In the days leading up to the March Madness Tournament, I was sitting in front of a TV with other sports fans. One of the SportsCenter anchors announced that a man named LaVar Ball would be interviewed after the commercial break. The room immediately irrupted into a chorus of dissatisfied murmurs. By the time Ball was actually on screen, insults were being hurled at the TV including several profanities. Those not cursing at the TV were scoffing at Ball. Most saying that his five minutes of fame would be up after March Madness ended. They expected him to sink back into obscurity.
Fast forward two months, and LaVar Ball is more famous than ever. From making ridiculous claims to peddling his shoe brand, everything he does gets reported on. And the more press he gets, the more outrageous he becomes. The more outrageous he becomes, the more enraged the general public gets about having to see him.
It’s impressive that one man can draw so much ire. However, after looking at LaVar Ball and his actions as a whole, one thing is clear: if you feel immense disdain for this man, it is only because he wants you to.
It’s easy to dismiss Ball as an egomaniac. It’s easy to say that he is so blinded by greed and his own self-image that he doesn’t realize he’s a farce. It’s easy to call him an idiot and assume he will fail at his basketball endeavors because he is so easy to dislike. However, while Ball is certainly an irritating character, this persona is annoying by design.
In a market over-saturated by basic advertising, Ball found a way to cut through the noise and connect with basketball fans by becoming a character. From the moment the sports world first heard his name, Ball exploited the media by being loud, mean, and contemptible. Sports shows ate it up and gave him even more of a platform. Ball found a snowball effect in today’s media where he made ridiculous claims such as saying he could beat Michael Jordan one on one, then got media coverage. Each time he got media coverage he was more ridiculous thus causing more networks to request time with him.
No Publicity Is Bad Publicity
Some people point to the modest sales of his first Big Baller Brand shoe as a sign that he’s failing. But really, the shoes were never the end goal. Rather, they were just another reason for people to talk about him. In fact, the shoe deal wasn’t even about growing the “Big Baller” brand, it was about growing the personal brand that is LaVar Ball. Think of how many times people took to social media to bash Ball the past months. Every time someone tweets things at Ball, mentions him on Facebook, or even trashes him on a television show, it doesn’t harm him. It makes him a trending topic.
Essentially, Ball understands that it is the public knowing his name that will lead to the real money, even if the public only knows his name because of how much they dislike him. The door is now wide open for ways to make money: interviews, public speaking, book deals. In addition, if any of his sons really do make it big in the NBA, his fame will skyrocket. Each time one of his three sons does anything at all, the nation will once again have reason to hear from him.
How Did This Happen?
LaVar Ball is the product of a culture based on shock and absurdity. This is the same culture that took Danielle Bregoli, more commonly known as the “Cash Me Outside” girl, and made her rich with music and television deals. Other athletes have also exploited this wrinkle in our culture. Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom outspokenly took on the role of villains in the NFL. By being easy to dislike, the Legion of Boom ended up as one of the most recognizable brands within the NFL over the last five seasons and even created their own trademarks. In the same way, the outspoken Josh Norman turned his brash attitude with the Carolina Panthers into a rise in popularity and a huge deal from the Washington Redskins.
The current culture in America is one built on ego and audacity. Ball realized this and used it to jump start his own personal brand. He has learned to use the disdain that sports fans feel for him to get more time and money from the public. In this way, the more America fights to push down LaVar Ball, the more America will raise him up. The more you hate him, the more he wins, and the more he outsmarts America.