Folks around the NBA have murmured for more than a year now about LeBron James' purported interest in bolting to Los Angeles when he has the opportunity to opt out of his contract during the 2018 offseason. Would he really leave his hometown team twice in his career? That remains to be seen. But people around the league have suspected as much—and suspected that he's headed for Los Angeles—for a long time now.
LeBron owns two houses in L.A., and conquering the West would provide him with a new challenge—a new potential legacy boost, if you will. Also, the Lakers have a wealth of cap space, a promising young roster, and a storied history. If he could bring them back to prominence, well, it would do a ton for LeBron's place in the history books. Of the two L.A. franchises, it seemed way likelier that LeBron would desire a spot on the roster of the Lake Show.
This recalibration also reportedly stems from the Lakers' lack of belief that LeBron is actually interested in joining the team. Though L.A. has a bunch of gifted young players—including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma—there isn't a bona fide star on the roster. LBJ would be taking a big risk by signing with the yellow and purple.
A lot could change in the next few months, of course. The Lakers are still reportedly shopping Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. But with this latest report, it looks a lotless certain that LeBron will head to Hollywood this summer.
On Monday night at the Staples Center, the Lakers will face the Warriors and there will be a special halftime show commemorating Kobe Bryant. The team plans to retire both jerseys he wore, No. 8 and No. 24, respectively. Since his retirement in April 2016, the Lakers have revitalized the team with a young core; among them are Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and others.
Rob Pelinka, the general manager for the Lakers, is one of the most important people in Kobe’s career. He spent 18 years as his agent before becoming the Lakers GM, and really, one of Kobe’s closest friends. Now, with Bryant away from the purple and gold, Pelinka is finding new ways to spark inspiration within the team, motivating them to reach the caliber and chemistry of past Laker squads.
It starts with talking with a few renaissance men who strive to change the world every day. In an interview with USA Today, Pelinka shared his idea of “Genius Talks.” He brings the team to people who are the absolute best in their industry in order to create an inspired culture within the Laker brand.
The first was Elon Musk, and they visited his SpaceX lab in nearby Hawthorne in October. Pelinka said:
“It was like going to the set of Ironman; just unbelievable. The players were just amazed. It was the coolest thing. One of the guys said (to Musk), 'Well we play against other teams, so how do you study your competition, or what's your way of staying No. 1?' And he said, 'My competition is irrelevant to me. If what I'm doing, I do excellently, then it doesn't matter.' And so you pick up little things like that.”
The next was Jeffrey Katzenberg, who co-founded Dreamworks and was the head of Disney studios from 1984 to 1994. The Hollywood mogul told them, according to Pelinka:
“'You know, when I was making the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, I had a mantra in my head, and it was exceed expectations.'” He said, ‘I wanted to sit in the back of the theater when the kids were watching, and I wanted them to be jumping out of their seat. I wanted to exceed their expectations.’”
A person who will undoubtedly inspire the Lakers is Kendrick Lamar, and it sounds like Pelinka may lock in the TDE rapper for an upcoming session of “Genius Talks.” Lamar's had an incredible year with the release of Damn and his seven Grammy nominations.
Pelinka further explains that “Genius Talks” is meant to tap into the team's various interests to make them better people and better basketball players.
“Magic and I wanted to identify geniuses in their space. Our core belief is that more developed men make better basketball players. I think Magic, if you look at how diversified he is with his interests. Kobe, the guy studies everything under the sun. I'm reading a biography right now on Leonardo da Vinci, and he has the ultimate curiosity of all things. If he's painting a hummingbird, he wants to like take its tongue and see what it looks like so he can paint it. So geniuses in life, right, can inspire us on how to be better.”
“So once a month, we try to do that, and the reason that it, to me, is important, is it shows the way we're really trying to do things differently, and it gets back to what I said at the beginning: Support and service. How can we bring things to the guys to make them better human beings and better Lakers basketball players?”
A photo of Ball's manager/trainer Darren Moore wearing a T-shirt with a Photoshopped version of Nas' 1996 album It Was Written with Ball's face on the cover rather than Nas' face has surfaced. Lonzo posted the picture, which includes fellow Lakers star Brandon Ingram and others, to Instagram on Wednesday night with the caption “H8FUL 8️⃣ .”
A post shared by Lonzo Ball (@zo) on Oct 11, 2017 at 5:22pm PDT
Nas and Lonzo haven't been on the best of terms since the 19-year-old made some disparaging comments about the legendary Queens MC. It all started when the season premiere ofBall in the Family aired. In it, Ball said, “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore…Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”
The comment, understandably, didn't sit well with many rap fans.
Lonzo Ball said Nas ain't real Hip-Hop. He just lost all my support from that statement alone
But who knows? If Lonzo—who has been dropping rap songs left and right lately—keeps this up, the “beef” between him and Nas might end up spilling over onto some tracks. At this point, would you even be surprised?
Complex's Speedy Morman hit up the Adidas LVL3 event in Las Vegas, Nevada to see how the brand's permeating basketball and hip-hop culture. In between interviews with the likes of Harden, Lillard, and Ingram, Speedy got caught up on the latest in Adidas basketball technology, and saw DJ Esco perform and host a dunk contest. Check out the video above.
The sound of the final buzzer of the NCAA regular season hadn't stopped ringing in everyone's ears before UCLA's Lonzo Ball said what basketball fans already knew: On March 13, the 19-year-old point guard announced he would forgo his sophomore season and declare for the NBA draft. The one-and-done prospect was fulfilling one-third of the plan prophesied by his father, LaVar Ball, who promised each of his three talented sons would play college ball for one season before they cashing in on their skills at the pro level. But making it to the league is just the beginning of the process.
Ball’s intentions for his sons extend beyond the court. In his mind, those plans include massive endorsements — namely a sneaker deal that includes the complete trio of siblings, for one astronomical sum. “A billion dollars, it has to be there,” Ball told USA Today in a late March interview. “That's our number, a billion, straight out of the gate. And you don't even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 million a year.”
All the major footwear companies are listening to the Ball patriarch’s words, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight himself admitted that the company has “an interest” in Lonzo. Knight also noted that LaVar Ball’s current price tag was “a little steep.” But it all leads to the question of just how much we should expect one of the major sneaker companies to shell out for Lonzo. Not only is he going to be a first-round pick in the draft, but securing his services could also potentially mean locking in his brothers LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo,15, both high schoolers who also are committed to UCLA.
Most industry figures are cautious to speculate on what the potential value for Lonzo’s inevitable sneaker endorsement could possibly be. Various reps from Nike, Jordan, and Adidas all declined to speak on record for this article.One source at a sneaker company who asked to remain anonymous said that Lonzo’s deal could add up to “maybe millions but never a billion.” The source did admit that any company lucky enough to land the first of the three Ball brothers could be setting themselves up lovely for the future.
Industry analysts unattached to sneaker brands were willing to guesstimate on the record, however. “I would speculate that an initial deal of $25-30 million over five years would be reasonable,” says Edwin Kye, a contributor at investment website Seeking Alpha, that gives information on the stock market.“This would maintain a fine line between placing a premium on the popularity of the family and recognizing that Lonzo’s future value to a brand is heavily dependent on how well he’ll do in the NBA, which is a big unknown and one reason why a lifetime deal at this time is highly unlikely.”
His name may be more heavily hyped, but Ball will probably find himself in the same general range as a few of the top picks from the 2016 draft class. “Ben Simmons is making $4 million per year from his deal with Nike, whereas Brandon Ingram’s deal with Adidas pays him $2 million per year,” Kye says.
Look for Ball to score similar offers no matter which brand he signs with, along with a slight boost to account for the attention the family has created for itself. That increase, however, won’t make for the extra tens of millions dollars Mr. Ball is looking for his sons. Any contract would likely be constructed with a heavy focus on incentives based on Ball’s actual success on the court and a long list of intangibles.
Having to predict the future is always one of the trickiest parts in determining an athlete’s value for companies. The eldest Ball sibling has the court vision and an uncanny knack for dazzling, pinpoint passes akin to NBA great Jason Kidd. The fact that his two younger brothers have been scoring monsters in high school only adds to the infamy their last name carries. Add in their dad's unabashed approach to praising his sons to any media outlet willing to listen — and there have been many — only amplifies the platform and power the Ball family wields.
“The reason we’re talking about him is he’s captured everyone’s imagination,” says Gavin Ivester, a former Global Creative Director for Nike Footwear Design and former Senior Vice President and General Manager for PUMA Footwear Division. “But like every player, there’s no guarantee he’ll thrive in the NBA.”
In theory, the $25-30 million estimate keeps the risks low for any company who decides to ink a deal for Lonzo Ball. But unpredictable factors are part of the reason why it’s tough to speculate exactly how much Ball could command from a footwear brand. To begin with, one of the first concerns would be which team winds up drafting him. “The right deal can be a mix of marketing and media exposure, talent investment [footwear designers] and, of course, cash,” Ivester says. “The smart deal goes for the money but keeps it in context with the whole package. A deal that helps position the player as an all-media star gets him paid many other ways outside the sneaker deal.”
Should he wind up in a major media market like Los Angeles or New York, his value to potential suitors goes up. Conversely, the number goes down if a smaller market team like Utah or Milwaukee calls his name on draft night. Playing on a squad that has fewer televised games or no presence in the NBA playoffs means less exposure for the player and the company’s products, which in turn means a bigger spend to make him a household name.
No matter how hyped he is at the moment, Lonzo Ball and his business team will have to put in the work and exercise patience and commitment in order to make his dad’s billion-dollar dream materialize. “Every player in the NBA is talented, some more than others,” Ivester says. “But selling sneakers doesn’t happen from on-court talent alone. Legends aren’t built in one season; they’re built after many].”
In order to begin establishing their legacy, LaVar, Lonzo, and the other Ball siblings may have to start looking at the long-term instead of banking on making a headline-grabbing deal that would rewrite endorsement history.