By Thomas Chatterton Williams
May 31, 2017
Lately I’ve spent hours going down the YouTube rabbit hole, watching every available video of the Ball brothers—the three teenage basketball stars from Chino Hills, California. The youngest, LaMelo, 15, is the epitome of a generation of high school players reared on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors’ run-and-gun, perimeter-based style of play. A lanky, walking fashion faux-pas like his two older brothers, LaMelo looks like a pale and emaciated Odell Beckham Jr. with braces. Yet he scored 92 points in a single game last winter and has been committed to attend UCLA on scholarship since the age of 13. He has 1.8 million Instagram followers. Two years out from graduation, ESPN ranks him the second-best point guard in the nation.
Incredibly, these achievements don’t even distinguish him in his family. His eldest brother, Lonzo, was the best high school player in the country in 2016 and a freshman star at UCLA this year. He is likely to be the second pick in this summer’s NBA draft. The middle brother, LiAngelo, is merely extremely good, a senior also headed to UCLA. Lavar, the no-filter African-American father, is an outrageously controversial mixture of Richard Williams and Kris Jenner, a man shamelessly living through his freakishly talented children and looking to monetize his years of investment.
The boys were raised in an upper-middle-class household with a white mother. Part of what’s so fascinating about them, at least for me, is that while we often conceive of top black athletes as coming from poverty and single-parent homes in the mold of, say, Lebron James, the truth is that many of the best, like Curry and the Ball brothers, increasingly come from such advantaged backgrounds. Part of me can’t help but think this is a shame, a misallocation of resources (they do not appear to spend much time at study), and that Lavar is a buffoon. That is admittedly a boring part of me—the other part thinks I should shut up and enjoy the ride.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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