Greg Cote

The burden of $495 sneakers? If Lonzo Ball is anything less than spectacular, he fails

High school basketball player scores 92 points in a game

Chino Hills (Calif.) High School basketball player LaMelo Ball scored 92 points in a game Tuesday night.
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Chino Hills (Calif.) High School basketball player LaMelo Ball scored 92 points in a game Tuesday night.

The father, LaVar Ball, has the easy job in all of this. All he has to be is the loud carnival barker who gets your attention. Who draws the crowd. He's a natural. Then again, all it takes, really, are a few spectacularly outlandish boasts and a pair of $495 sneakers.

The son, Lonzo Ball, is about to inherit the tough role in this world Dad has imagined. All of its weight will soon shift onto his 19-year-old shoulders. He will carry it, or see this world collapse with him under it.

Thanks, Dad. You have put your son, the UCLA point guard, in the nearly impossible position of either being instantly spectacular or seen as a failure.

Not since LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003 has a rookie arrived with such fanfare and expectation.

LeBron's burden was born of a consensus he was a generational talent worthy of the next-Michael Jordan chatter.

Lonzo's burden? That his father all but guaranteed he'll be better than Steph Curry and is pushing all his chips to the center of the table by betting his son's talent and fame will carry the family's Big Baller Brand with its $495 Lonzo signature "ZO2" sneaker line.

The pressure on Lonzo Ball to be epic-great (not merely really good) is theoretical now but will become real then night of the June 22 NBA Draft, when his professional career commences. He'll be a top five pick who prays he'll go No. 3 to the Los Angeles Lakers. (That would mean two guys who don't even have a shoe line would have been seen as better prospects).

The $500 sneakers won't begin shipping until Nov. 24 but were teased this week with a picture on social media. It's rather brilliant guerrilla marketing by LaVar Ball. Almost everybody agrees the cost of the shoes is ridiculous, an obscenity, but controversy = conversation = free advertising. The buzz surrounding these sneakers is beyond what traditional advertising could have garnered.

And Dad keeps doubling down on his bet.

"I figure that's what the shoe is worth," he said Friday on ESPN's Dan LeBatard Show, declining to say how much they cost to produce, where they are made, who's funding the production or how many have been ordered.

This entire Big Baller Brand strategy is by grand design. All it required is the kick-starter of a willing sports media to predictably and obediently swivel its spotlight onto the controversy scripted by lightning-rod Dad.

"Ball has kept his family's brand relevant by making outlandish claims, whether that his son is better than Stephen Curry or that he could currently beat Charles Barkley in a game of 1-on-1," notes Ken Wisnefski, of the digital marketing firm, WebiMax. "Now, by claiming the sneakers are worth $495, he has made them larger than life."

When the next NBA season tips off and a certain rookie's career commences, none of Dad's braggadocio or bluster will help. Lonzo Ball's $495 sneakers will carry him to instant stardom, or he'll be just another over-hyped player in overpriced shoes.

"Ultimately," said Wisnefski, "LaVar has put an insane amount of pressure on his son. If he flops, his family's brand falls apart. They better hope Lonzo is ready."

There is one more shade to the pressure on this kid.

His father is so disliked by so many, combined with the outrage over $495 sneakers, that Lonzo will step into the NBA as polarizing from the moment those golden sneakers first hit the hardwood.

So many are rooting for LaVar Ball to fail, and that requires hoping the son does, too.

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