LAS VEGAS -- A couple of years ago, out in California, a television man with a passion for basketball named Provat Gupta Dubois was in the stands of a gym watching a summer team he sponsors when he ran into an unfamiliar opponent with a unique star.
This was a 17-and-under event, you see.
So the unusually small shooter dropping 3-pointers stood out.
"There was this little kid just shooting from everywhere ... and then I found out he was only 11 years old!" Dubois said. "I immediately said, 'I have to meet this kid.' He got my team for 30 points. So I went and met him. And then I found out there are actually three of them!"
Yes, there are three of them.
Lonzo Ball is the oldest of the brothers -- a high school senior already committed to UCLA. Then there's LiAngelo Ball -- a high school junior also already committed to UCLA. And then there's LaMelo Ball -- the kid who put 30 on Dubois' team two summers ago.
LaMelo -- simply Melo, for short -- is now 13.
He's a few weeks from starting his freshman year of high school.
Some say he just might be the most gifted basketball player in the family.
And when you combine all that with the fact that these Ball kids all play for the same team -- a team perfectly called Big Ballers VXT -- that's coached by their parents (LaVar and Tina Ball), affiliated with no shoe company and operating completely outside of the normal hustle-and-bustle of summer basketball, what you get is a story where blood is indeed thicker than water and everything else on the so-called AAU circuit.
Also: You get a reality series -- one that's coming to a television network soon.
LaVar Ball remembers the first time he saw his wife. They were both students at Cal State-Los Angeles. He was a big and strong two-sport athlete who eventually played professional football. She was a 6-foot tall basketball player who caught his attention.
"I saw her walking down the hall, and I told her, 'I don't know what we're going to do together, but we're going to do something,'" LaVar said with a laugh.
What they did together is start dating and get married.
Then they had three boys.
"And I knew they were going to hoop like this from Day 1," LaVar said. "That's why I married my wife. Before they even came out the womb, I said, 'I'm having three.' And with the way I'm built, and the way she's built, I knew I was going to have three killers. So this thing was planned long ago. Because I knew if you put two basketball players together, this is what you're going to get. I knew this is what we were going to get."
LaVar and Tina decided early on that they didn't want to be a family forever split with dad taking two kids to one gym while mom was crosstown with another. Or vice versa. And that's how Melo ended up playing several age groups ahead of his own age group.
He has never played with kids his own age.
He has always played with his older brothers.
Consequently, he has developed an uncanny ability to create enough space to get shots off against much taller opponents, which is necessary considering he has been playing against 17-year-olds since he was 11 and is still, at 13, only about 5-foot-7.
"But I'm comfortable out there," Melo said. "I'm very comfortable."Watch video of Melo and what you'll notice is that he's already skilled beyond his age, and that's because his basketball-playing parents initially trained him to be a point guard. In fact, they initially trained all three of their children to be point guards because ...
"LaVar's philosophy was that if they can all handle the ball and see the court then they'll be good no matter what they become," Tina explained.
So Lonzo is now a point guard.
And Melo is now a combo guard.
But the middle child, LiAngelo, well ...
"They let me play point guard one game, and I shot it every time I passed midcourt," LiAngelo said. "So they quickly made me a shooting guard. Now I'm a shooting guard."
Regardless of position, they're a blast to watch.
At a recent event in Las Vegas, LaVar and Tina sat on the bench in Big Ballers shirts and implored their kids, and their kids' teammates, to run and shoot and shoot and run. The pace is exhausting. They often take more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. And if that sometimes leads to a loss, hey, that's OK. Because though they love to win and hate to lose, the family has decided that how they conduct themselves in the summer will never be tied to winning mostly meaningless games. That's why the Big Ballers have never taken shoe-company money, never recruited and barely traveled. Seven of the 11 players on the roster go to Chino Hills High in California, meaning the Big Ballers are basically a high school team.
"We just do this for fun and to stay in shape," LaVar said. "If you're a good player, people will see you. You don't have to travel the country. You don't have to be part of the circus."
Along those same lines is why Lonzo and LiAngelo have already committed to UCLA.
"If you know where you want to be, ain't no use in looking around," LaVar explained. "I'm from California. My wife is from California. My boys are from California and don't like the cold. So we eliminated all East Coast schools and then just asked, 'OK, who's the best team on the West Coast?' It's UCLA. ... So the boys committed early, and now the UCLA coaches can recruit and build around my sons. It didn't make any sense to drag it out."
Kind of refreshing, right?
In a world where 13-year-olds senselessly travel the country, bounce from team to team and ultimately become 17-year-olds who announce they've cut their list of potential colleges to 14, it's rare to see a family take this approach. They decided their immediate priority is to spend their summers together, mostly in California, playing with friends. So that's what they do. They decided their future priority is to attend college close to home, remain a tight-knit group and hopefully excel in the Pac-12. So that's what they've already committed to do.
It's a simple yet fascinating approach to high-stakes basketball.
Which is where Provat Gupta Dubois comes in.
He's the son of Janet DuBois -- the actress best known for her portrayal of Willona Woods on the 1970s sitcom Good Times, and that connection led Provat to a life in the entertainment business. He's written scripts and created reality shows. And he immediately recognized the TV potential of the Balls. So he filmed a pilot, shopped it, and he said he recently signed a deal with Akil Productions, which produces multiple shows for BET. In other words, don't be surprised if you see the Balls on BET at some point in the next year.
The cameras are already rolling.
"Their story is so unique -- from a basketball perspective and from a television perspective," Dubois said. "And we're talking about a biracial family. So this story is off the chain! It's a great story! And we've got five years to run it because Melo is just a baby."
A baby with a reliable jumper, that is.
Exactly how this story will end, who knows? But it's already safe to assume the Balls will spend the better part of the next decade creating headlines on the West Coast, one way or another. Perhaps it'll be because of basketball. Perhaps it'll be because of television. There's a decent chance it'll be because of both, and wouldn't that be cool?
Either way, something like this has always been the plan.
Either way, the Ball family is determined to, you know, have a ball along the way.
"I've always had fun," LaVar said with a smile. "But this is the most fun I've ever had."