the negative connotation often associated with a Sports Dad, especially with black fathers. There were no criticisms of the Archie Mannings and Jack Harbaughs of the world like there are with the Earl Woods and Richard Williams of the world. Why, as black men, do we get more scrutiny for encouraging our children to be great at a certain sport?
I have four sons who will all undoubtedly be well over six feet tall, so I often fantasize about all four playing professional basketball, but I don’t want to be stigmatized as the overbearing sports dad or feel like I’m pushing or pressuring them into the sport! So, I wanted to talk to someone who raised three professional basketball players to see how it’s done! I’m talking about the Big Baller himself, Mr. LaVar Ball.
LaVar Ball is the co-founder and CEO of the Big Baller Brand, a sports apparel company. He is the father of three sons, Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo. All three of his boys are professional basketball players, two of which (Lonzo and LaMelo) were selected top 3 in the NBA draft. We talked about his journey of fatherhood from his relationship with his father to raising his three boys!
What was the relationship with your father like growing up and how did that impact you being a father?
Family is everything! The reason I can say that is because my dad said it. It was instilled in me and that goes to the next generation. It’s not like I can say my father inspired me to be a great father, but it’s like whatever we see in front of us, we tend to do the same thing. Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes it can be negative. But everything instilled in me, I learned from my pops and now my boys are seeing the same thing.
Was your father as actively involved with the sports as you are now?
Absolutely! See we was in the ghetto and he had seven kids. But he would have all the kids in the neighborhood and they would come out and he made us race each other. We would wrestle and play football in the street. It wasn’t like now days when you just put a kid in AAU, but it felt like the same thing and it was all fun!
When your oldest son was born, did you feel mentally and financially prepared?
Absolutely! It wasn’t an accident that I had my boys. From me picking my wife, I knew we could get three of them. I was already mentally prepared. I always said I was going to have three boys.
When did you know your sons were all going to be professional basketball players?
Straight out the womb! I’m 6’6” and Tina [LaVar’s wife] is tall, so I knew they’d all be 6’6” and above! She was a basketball player so we could stay in the gym together all day. When doing AAU, you’re in the gym for 10 hours. A lot of women will say I have to go hang with the girls after too long, but she loved basketball and was my assistant coach, so it was like a family thing. When Zo was in 3rd grade, Gelo was in 2nd, and Melo was in Kindergarten, they were all on the same team playing Junior High teams!
People always told me let them play in their age group, but guess what? The best 10U team can’t beat the worst 14U team because they’re too big and too strong. So then they had to start learning to play with their endurance, IQ and skill level.
Did they ever play or want to play other sports?
Zo and Gelo played baseball, but they said it was too boring. They all played flag football and did really well. But here’s the thing. A lot of people will say, “I’m going to give them the freedom to choose whatever sport they want and I’ll get behind them.” That’s the politically correct thing to say. But you have to give them some guidance. They may pick something crazy because they don’t know nothing. In sports like football, you can’t play up because you’ll get killed. But I was going to let them play whatever sport they wanted. But they started to develop a deep love for basketball.
How did you find that sweet spot between pushing them too hard and keeping them motivated?
I don’t push them! Pushing means resistance. I lead them. If I lead, that means you’re behind me and at any point you can turn around and get off. I told my boys, you have to bust your ass at some point. You can lay in bed and be lazy and once high school ends you’ll have to bust your ass to make ends meet. Or you get up lift those weights, run those hills and bust your ass now, so when your 19, 20, you’ll be millionaires!
How did the business and brand start matriculating?
I always thought we were running and jumping in all these brands and we don’t own nothing! I wanted them to come in the league with their own brand. I let my boys know, a brand is the best thing you can have. You’re technically employees of the NBA, but once you’re done, the brand will keep going and can last forever.
And now you see all these other players trying to start their own brand. And that’s what I always said. Take the money the league gives you and start your own thing and even if only your hometown buys it, you’ll be good. But it’s too many of these players waiting around trying to get a shoe deal. Create your own!
How do you feel about the media criticizing your parenting?
When they’re comparing me to Tiger Woods dad or Venus and Serena, they call us crazy, but guess what, it seems like these crazy fathers is doing some stuff right. Who do they always say is crazy? They only talk about the black dads. They did try to compare me to Marinovich’s dad, but they can’t do that! I’m not white and I don’t drink. I wasn’t doing to my boys what he did. They’re mad that my sons play for the love of the game. They never had no pressure on them. I never said you have to make the league to get me out of Chino Hills. I just wanted them to have a love for the game and play their best. A lot of kids start thinking about trying to impress their parents or help them, but that will effect their game. Really as parents we just want our kids to do better than us and leave them with those tools for when we’re gone.
Any last gems you want to share on fatherhood?
I think everyone is a great parent to their kids if they want to put the time in. It’s just that my boys are successful and I’m in front of the screen a lot, and people see me and say I want to be a father like that. You probably are just in your own way. Be the greatest father to your kids and spend the time with them!
If you could right a letter to your father, starting with Dear Father, what would it say?
Dear Father, you raised the greatest of all time, the big baller! And you’re lucky!
You can find LaVar at:
Twitter: LaVar Ball
Website: Big Baller Brand