Strip away the political posturing from pundits on both sides of the aisle, and the feud between LaVar Ball and Donald Trump suddenly becomes very simple.
It’s an entrepreneur shining a spotlight on his company by any means necessary.
Hoping to goad Trump into a fight that would generate massive attention for his fledgling shoe-apparel brand, LaVar downplayed the President’s role in helping his son and two UCLA teammates get home safely after shoplifting in China. Trump needlessly took the bait and responded by tweeting that he should have left the UCLA players in jail, ensuring LaVar and the Big Baller Brand a few days in the media limelight.
Proof that LaVar’s strategy is working arrived Monday night when CNN allowed him to hijack its airwaves for 23 minutes with an interview that was sometimes comical, sometimes combative and always absurd. Fill-in host Chris Cuomo lost control of the interview from the get-go as he tried to pin down why LaVar remains unwilling to offer Trump a simple thank you.
At one point, LaVar demanded Cuomo thank him for appearing on CNN. Later LaVar asked the bewildered and beleaguered host, “Did you thank the doctor for bringing you into this world? You better go back and find him.”
Those were just two of the memorable moments from an off-the-rails segment of television. Here are four other notable quotes from LaVar’s CNN appearance:
1. “THERE’S A LOT OF ROOM ON THAT PLANE”
The point LaVar kept stressing throughout most of his interview was that Trump is exaggerating his role in helping the UCLA three. LiAngelo Ball and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill had already been released from police custody and were staying in a luxury hotel in Hangzhou by the time Trump urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the matter.
“They weren’t in jail,” LaVar said. “They were in a hotel. Now how did they get to a hotel? Somebody had to do something.”
While the gracious thing to do would just be to thank the President for his efforts, LaVar is likely correct that the three UCLA players were on their way to avoiding jail time before Trump intervened. Chinese legal experts told Yahoo Sports last week that the fact the players were allowed to stay in the hotel was a sign the case was being handled administratively and they were unlikely to go to trial or face jail time.
Trump’s intervention still undoubtedly sped up the legal process and enabled LiAngelo, Hill and Riley to return home sooner, a fact LaVar was unwilling to acknowledge. LaVar instead doubled down on his previous comments dismissing Trump’s impact, noting that the President left China with the three UCLA players still detained.
“If he helped, I would say thank you,” LaVar said.
“I would have said thank you if he would have put them on his plane and taken them home. Then I would have said thank you, Mr. Trump, for taking my boys out of China and bringing them back to the U.S. There’s a lot of room on that plane. I would have said thank you kindly for that.”
2. “IT WAS AN IMPULSE THING, A BAD DECISION AT A BAD TIME. THAT’S ALL IT WAS.”
Each time LaVar has spoken publicly about the shoplifting incident, he has insisted it wasn’t that big a deal that LiAngelo and his two teammates stole items from three stores in a high-end mall in Hangzhou.
Therefore it should come as no surprise that LaVar maintained that stance on Monday night.
“People are saying I said it wasn’t a big deal that my son was shoplifting,” LaVar said. I’m saying it wasn’t a big deal because being raised in South Central LA, I’ve seen harsher things. I’ve seen 16 and 17-year-old kids have to go to jail for life that were my friends.
“The way I look at it, OK, [LiAngelo] was shoplifting. He wasn’t physical. He returned it. He fessed up to it. It wasn’t like he was like, ‘No I didn’t take them. I didn’t take them.’ Nobody got hurt. He didn’t go there with the assumption, ‘Hey, I can’t wait to get to China because I’m going to get some good stuff.’ It was an impulse thing, a bad decision at a bad time. That’s all it was.”
While LaVar is correct that shoplifting is far from the most serious offense a college freshman could commit, his portrayal of it as a “victimless” crime is easy to dispute. The obvious victims are the stores from which the UCLA players stole.
The theft also received global attention and required the intervention of two world leaders to resolve. It severely damaged UCLA’s reputation in a country of great importance to the university and hurt the school’s basketball program by landing three significant players on indefinite suspension.
LiAngelo and his teammates appeared to show genuine remorse when they apologized publicly last Wednesday afternoon. By needlessly contradicting that message, LaVar is generating more attention for himself and his brand at the expense of his son’s reputation.
3. “I’LL SEND YOU SOME BIG BALLER MERCHANDISE.”
The biggest surprise from LaVar’s interview wasn’t anything he said. It was his choice of clothes.
LaVar donned a plain blue button-down shirt instead of a Big Baller cap or T-Shirt, a rare missed opportunity given his platform.
Credit LaVar for making up for that by shouting out his fledgling shoe-apparel company every chance he got during his interview. He referred to himself as “president and CEO of the Big Baller Brand.” He promised to thank Trump “Big Baller style” if he got invited to the White House. And he ended the interview by offering to hook Cuomo up with some Big Baller gear.
“I’ll send you some Big Baller merchandise,” Ball said. “I’m going to send you some stuff. You can give it to charity, put it around your neck, whatever you want. It’s your Big Baller gear, and you can do what you want with it.”
It’s impossible to guess how many pairs of overpriced shoes LaVar sold on Monday night, but it’s safe to say he reached an audience that might not have been aware of his company. You can bet that someone who hates Trump probably found LaVar appealing enough to splurge on a cap or T-shirt out of solidarity.
4. “I’VE GOT A MESSAGE FOR YOU. TELL DONALD TRUMP TO HAVE A GREAT THANKSGIVING BECAUSE BIG BALLER IS.”
You can bet he is.
LaVar said something intentionally outrageous about the most powerful man in the world, goaded him into retaliating with a series of angry tweets and gained attention and cultural relevance as a result. Viral clips from his CNN interview are already spreading on social media, each shining a spotlight on the Big Baller Brand.
If Trump responds on Tuesday, you can be sure LaVar will welcome the further publicity. If not, he’s already won.
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