LaVar Ball has done it again.
Only this time, it wasn’t sports media outlets or basketball fans taking his bait and advancing his Big Baller Brand cause. It was the President of the United States.
Never mind the threat of North Korea, the GOP tax reform plan or the accusations of collusion with Russia, the leader of the free world took a moment on Sunday to focus on a man who is nothing short of a marketing genius.
“Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal,” Trump tweeted to his 42-million-plus followers about the incident in which three UCLA basketball players were caught shoplifting and later allowed to return home. “I should have left them in jail!"
Then about six hours later, Trump tweeted again:
"Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar, Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!"
Take a bow, LaVar.
If only someone in Trump’s inner circle had told him that this is straight out of LaVar’s playbook, that his tried-and-true strategy for promoting the family products is to troll people with a higher profile into speaking his name and, thus, grow the family business along the way.
He has done it with:
- the greatest player of all time (saying in March that “back in my hey-day, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one”);
- Steph Curry (saying in February that his son, Lakers rookie and then-UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, was already better than the Golden State Warriors star);
- LeBron James (saying in March that his 13-year-old son/rising hoops prospect, LeBron James Jr., would never be as good as his father);
- many others from the basketball world. For crying out loud, For The Win even made a top-10 list of LaVar's most outlandish claims.
But this is a different level when it comes to exposure, and the mantra that has served LaVar so well still applies: There’s no such thing as bad press.
Just five days ago, not long after Trump preemptively demanded public gratitude, UCLA players LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley sat on a podium and thanked the President like kids would Santa Claus. But LaVar wasn’t about to let Trump hold the spotlight.
So three days later, when asked by ESPN to discuss Trump’s part in resolving the situation, LaVar did what he does.
“Who?” he responded, while downplaying the role that the President played.
That’s all it took.
And how about this for irony: Trump, no stranger to the PR strategy of creating one media firestorm as a way of avoiding another, has managed to take the focus off the fact that oldest Ball son Lonzo (field-goal percentage of 30.8) is on the track to have one of the worst rookie shooting seasons in NBA history or that LaVar’s prediction that all of his sons would be one-and-done NBA players isn’t looking so good. All while making the best of a bad situation.
Say what you will about the parenting aspect of LaVar’s ploys, but this saga has helped Big Baller Brand become a global entity. And truth be told, LaVar – who is selling a state of mind as much as he is shoes and shirts – had gone to work making that happen even before Trump’s tweet.
LaVar, who was with LiAngelo in China as the UCLA players spent a week inside their luxury hotel while their status was being resolved, spent much of that time promoting “pop-up shops” in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
“That Big Baller Brand is global,” he shouted from a hotel couch during one of his many promotional videos on his Twitter account.
The plan was working well even before Trump chimed in. But now the world is watching, and somewhere LaVar is laughing.
The funniest twist of all? He really should be thanking Trump now.
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