Happened to catch Lavar Ball on CNN this morning. He was arguing that having to apologize for stealing should be more than enough punishment for his son, LiAngelo Ball, and whining that his kid has been unfairly persecuted by UCLA, the college he attended (until yesterday, anyway). You may recall that LiAngelo and two of his teammates were caught shoplifting sunglasses at a Louis Vuitton store while visiting China as members of the UCLA basketball team; they were arrested and faced a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Before the poo hit the fan, however, President Trump, who happened to be in China at the time, stepped in and asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to show clemency and release the three young hooligans, which he did (and which was a nice thing to do, when you consider that the way Donald Trump says “China” is kind of weird and sort of sounds like he’s insulting it)
Within a week of the arrest, and having never seen the inside of a Chinese jail, LiAngelo and his buddies were allowed to go home. They later appeared at a press conference in which they dutifully said they were sorry, and then they were suspended indefinitely from the UCLA basketball team (but not from the institution) pending further investigation. A few days later, there was a brief, hilarious Twitter battle between LiAngelo’s father and Donald Trump in which Trump griped that the Ball Family wasn’t more grateful (Sad!) and in which Mr. Ball indicated that no thanks were even necessary because things would have worked out on their own. Which was spectacularly ungenerous, even if Donald Trump is the human equivalent of a vaginal yeast infection.
As of yesterday – less than a month after this whole thing went down – UCLA had not made any permanent decisions about how LiAngelo & Company would be disciplined. Who knows why it has taken so long – maybe because of the Thanksgiving holiday, maybe because finals are coming up, maybe because UCLA wants to consult with all the appropriate personnel so they can be certain that their decision is the right one. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: As long as he’s suspended, LiAngelo Ball isn’t playing basketball, lighting up the scoreboard and leading UCLA to victory, and given what we’re hearing about his talent (from his father, anyway), UCLA’s decision to take its time to conduct a thorough review – contrary though that may be to the success of its men’s basketball team – is perhaps refreshing. How many times have we read about university officials looking the other way when star atheletes behave badly in order not to compromise the team’s win/loss record?
Then, yesterday, in a fit of childish pique (the ramifications of which could be far-reaching), Lavar Ball pulled his kid out of UCLA – you know – the institiution that was willing to given him a free education and room and board for four years (estimated price tag: $250,000) so he could play basketball, get a lot of attention on a very big stage, and probably end up being drafted by the NBA. Curse you, UCLA!
According to Mr. Ball, his reasoning is based upon what he believes is staggeringly unfair treatment by UCLA. He thinks that his son’s apology was sufficient “punishment” (god, it’s so HARD to say “I’m sorry” and not really mean it!) and that this whole think should be over already. It’s unclear whether he even believes that what his son was actually all that bad.
Well, I, for one, think it’s time for Lavar and his son to get woke, and I say that realizing that a 53-year-old white woman who gets excited about a new set of Rubbermaid storage containers probably shouldn’t be using the term “woke.”
But here goes:
Lavar, any way you slice it, stealing is illegal (whether you’re in China OR the US), and under any other circumstances (like, President Trump didn’t happen to be in China at the time, or your son wasn’t a promising young athlete), your kid would probably be sitting in jail or, at the very least, awaiting a court date with the real possibility of prison time, especially if he’d been left in China to deal with a criminal justice system that doesn’t exactly work the way ours does. In other words, the potential NBA career would probably be off the table, and being suspended by UCLA would have been the least of his worries.
So let’s all agree that what LiAngelo did was wrong, and that he was extremely lucky that our National Pride, Donald Trump, was in the right place at the right time, not groping women or insulting people’s cultural heritage. Let’s agree that it was a good thing for Lavar Ball and his idiot son that Trump was able to get LiAngelo and his friends (the little fuckers) back home to the USA without pissing off the Chinese government and prompting them to call in all our loans. Let’s agree that all LiAngelo had to do was say THANK YOU, ride out his suspension, and maybe use their free time studying or volunteering in a soup kitchen.
Well, that’s NOT what LiAngelo did. Because UCLA was mean to him, and his dad thought it was unfair. (As an aside, if you want to know what’s unfair, talk to Colin Kaepernick about his work in the Black Community, and the real injustices that go on there every day that do not involve LV sunglasses and basketball scholarships.) But was UCLA’s treatment of LiAngelo unfair, Lavar? Was it unjustified in taking some time to figure out how to handle this?
Call me old-fashioned, but UCLA – or any other institution – has a right (and, indeed, a responsibility) to decide whether the athletes who represent it should be discplined when they, oh, I don’t know, break the law in a foreign country while on what was supposed to be a sort of goodwill tour. It has a right to determine whether or not this snotty little brat and his asshat father are really worth the squeeze, and whether it’s likely that there will be more shenanigans down the road. UCLA has a right to assess whether it expects its atheletes to adhere to a basic standard of conduct when they venture abroad – one that does not include stealing designer sunglasses.
Lest we forget, by giving LiAngelo a scholarship (and, sure, it if hadn’t been UCLA, it would have been another school), UCLA pretty much handed him the Golden Ticket – free education, room and board, so he could play basketball on a national level where he would be seen by NBA teams and likely be signed to a million-dollar contract before he even got his degree. How many kids get that kind of opportunity? By all accounts, LiAngelo Ball is an athlete of enormous talent, and his future, once UCLA reached out, seemed all but assured. All he had to do – ALL HE HAD TO DO – was play basketball. THAT WAS HIS ONLY JOB.
But LiAngelo decided that it would be a good idea, while visiting a non-democratic foreign country that has had a sketchy human rights record, to shoplift designer sunglasses.
It’s not surprising that young Mr. Ball made this particular error in judgment – and I’ll bet he’s probably not even willing to concede that much. Listen to his father talk for more than 35 seconds and you know exactly how much accountability, discipline, and good old-fashioned DON’T DO THAT SHIT parenting he got growing up. LiAngelo gives every impression of having inherited his father’s unearned belief in his own specialness and excellence, and it’s likely that if it hadn’t been designer sunglasses in China, it would have been something else, because the Ball Men don’t think they have to adhere to the rules that apply to everyone else. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.
Still, Lavar Ball believes that the only “guilty” party in all of this is UCLA, and so he decided to get even by…yanking his kid out of UCLA (he refused to say this morning whether his son was on board with that decision). He says that he’s exploring other options for his son. How much you wanna bet that none of them include actually getting an education?
Who knows where LiAngelo will turn up? Perhaps he is in fact so talented that he’ll be playing with the NBA next year, making enough money that he won’t have to shoplift anymore.
What he probably won’t be doing is taking responsibility for his actions, ever, because his father has never forced him to, and he has now been removed from a situation where he might have had to suffer the consequences of his conduct in a way that might have helped him transition from spoiled brat to mature young man who is accountable for his transgressions. He may end up being the best basketball player the world has ever seen, but he’s unlikely to accomplish much else as long as his father is calling the shots.
So screw you, UCLA. You’ll never see the likes of LiAngelo Ball or his father again. And for that, you will probably say…thank you.