The one-liners began flying on Wednesday evening, almost immediately after the Golden State Warriors took James Wiseman into the No. 2 pick of the NBA draft.
That meant there was a good chance that LaMelo Ball was about to become a Charlotte Hornet with the number 3 pick, which in fact he was. And it also meant that some of those boastful statements by LaVar Ball, particularly the one in which he said in his prime that he could record Michael Jordan one-on-one, were about to come back to life.
Jordan is, of course, the main owner of the Charlotte Hornets, which meant he was about to become LaMelo’s boss.
And here would be a way to solve two questions at once. I noted on Twitter that if LaVar and MJ actually played that one-on-one match all these years later, and if Michael won, maybe LaMelo should play for free. But the NBA Players Association would rightly disapprove of that.
So here’s a better idea: MJ and LaVar will go for it, and if the Hall of Famer Mr. Speak It Into Existence, LaVar must remain silent. Do you think he would go for that?
Probably the NBA kept LaMelo’s father away from Zoom availability after the roster was made. But LaVar and his wife, Tina, flanked LaMelo on the couch in the ESPN shots leading up to the pick, and LaVar wore a cap that said ‘I Told You So’. Somehow the message gets out.
LaMelo later confirmed that the Ball house was jammed for draft evening, and why not? It was a historic moment. LaMelo as the No. 3 pick and Lonzo as the Lakers’ No. 2 pick in 2017 became the first brothers to be named in the top five in NBA Draft history. (It was also a big night for Chino Hills High, which had two players in the top six: Ball and USC’s Oneyka Okongwu to Atlanta with the No. 6 selection.)
“It was beautiful,” said LaMelo. The whole room was crying. I couldn’t even tell you how many people there were. But when they called my name, everyone cheered, excited. It was a beautiful scene. ”
Lonzo’s path to the NBA was straightforward, a one-off at UCLA before joining the Lakers. LaMelo’s journey was much more circuitous: he left Chino Hills for his junior season and went from Lithuania’s professional league to prep school in Ohio, LaVar’s short-lived Junior Basketball League and the Illawarra Hawks of the Australia-based National Basketball League, with a reality show. and added a signature shoe with his father’s Big Baller branding to the mix.
All of that probably prepared him for the NBA in a very different way.
“I feel like these past experiences have made me who I am today,” LaMelo said Wednesday evening.
He is a player who inspires debate. Is he creative or overly flashy? Does he have a great shooting range, albeit with an unorthodox style, or shameless shot selection and a shot in serious need of restoring? And is his defense weak or does he not exist?
He had decent numbers in Australia (averages of 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists) in 12 games before a foot injury sidelined him, but they didn’t necessarily give answers.
“He hasn’t had normal maturation as a player,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said at a conference call last week. “I think going to Australia really helped him, and that way he really improved and certainly matured. But he didn’t have a normal high school experience for a great player and clearly had no normal post high school experience, but you can’t deny the talent.
‘You watch it on tape and … I mean, he’s extremely talented. It just becomes a matter of passing into an NBA team, and can he take over as leader if he becomes the point guard, and how is he going to relate to other players on the team as a young player? ”
Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said during a Zoom session with Charlotte media that it might not be wise to think of six-foot LaMelo as a mere point guard, or, as Kupchak prefers to call it, ‘ball -handling guard ‘.
“Looking at today’s game, there is a strong argument that the way we played the game 30 years ago is not the way we play today,” said Kupchak. And you can literally have three ball handling guards. LaMelo at (6-7), you might think of it as a point wing. Who knows how it will turn out?
“Obviously, a lot has been made in the last year or two from positionless basketball in the NBA, so he’s a piece we’re excited about.”
He will join a group of young players with potential, including third-year pros Miles Bridges and Devonte ‘Graham and sophomore forward PJ Washington, and will have a coach in James Borrego looking to pick up the pace.
“I like to go up and down,” said Ball. “So if that’s the playing style, it certainly fits.”
Remember Kupchak was part of the “Showtime” era with the Lakers of the 1980s. The game is different than it was then, but basketball never gets old.
“He has a flair to his game that might have some entertainment more than other players,” said Kupchak. That said, that’s why we didn’t summon him. We set him up because of his size, his height, the way he can handle the ball, the way he pushes the ball. Obviously, at the age of 19, we feel like there are a lot of benefits, so we’re very excited. ”
Oh, and as for the prospect of playing under Jordan’s watchful eye?
“A real blessing,” said LaMelo. “I don’t even have enough words to say.”
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter