During the Spring of 2017, LaVar Ball became a larger-than-life persona in the media. With his oldest son Lonzo leaving UCLA for the NBA, Ball wanted everyone to know that he meant business. How can anyone forget his infamous First Take appearances, where he would yell at Stephen A. Smith about how Lonzo was going to be better than Magic Johnson? Needless to say, LaVar was a star in the making who knew how to hype up his sons, and get them as much publicity as possible. Eventually, Lonzo was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would spend two turbulent seasons with the team.
Following Lonzo’s draft year, the focus was immediately shifted over to LiAngelo. Just like his older brother, LiAngelo was enrolled at UCLA, and he was expected to make quite the leap. As the most skilled shooter in the family, LiAngelo could either play small forward or shooting guard, which made him the perfect prospect for NBA teams looking to take their perimeter shooting to the next level. Unfortunately, Gelo’s time at UCLA became famous for all of the wrong reasons. After reportedly shoplifting from a kiosk in China, LiAngelo and some of his teammates were detained, before being bailed out and brought home thanks to the diplomacy of former President Donald Trump. In typical Trump fashion, he got angry with LaVar for failing to thank him, which led to some hilarious segments on CNN in which Ball essentially called the president a bozo.
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Not long after the saga in China, LaVar made the shocking decision to pull Gelo out of college. He then did the same thing with LaMelo who was in high school at the time. This move was widely criticized by the media, although LaVar didn’t care, as he brought his sons to Lithuania where they became overnight sensations in the country. Throughout the winter and spring of 2018, Gelo got quite a bit of traction on the recruitment front, and he was optimistic about being drafted or at least signed. Following Lonzo’s first season in Los Angeles, LaVar was able to convince the Lakers to give LiAngelo a workout, and in LaVar’s mind, this was a guarantee that the Lakers would take him in the second round of the 2018 draft. In the end, that never happened, and the disappointment amongst the Ball camp was palpable. LaVar immediately took to the media condemning the Lakers and general manager Rob Pelinka for going back on their word, all while LiAngelo continued to work on his game.
For about a year, Gelo got to play in LaVar’s short-lived JBA league where he was putting up incredible numbers every single game. At the time, critics were quick to point out that Gelo had poor competition to work with, and that the stats truly meant nothing to NBA scouts. In the summer of 2019, Gelo was being scouted by numerous NBA teams, however, an injury ultimately dashed his hopes of getting a tryout. He was finally on the precipice of something great, and it was snatched right out from under him.
Luckily for Gelo, his injury healed fast and when he returned to the court, he was just as motivated to show people what he could do. In December of 2019, things were seemingly turning around for Gelo as he signed a G-League deal with the OKC Blue. At the time, this was simply a tryout deal, and by March of 2020, he was officially a member of the team. As we all know by now, COVID-19 happened, which ultimately ruined LiAngelo’s chances of ever working his way up to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s main roster. The Blue were out of commission for months and by the time they came back, Gelo had been let go.
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In November of 2020, the Ball family now had two players in the NBA: Lonzo and LaMelo. Melo had just been drafted to the Charlotte Hornets, while Lonzo was gearing up for his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans. With two of his three sons in the NBA, LaVar was eager to get LiAngelo his NBA opportunity. That opportunity was finally bestowed upon Gelo as he was signed by the Detroit Pistons just in time for preseason. At this point, LiAngelo and his father were beyond excited, especially given the history of the Pistons. With a young roster behind them, the Pistons were seen as the ideal place for LiAngelo to grow. Once again, however, LiAngelo was effectively given the run around as he never saw the court during the preseason. As a result, Gelo never truly got to show off his talent, and it prompted LaVar to call the Pistons “raggedy as hell.”
For a third-straight season, LiAngelo was on the outside looking in, all while his brothers got to enjoy NBA notoriety. Throughout the entire season, LiAngelo stayed fairly quiet as there were no reports of him getting any NBA offers. By all accounts, his NBA aspirations were dead in the water. That all changed just a few weeks ago when it was revealed that LiAngelo would be joining the Charlotte Hornets Summer League team in Las Vegas. Summer League is the perfect place for young talent to show off their skills, and with strong enough performances, Gelo could make a serious case for himself. Not to mention, with his brother already on the roster, there was a sense that Gelo could truly thrive alongside a point guard he is already familiar with.
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So far, this Summer League experiment has paid dividends for the Hornets. In every single game thus far, Gelo has impressed with not just his shooting and playmaking, but his defense as well. On every single possession, you can tell the LiAngelo is a hungry young man who is sick and tired of living in the shadows of his brothers. After years of being denied opportunities, LiAngelo is finally getting a chance to prove why he belongs in the NBA. Coaches and execs within the Hornets organization have been praising Gelo’s work ethic, and they seem convinced that he’s good enough to at least make it to preseason.
As it stands, Gelo is not guaranteed a spot in the NBA this season, however, he could very well end up in the G League, where he can develop his game and get used to the faster pace that the pros typically provide. It’s an opportunity that Gelo has been deprived of over the years, and it’s exciting to finally see him get the recognition he deserves. Not to mention, this is also a testament to the kind of father LaVar is. For years, LaVar has been roasted for doing too much and putting his kids in a position to fail. At times, even I have had criticisms of the Ball family patriarch. However, with LaMelo winning rookie of the year, Lonzo improving every year, and Gelo on the cusp of an NBA opportunity, it’s time to give LaVar his flowers. He has instilled a winning mentality into his sons, and if Gelo has taught us anything, it’s that he is one of the most determined young guys in Summer League right now. After three years of being rejected, many would simply give up and go play overseas. Gelo, however, has done the opposite, and now, that determination may finally pay off.