At the end of his 23-minute hijacking of CNN on Monday night with an interview that was equal parts hysterical and nonsensical, LaVar Ball asked host Chris Cuomo to “tell Donald Trump to have a great Thanksgiving because Big Baller is.”
Ball then raised his two thumbs up and smiled.
His only mistake was not holding up some merchandise from the Big Baller Brand, the start-up shoe company he founded based around his three basketball-playing sons. The oldest is Lonzo, star rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers. The middle is LiAngelo, a freshman at UCLA who was detained earlier this month in China for shoplifting, which is how LaVar Ball got on CNN in the first place.
Confused? Yeah, well, that was LaVar Ball’s point.
He’ got a bunch of national television time to promote his shoe company, undoubtedly won over some fans with his absurdity and sense of humor and, perhaps, moved some product. Not a bad night for the Big Ball Brand family shoe and apparel company. When you’re battling Nike and Adidas, you have to use what you can, which in this case includes infuriating Donald Trump by not thanking him for playing a role in getting the UCLA players back from China.
“Who?” LaVar Ball told ESPN, seemingly doubting Trump really did much to aid the situation.
That was enough to set off Trump. He sent an angry tweet at the “ungrateful” LaVar, which was a fine bit of marketing for LaVar Ball that led to more marketing for LaVar Ball, such as the lengthy CNN appearance, a farcical panel discussion after, a bunch of viral social media clips and plenty of columns like this.
Look, as I’ve written before, the decent and polite thing to do here is simple. If your son is under any measure of Chinese detention and then is no longer under any measure of Chinese detention, you ought to be profusely thankful for anyone who had any role, great or small, in making the not-under-Chinese-detention part happen.
Even if Trump was overstating his role here and pumping himself up as a hero, who cares? Your kid is out.
Decent and polite, though, are relics of a bygone America. Angry tweets and media absurdity are in. Don’t ever apologize and don’t ever say thank you. It’s a sign of weakness or something.
So LaVar wouldn’t thank Trump, no matter how many times Cuomo asked him to and Trump will fire off bitter tweets at LaVar and then everything will circle back around and around.
It’s, perhaps, worth noting that LiAngelo and his UCLA teammates, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, did thank Trump. That wasn’t enough for Trump, though. LaVar suggested he would have thanked Trump, too, if he had seen him doing anything notable in person or if he had flown the three players back aboard Air Force One.
“There’s a lot of room on that plane,” LaVar said.
It was that kind of interview.
“Did he help the boys get out? I don’t know,” LaVar said. “If I could thank anyone it’s [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping].”
LaVar had one salient point: The players had already been released from jail and were sent to the team hotel, a nice Hyatt Regency, long before Trump had heard about the case. They were almost certainly headed for so-called “Administrative Action,” which is akin to a misdemeanor case. A lengthy prison sentence, which technically was on the table initially, was not a real threat after UCLA and the U.S. Consulate got involved and the players humbly admitted and apologized for their actions to the Chinese.
“[Trump] tweeted, because he’s mad at me, ‘I should have left their asses in jail,’ ” LaVar said. “First of all, they weren’t in jail, they were in a hotel. How did they get to the hotel?”
Basically, LaVar doesn’t believe anything Trump says.
“If he helped, I would say thank you,” LaVar said.
That would be the simple thing to do.
That wouldn’t have gotten him on CNN, talking about his shoe company. And, yeah, it wasn’t very becoming, but it’s not like LaVar was garnering cable television attention by advancing some racist conspiracy theory like the sitting president was actually born in Kenya.
Trump will hate it but he really should appreciate the hustle. LaVar Ball and Donald Trump are, in many ways, the same person running the same game. There is nothing too outrageous, nothing too embarrassing that isn’t worth the publicity. In Trump’s hey-day it was the front page of the Daily News or the lead item of Page Six.
Now it’s spending 90 seconds asking (and eventually getting) Cuomo to thank him for coming on CNN. And then him still not thanking Trump.
The people who like Trump and hate LaVar were never going to pay $495 for a ZO2 Prime shoe worn by Lonzo. The people who hate Trump and might find LaVar’s purposeful clown show and poking of the bear appealing will perhaps fork over that kind of cash.
Everyone playing to their base, one hustler to the next.
“He’s not an opponent,” LaVar said of Trump. “I just consider him a human being and the President of the United States. My title is LaVar Ball, president and CEO of the Big Baller Brand.”
LaVar and The Donald, together forever here in 2017.