LAS VEGAS – It took Lonzo Ball 20 seconds to get a near-capacity crowd off its feet in his first summer league game.
Just like LaVar taught him.
Ball’s highly anticipated Los Angeles Lakers debut on Friday night started with a flourish on a perfectly timed lob pass to Brandon Ingram. But that was one of the few bright spots for a player Magic Johnson has dubbed as the new face of the Lakers in a 96-93 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The No. 2 overall pick scored just five points and missed 13 of his 15 shots, to the disappointment of a near-capacity crowd that came out to see him. Leave it to his father to sum up the night with some of his trademark straight talk.
“He don’t be discouraged because that’s the worst he can do,” LaVar Ball said. “He can’t go but up. And he still kept them in the game playing his worst game ever. That’s what I like about it.”
Lonzo Ball was 1 for 11 from 3-point range, including a bad miss from well beyond the line – the kind of daring pull-up the Ball family is known for – with 1:16 to play in regulation.
He was also a little slow to react on defense, including when Brice Johnson made a quick spin past him for a dunk. The Clippers posted the highlight on their Twitter account, calling it a “pretty baller move.”
That’s the kind of target that LaVar’s antics have painted on his son’s back. And it’s much bigger than the purple No. 2 under his name.
“Tough game. We didn’t get the job done,” Lonzo Ball said. “I need to be better.”
Scouts do wonder how that unorthodox shooting stroke will translate to the NBA game. What is not up for debate is the Lakers’ return to must-see status with the pass-first point guard on the trigger and his carnival barker father on the mic.
While LaVar Ball has dropped hints that he could tone down the bombastic comments and unending marketing of his Big Baller Brand apparel that turned him into an internet villain of sorts during Lonzo’s lone season at UCLA, he was totally in character for his son’s debut.
“The Lakers fans are coming and my boy is gonna bring ‘em out,” LaVar Ball crowed at halftime. “Because there’s excitement for the game. It’s entertainment. That boy is going to entertain. He’s been doing it all his life.”
LaVar Ball entered the Thomas & Mack Center to a raucous ovation, flanked by more than a dozen family members. They watched the game from a raised stage behind one baseline, and as he ascended the stairs for the first time, he raised his hands and pumped his fist to the crowd.
Lonzo Ball got off the bus wearing a black Big Baller t-shirt, red shorts and black Big Baller ZO2 shoes – yes, the ones with the $495 price tag – and did two television interviews before he even changed into his Laker uniform. A bedazzled, patent leather backpack draped over his shoulders and established NBA players including DeMar DeRozan, D’Angelo Russell and Isaiah Thomas were all in attendance for the game, while Johnson, the new Lakers president of basketball operations, sat courtside.
Lakers games have always been well-attended here in Vegas, just a four-hour drive from Los Angeles. But this one reached another level, with fans piling into the arena three hours before game time and sitting through a Bucks-Cavaliers game before finally getting to the main attraction. And when Lonzo found Ingram for the alley-oop on his first possession, it looked like things were going to come easy.
“I always said get ’em out their chairs on the first play,” LaVar Ball said. “That’s how we used to play with his brothers. Either hit a long 3-pointer from halfcourt or a dunk.”
But it became clear very quickly that things wouldn’t always go smoothly. The sophomore Ingram shined with 26 points in 31 minutes, playing with more assertiveness than his celebrated rookie teammate. Lonzo finished with five assists, four rebounds and two steals.
“It’s got nothing to do with him,” LaVar Ball said. “He’s going to make this team come up and make everybody start passing the ball. And that’s when that chemistry comes in and that’s when that winning comes in. That’s when the winning comes in. Once you start winning, everybody starts feeling good.”
In that way, LaVar is right on the money.
Lonzo’s clothes are flashy, and the first play was quite a highlight. But the rest of his game was decidedly understated, much like his personality. Magic may have dubbed him the new face of the NBA’s marquee franchise and his father says the rookie is on the Lakers because he spoke it into existence. But there is nothing “look-at-me” about him.
He speaks quietly and with a straight face, nothing like the mega-watt smile Johnson brought to Hollywood from Michigan State. Surrounded by cameras after the game, he couldn’t wait to move on.
“The only way to go now is up,” Lonzo said. “That’ll probably be the worst game I’ll have all week so hopefully I keep getting better.”
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