04 November 2017

Big Ballers in Carbon Canyon

It's news now, though rumors go back a few months, that the Ball family, which has garnered a great deal of national attention through the basketball talents of Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo and the publicity-generating promoter and budding enterpreneur that is their outspoken father LaVar, has purchased Chino Hills' largest home, located here in Carbon Canyon, and is renovating the structure. Here is one online article about the purchase.

A YouTube video shows a brief tour conducted by LaVar of the building and there are photos and news articles galore about the purchase and the family.  There isn't anything that could be said here that isn't found in dozens and dozens of places elsewhere.

But, there is an angle to add to this story going back almost twenty years.  When my wife and I lived in another part of Chino Hills, we got memberships to the brand new LA Fitness down the street.  My wife, who is dedicated to fitness, was doing her usual tough workout one day, when a man about our age walked up and, impressed with her intensity, started giving her some friendly encouragement.

A few minutes later, she walked over and introduced me to a guy standing about 6'5" and weighing well over 250 pounds.  After a handshake and a comment about how hard my wife was working out, LaVar Ball went back to his training.  We'd occasionally run into him and chat before returning to our routines.

When our older son was born in 2002, we'd ended our memberships at LA Fitness.  On a weekend, we were walking with our son in a jogging stroller up a steep street near our house when we saw the unmistakable figure of LaVar standing in the garage of his home where he did personal training.  Recognizing us, he hollered over to come by.

We went into the house and met his wife Tina and then were introduced to three little guys.  Lonzo was not quite 5, LiAngelo was 3 or 4 and LaMelo was 1 or 2.  After talking for a bit, LaVar, knowing I'd coached some high school basketball when I was in college, took me to the backyard to show me his set up.  He then told me that he was going to train his sons to be basketball players.  I don't remember if he mentioned the NBA, though I seem to recall that, and, knowing him, it is entirely possible.  I do remember thinking that he had pretty audacious plans with kids who were so young.

We saw LaVar out in his garage once in a while on our walks and then moved to the Canyon in 2004 and lost contact.  Then, ten years later, after reading an article in the local Champion newspaper about the phenom brothers, Lonzo, who was a sophomore, and LiAngelo, a freshman, and the up-and-coming Chino Hills High team that they led, my wife and I went over to Ayala High for a cross-town matchup.

There was a decent size crowd there, but nothing like the attention that steadily grew over the next few years.  Once we went over to the Ayala side of the gym, I pointed out LaVar and Tina to my wife and we walked onto the court.  We got no further than half-court when La Var rose up from his seat, pointed at us, and bounded out to greet us.  I was more than surprised that he remembered our names.  He was as friendly and gregarious as usual and Tina was typically gracious, too.  As for that game, I remember clearly being very impressed with the Ball brothers and their skills and abilities, but surprised at how wide-open their game was.  It only got wilder from there.

That part is well known and oft discussed.  I saw a fair number of games in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, but it was nearly impossible to get in during the 2015-16 campaign when the team went undefeated and was ranked #1 in the country.  I did go to the Southern Section semifinal at Ayala against Mater Dei, in which Chino Hills dismantled the Monarchs 102-54 (there was actually a running clock at the end).  Last year, I saw one game at U.C.L.A. with Lonzo and one Chino Hills contest, an overtime loss to Mater Dei in an open division playoff game at U.S.C.

Now, Lonzo is a rookie with the Lakers learning the ropes in the N.B.A., LiAngelo has just played an exhibition game with U.C.L.A. with the regular season starting in about a week.  LaMelo, however, was pulled from Chino Hills High and is being home schooled.  LaVar insists that his training and playing in A.A.U. ball will prepare him for U.C.L.A., but there is also the matter of the Big Baller shoe issue and eligibility.  He's a talented player for sure, scoring 92 points one game last year, so we'll see where he goes from here.

As for LaVar, his public persona is hotly debated.  To some, he's doing a disservice to his sons with his boasts and often outrageous comments.  To others, his persona is a publicity tactic and he's working to keep his sons in the spotlight to their future financial advantage.   Whether all three will eventually play in the N.B.A. (many feel LiAngelo is the least likely), the Balls have already achieved remarkable success.

What stood out to me was when I stood in the long line to get into the Ayala gym before that Mater Dei game.  I started talking to the person behind me, who was a teacher at Chino Hills.  I asked her what she knew about the Ball brothers and she said they were not only respectful and a pleasure to have in her class, but that they were excellent students—credit also goes to their mother, who is recovering from a severe stroke.

Hopefully, the hype, constant attention, critiques on 24-hour cable channels and endless online websites and social media platforms, the family's Facebook reality show, and so on, don't turn into a long, deep rabbit hole with a disappointing end.

As for that Carbon Canyon house the Balls bought, it was the subject of an early post on this blog, just as the Great Recession, largely brought on by a housing crash, was on its way.  It may be no small irony that the realtor representing the Balls was Richard King, who built and lost that home.

No comments: