OPINION: The Ball bandwagon will leave BC Vytautas and basketball in Lithuania in tatters

Like it or not, LaVar Ball is a genius. But he is doing so at the expense of basketball in Lithuania.

LaVar has publically used Lithuanian side BC Vytautas and completely taken over the team merely to expose his sons LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball. His interests are clearly not with the team itself, but purely to his sons. Hey, we get it; you want what’s best for your kids. But this isn’t his team, well actually, the moment he along with his two kids touched down in Vilnius, met with hundreds of photographers and media from around the country awaiting the first press conference, it might as well have been.

The press conference itself, meant to introduce the brothers to Prienai on one-year contracts instead became the basketball version of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ with the team’s head coach presenting LaVar with a jersey and a girl, barely out of high school wearing braces asking LiAngelo if he had a girlfriend?

But, all that aside, from a business standpoint, LaVar’s Big Baller Brand is growing and growing. That’s his goal and whether we like it, or not, the senior Ball has succeeded.

Vytautas have well and truly soiled the Baltic Basketball League and damaged the reputation of basketball in Lithuania the moment they denounced their involvement in the BBL to participate in, what will be a reality basketball show entitled Ball in the Family, a reality series on Facebook Watch that documents the life of the Ball family, including LaVar and talented Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, whose path to the NBA via UCLA was in fact earned.

The Prienai-based team will trade competitive Baltic league encounters for this celebrity-driven mini-tournament happily titled the Big Baller Brand Challenge, an event that will only heighten the Ball’s growing character and brand whilst giving Vytautas short-term exposure. The club stated that they will return to the Baltic Basketball League next season, when the Ball brothers have most probably left Lithuania without a care in the world for the damage that they have done to basketball in the southern part of the country, which is why the team’s status in next season’s competition will be a challenge in itself.

“This is a great thing for everybody,” LaVar Ball told ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman. “I’m excited for the fact they named something after the Big Baller Brand. Brings exposure to our brand and also gives us quality basketball. People back home get to watch it.”

LaVar’s comments to ESPN certainly didn’t seem to have the Lithuanian club in mind. Rather it was yet another Big Baller Brand campaign speech – thinking only of his own business venture – unbeknownst to him that basketball loyalists in Lithuania, a country where this is their national sport were saying the second that the Big Baller Brand Challenge surfaced was the moment that the sport’s credibility suffered, especially when non-Lithuanians are asked about basketball in the Baltic nation.

LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball were introduced in a press conference that included LiAngelo being asked by a female “reporter” if he like her? Photo: Los Angeles Times

On a competitive subject, it’s a shame that the Ball brothers will not compete in the Baltic Basketball League, a competition where Vytautas certainly needed guidance. They were in fourth place in Group A of the BBL and in need of a fresh injection of life to help their climb up the standings, that could have been LiAngelo and LaMelo’s cue to possibly provide a spark in limited minutes, off the bench, starting with a home game on Tuesday to Belarussian side Tsmoki-Minsk, a team rock bottom, without a win in six attempts.

Unfortunately we will now never know just how the Ball brothers will get on in a league that they have no control in and in an environment where down the road, they would be put under pressure by opposing teams that include veterans, experienced imports and with the so far inexperienced Americans facing the overall physical Lithuanian style of play.

Instead, LiAngelo and LaMelo will be playing in exhibition contests against teams such as Zalgiris’ 2, a feeder club to the EuroLeague unit and who’s eldest player is a 19-year-old Gytis Masiulis. Lietuvos Rytas 2 and two other lower ranked Lithuanian sides as well as Dzūkija, a rival of Vytautas in the LKL; the premier league of Lithuanian basketball.

The Big Baller Brand Challenge will undoubtedly be an event that suits the Balls’ celebrity status at the present moment. LaVar wants his 19-year-old son LiAngelo and 16-year-old LaMelo to feel comfortable, all whilst playing competitive basketball with an eye for the former to be drafted into the NBA to join Lonzo at the Los Angeles Lakers.

LiAngelo Ball (L) and LaMelo Balltakes part in their first training session in Prienai, Lithuania.
Basketball-crazed Lithuania welcomed LiAngelo and LaMelo, the two youngest sons of flamboyant Los Angeles entrepreneur LaVar Ball who recently made headlines due to a feud with U.S. President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / Petras MalukasPETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images 

Since both players have signed professional contracts, the road to the NCAA has been closed for good after LiAngelo withdrew from UCLA following a well-publicised incident in China where he was arrested for shoplifting and LaMelo was pulled out of Chino Hills High School by LaVar to be homeschooled, predominantly to work on his basketball skills, even though the only route he can follow is professionally.

When the two youngsters signed their professional deals, the thought of the two playing in the BBL seemed like a good idea, but their playing careers in Lithuania will be nothing short of a publicity stunt. They didn’t attend Vytautas’ game on Saturday because Lietuvos Rytas, the team they facing didn’t want reality show cameras in the arena. Vytautas was despatched comfortably 113-56 by Lietuvos Rytas.

The Ball brothers need not worry though. They will be playing against opponents far below Rytas’ playing standard.

We will find out how they fare on Tuesday when the Balls and the other three people that make up Vytautas’ face Zalgiris 2.