Updated: Following the bouncing Ball Brothers: does father know best?

Chino-hills-skyline
Chino Hills photo: Chris Dufresne

LaVar Ball has every right to brag about his talented basketball sons, who have helped put a little Meadowlark Lemon into our lovely hills of Chino.

(Update: Brag about your SONS, LaVar, not yourself. It's one thing to say you think Lonzo is already better than Steph Curry. Telling USA Today that, in your heyday, YOU could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one is the most ridiculous thing I've heard this year from someone not running for high office. You don't think we can't look things up? Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. You averaged 2.2 points one year at Washington State. Stop this kind of talk NOW. This is not about you, remember, this is about your boys. Or maybe it is about you?)

Mr. Ball may have already reached the tipping point with media types like myself, however, who love a good "Hometown Buffet" story until we can savagely turn on it.

(Update: Scratch "may" from that sentence. The media has already transitioned from a tipping, to ripping, point. Twitter trolls have started a "LaVar Ball Says" hash tag. LaVar is getting hammered on social media.)

We may be 10 minutes from our first "Wrecking Ball" headline.

(Update: it was more like five minutes.) 

Making Chino Hills famous, first off, has been no easy trick.

(Update: I'm starting to wonder now about the fine line between famous and infamous.)

My wife and I moved here one sweltering summer day, in 1989, thinking we had missed the exit ramp and landed in Sheboygan.

My joke for years was that Chino Hills was Wisconsin without the winter.

We were a cow town that smelled like cows on days the Santa Ana winds turned on us from the East. Chino Hills was not a city yet; rather a holier-than-thou adjunct to Chino. In other words--a prison town with quality milk products churned by Dutch families later forced to Bakersfield in order to make room for my nice home on a cul-de-sac.

When we moved here from Long Beach, there was no inkling of bulldozing our fabulous community park for the “Shoppes of Chino Hills,” which included paid parking meters. The town we arrived in had an Alpha Beta, a Del Taco, the Canyon Corral steak shack and a Basque restaurant on Central.

Chino’s reputation was still stinging from the awful aftermath of a 1983 prison escape that led to grizzly murder.

Our infrastructure breakthrough came with the long-last extension of Grand Avenue through the hills from Diamond Bar which, for years, I suspected wanted nothing to do with us (but welcomed Snoop Dogg). Grand Avenue connected us, though, to the 57 Freeway and that opened up a land-grab vein from Orange County.

Chino Hills became incorporated in 1991, a full 10 years before Chino Hills High was established.

Now look at us. Last year we made national news when our local 7-Eleven produced a “Lotto” winner and several hoax winners. That was fun.

We also watched the Ball brothers--Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo—rise from Woody Guthrie's ribbon of highway (71) to become America’s first basketball family.

Our hills are now alive, with the sound of sneaker squeaks, but is this a cautionary trail?

(Update: Hope not. Pray not. Todd Marinovich, the son of an overbearing father, never recovered from his adolescent over-hype as a wunderkind athlete. Marinovich is still in the news, making the wrong kind of headlines. Fame, at a young age, can be a dangerous toxin.) 

Fame has an over-flow point I fear the Balls have reached. I don’t know LaVar Ball from Lucille Ball but I know what sets off the news media's B.S. detector.

(Update: He has set it off. Some might say B.S. stands for "Ball Shit." )

The more LaVar talks, the worse it gets. There was nothing but bouquets tossed last year when the “boys” led Chino Hills High to an undefeated season and national championship.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

LaVar’s comments of late, however, are starting to scream Beauty Pageant Parent!

(Update: "My son will only play for the Lakers," "Even if you don't want to hear me, you're going to hear me.")

I sense a sea change in the tone of LaVar’s message and its reception.

(Change sea to ocean, and make that ocean the Pacific.) 

It started with LaVar saying his son Lonzo, a fabulous freshman at UCLA, was better than Steph Curry.

Former UCLA star Don MacLean called those comments “outrageous.”

I'd only follow up with D-U-M-B.

The smack continued with LaVar saying last weekend Lonzo would only play for the Lakers, although he walked those comments back a bit.

As a resident\emeritus sports writer in town, I consider it my civic duty to keep LaVar in historical check.

He knocked me over when he said he wanted Lonzo to be the first “home grown” player to lead the Lakers to the promised land.

Lonzo wouldn’t even be the first UCLA player to do that.

(Udpate: Lonzo led UCLA to third place in the Pac 12. UCLA lost in the Pac 12 semifinals, to Arizona. Note: Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton had to lead UCLA to Pac championships every year just to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. They were, combined, six for six, resulting in five combined NCAA titles.)

Gail Goodrich, raised in the Southland, helped UCLA to its first two NCAA titles under John Wooden. Was Gail any good? Well, he scored 42 points in a national title win over Michigan and was a member of Wooden’s first undefeated (30-0) title team.

Goodrich later starred on the greatest Laker team ever, the 1971-72 squad that won 33 straight games and finished 69-13. Goodrich, not Jerry West, led the Lakers in scoring with his 25.9 point-per-game average.

LaVar and others could argue that was all before ESPN, so it doesn’t count.

If you’re going to brag at this level, though, make sure you run it through a rinse cycle. The NBA is loaded with seasoned and cynical fact checkers like Mark Heisler and Bob Ryan.

Another fact: while Lonzo Ball is a budding superstar, he is not the first international basketball sensation the Chino area has produced. That would be Diana Taurasi (Don Lugo High).

I’m not as much worried about Lonzo backing his father’s claims because Lonzo is the real deal. Earl Woods, remember, was right about Tiger.

I do worry, though, about LiAngelo (senior) and LaMelo (sophomore), two UCLA commits who are still at Chino Hills High. In case you missed it, Chino Hills was eliminated by Mater Dei last Friday in the CIF Open division semifinals.

Without Lonzo orchestrating the band, Chino Hills will not repeat as CIF or national champions.

(Update: Chino Hills was eliminated from the state playoffs Tuesday night, by Bishop Montgomery) 

LiAngelo and LaMelo are not Lonzo.

Lonzo can play over his father's noise because he is that good and has the opposite personality. Lonzo plays with quiet confidence and is a consummate, unselfish, team player.

Teammates in the NBA will love Lonzo because he will make them better--and make them rich. He won’t have to deal with locker room jealousy and resentment.

Lonzo can also handle his pops.

“I’ve been living with him since I’ve been born,” Lonzo recently told the L.A. Times. “He’s always been like that. He talks what’s on his mind and all I’ve got to do is go out there and play my game.”

(Update: How long will Lonzo be able to handle his dad? How long will he want to? LaVar is picking fights left and right. On Wednesday, Charles Barkley challenged LaVar to a game of one-one-on. "I don't even know how old he is, he's got to be around my age," Barkley said Wednesday on ESPN radio. "But no guy who averaged two points a game can beat me at one-on-one. I'm positive of that.") 

What about LiAngelo and LaMelo?

They already have the well-earned reputation as gunners. They are “shoot” first players.

LiAngelo is a gamer, for sure, a high-volume scorer, yet he is built more like a tight end.

How will his game translate to UCLA?

LaMelo is a completely different deal. He has serious basketball chops and is only a sophomore. He, more than Lonzo, plays like Steph Curry and has two more years of high school to improve his skills.

My question is: what kind of teammate will he be?

How many ball-hog "Melos" can the NBA take?

In the loss to Mater Dei, the Ball Brothers made, by my count, only 15 of 65 shots.

Shooting that much only sits well when you win…it all.

(Update: the younger Ball brothers, clearly, were not as good without the selfless Lonzo at the helm).

We've seen the wow factor with the Ball Brothers, but what about the wear factor? LaMelo took some national heat this year for scoring 92 points in a game.

The opposing coach’s displeasure in that game was the first time I remember someone questioning the brothers' sportsmanship.

LaMelo didn’t come close to scoring 92 points against Mater Dei because it boasted a 7-foot center, Bol Bol, who changed the trajectory of all incoming shots.

You think the NBA has any other tall players like that?

LaVar Bar is already talking about creating a brand for his boys that compares with Michael Jordan and Nike.

Um, ok, but bragging only works if you can back it up.

(Update: Exactly. LaVar announced in a USA Today cover story on Tuesday that the family seeks a $1 billion endorsement deal. The question may soon become: for what? Tuesday night, Chino Hills lost for the second time in three weeks three days after Lonzo had a sub-par performance in the Pac 12 Tournament loss to Arizona.)

LaVar’s problem is he doesn’t have one son—he has three.

Can all three back it up?

(Update: to repeat. Lonzo did not lead UCLA to a regular, or post-season, Pac 12 title. LiAngelo and LaMelo did not lead Chino Hills to a CIF, or state, title.)

The backlash is coming—if it’s not already here.

(Update: It's here.)

LaVar Ball would be better served toning down his rhetoric. It’s fun hearing your own voice on the radio—I know—but make sure you do your homework and speak the truth..

(Update: LaVar shows no sign of toning it down.)

The media builds you up, remember, to tear you down.

(Update: This is getting uglier much faster than I thought. The upshot is that Lonzo still has a shot to lead UCLA to a national title. But what if he doesn't?)

Your boys helped put Chino Hills on the map—in a positive way—and we thank you for that.

(Update: Talk is cheap, LaVar, yet you're asking top dollar for it. That only works if your sons back up your words. Earl Woods was right about Tiger. And Richard Williams was right about his tennis daughters. You have to be right about your sons, or else this will not end well.) 

Speaking on behalf of nearly 80,000 citizens--we'd like to keep it that way.

(Update: It was reported the Ball's house was burglarized Tuesday night while the family was attending the Chino Hills state playoff game. "Everybody's all right," LaVar Ball told SportsCenter on Wednesday. "Chino Hills has got the best neighborhood watch in the world. As soon as you bust a window, they're calling the police. That's all they did, was break a window.")

(Postscript: No one knows why the Balls were robbed but notoriety can expose you to the good, and evil, in a society: LaVar has clearly brought attention to his town and his family. And he is right in this respect: we are all on neighborhood watch.) [/membership]

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