Candid Coaches: Should Adidas continue its relationship with LaVar Ball?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they've surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest schools in Division I. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches give unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. This is week No. 2 of our results to questions posed to more than 100 coaches.

On Friday, we ran results this question: Would LaVar Ball prevent you from recruiting LaMelo Ball? Responses were practically 50/50, and reasons for why coaches would (or not) mind dealing with LaVar Ball provided some real insight into their views of recruiting.

But that was about dealing specifically with LaVar Ball. How do coaches feel about LaVar Ball as he relates to basketball commerce? So, here's another LaVar Ball-themed question, one which became obvious when we were in Las Vegas at the end of July. LaVar Ball not only was a storyline, but the storyline at the Adidas Summer Championships. 

There was good and bad. The good: Opening night, when LaMelo Ball vs. Zion Williamson produced a crowd of approximately 5,000 crammed around a court set up to seat about 1,500. The bad: LaVar Ball successfully lobbying for Adidas brass to replace a female referee, then proceeding -- twice -- to insult that referee's ability to officiate a game (despite the fact she works games at the Division I level). Adidas came out of July with as much publicity surrounding its events as Nike and Under Armour -- if not more. Not all of it was good, and LaVar Ball was the main attraction -- with the accompanying fallout

With that in mind, we asked more than 100 college basketball coaches: 

Should Adidas continue its relationship with LaVar Ball?

Yes

53 percent

No 

47 percent

Quotes that stood out

Coaches who voted yes ...

  • "These companies do far worse things, so I don't know why this would lead them to quit their relationship with him. I don't know why they would worry about an association. I don't even think they're batting an eye about garnering so much attention. They're probably enjoying it and hope he continues it." 
  • "Is Adidas still after Lonzo? ... Then keep him."
  • "Yes. Win-win for Adidas. The publicity and marketing they got from LaVar Ball was priceless. The featured game was the talk of the summer. LaVar may be a little nuts, but he accomplished what he wanted to."
  • "Yes. In reality, he's no different than many of the other AAU coaches. Clown show!"
  • "They're trying to get Lonzo Ball on a contract. I'd say you gotta give LaVar another trial run, whether that's in spring [of 2018] or if it's the first week in July, and see how he acts. You gotta lay down the law: 'You do this, you're done.'"
  • "Absolutely. It helps with free marketing -- even though at times it has been bad marketing."
  • "He overshadows Nike. Isn't that what Adidas wants?"
  • "I'm not a business guy but I'll say this: That sells. You don't have to look further than Washington to see outrageous behavior, self promotion. It got someone to the top office in the world. And so Adidas is making a decision. I would almost take it this way: No matter what they do with LaVar Ball or Lonzo or whatever, he will not become the face of Adidas like Steph Curry is the face of Under Armour. He's going to be a piece, and at the end of the day maybe LaVar Ball is getting exactly what he wanted. Because you and I are spending a summer morning speaking about him." 
  • "If Adidas wants to keep on uptick, then they will maintain a working relationship with LaVar Ball."
  • "He created an excitement around that tournament and around Adidas that was almost genius. It was unprecedented. Part of me believes LaVar Ball is a genius, sitting back somewhere by himself laughing at the whole thing."
  • "Adidas job is to sell sneakers and apparel. The Balls will do that. It's my job to decide for my family whether I want my kid wearing the shoe of a terrific young man whose father is a misogynist. The answer is NO."

Coaches who voted no ... 

  • "He is [a mix of] Dennis Rodman, Pablo Escobar and the Kardashians. I guess it's human nature to read about people that are idiots." 
  • "No. Total embarrassment in Vegas. Hopefully his 15 minutes of fame are close to coming to an end."
  • "No. He is everything wrong with grassroots basketball and everything that grassroots has tried to distance itself from. Sad that he not only forces people to fit into his agenda but also that outsiders see 'AAU' basketball as his brand."
  • "Is that what they want -- LaVar Ball overshadowing everything else they do? If not, they should tell him to do something else next summer. Vegas was embarrassing."
  • "The risk, in my opinion, I don't want to get off the track here, but does he kill your brand? Adidas, does he stamp you if Lonzo does not get to that high level? And not to get political but: Donald Trump. People are dropping their affiliation with Trump because they're saying, 'This hurts our business if we're going to stay attached to him for that long.' So, 'LaVar, at the end of the day, could potentially hurt what we're doing.'"
  • "I just think that it goes back to this: Do the antics outweigh problems? Does Lonzo's talent outweigh the antics of his father? I think Adidas is in a tough position, but I think they walk away. I think you have to because of all the issues that came about from it."
  • "As a brand, I would go the other way. It's too much of a PR hit that you've taken already, and you haven't even signed Lonzo yet. I think Adidas should move on. Put it this way: I think [LaMelo] could help a basketball program much more than he could sell shoes for one of the biggest shoe companies. He'd be one of five guys on the court and be talented enough to win games, but I don't know that LaMelo's talented enough to put up with the bullshit to help you sell shoes and help you surpass Nike."
  • "NO WAY. I would hope that any company that has any moral integrity would disassociate themselves from him.  He is not good for ANY part of basketball or any other legitimate industry. He should stay on that WWE kick because that is quite honestly the only arena in sports where he belongs."
  • "He's an embarrassment to basketball. He makes it about him, and it ain't about him. Who really cares about LaVar Ball besides his kids? What else he ever done? He'll disappear within the next two or three years. He's an idiot. I love my kids too, but I'm not an embarrassment."
  • "That was just a black eye to basketball. What are we teaching our kids? It's just absolutely crazy that he could get an official removed, whether female or a male, it doesn't matter to me. But it's awful that it was a female. For that dude to think he has that much power -- they should cut him off at his knees. For the future LaVar Balls. Kids look at it as he just took his ball and went home. And that's not what we want to teach people."
  • "What the shoe companies are doing with regard to LaVar Ball -- well, they're doing all these other things as well. Adidas, Under Armour, Nike. They're doing a lot of things that should be unacceptable. Do you think you should be able to hire a kid's dad and pay him $200,000 to coach an AAU team? You can justify that. But how is that different? Love it or not, the Balls are like the Kardashians. I think nothing of the Kardashians. They're talentless. Their talent is they don't have any talent and they figure out how to market themselves into major money-makers. Same with the Balls. Today's world is life imitating art. If you watched this in a movie 10 years ago, you'd say that could never happen."

Takeaways

No questions prompted more response, and more passionate opinions, than this one and Friday's question about LaVar and LaMelo Ball. Understandably so. LaVar Ball has become more than a cheap headline. He's a symbol for what is possible in American sports and media today. And many find him insufferable. 

It was interesting to hear coaches who work at schools sponsored by Adidas speak frankly about their company's casual relationship with the Ball patriarch. Some had no issue and others were embarrassed. One coach at an Adidas school mentioned that Adidas has found some real momentum in the U.S. and globally in the past year, and that has nothing to do with LaVar Ball. The coach said, "Adidas is in a good place right now, as good as they've been in the last 10 years," but also wondered if LaVar Ball could be toxic enough to stymie that growth. 

Another Adidas coach said the company does not need LaVar in order to trade punches with Under Armour. Many coaches who voted no in this poll believe that LaVar Ball's image is toxic and phony enough that he provides little value. Keep in mind that Adidas retains this relationship because Lonzo Ball has the potential to be a significant NBA player brand. If that happens, and Adidas is somehow aligned with Big Baller Brand, it could mean tens of millions for the company. 

Given the publicity Adidas received this summer -- multiple veteran coaches said that Vegas game between LaMelo Ball and Williamson was unlike anything they had seen since LeBron James was in high school -- the size of the Ball circus cannot be ignored. And as Adidas looks to 2018, it knows that if it keeps Big Baller Brand in the fold, the hype and buildup to any summer basketball events will bring valuable media coverage and with it even more attention. 

There is also risk in not knowing what LaVar Ball will do or say. Another misogynistic remark, and Adidas could face a wave of backlash.

With this poll going 53 percent to 47 percent, and Friday's Ball poll running even closer, it speaks to who LaVar Ball is. Everyone has an opinion. One interesting detail: At least 15 percent of the coaches who wanted nothing to do with recruiting LaMelo Ball because of his father in Friday's poll voted this time that Adidas should keep LaVar Ball around. 

Three coaches told us in this process they think LaVar Ball would act first by snipping his affiliation with Adidas -- not the other way around. If that were to happen, Ball could potentially try to run his own summer events. He could do that, but if they were not certified by the NCAA, coaches would not be able to attend. 

Adidas has time to decide. We're in the slowest point of basketball's calendar, and with Lonzo preparing for his NBA debut, LiAngelo starting his freshman year at UCLA and LaMelo likely to routinely go viral his junior year at Chino Hills (Calif.) High, LaVar's behavior the next few months -- the way he responds to how his three sons play at all three levels -- could determine whether Adidas brings him back to the recruiting circuit in 2018.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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