Lakers' veterans explain the Lonzo Ball obsession: 'People just want to knock him'
Andrew Bogut and Corey Brewer talked to CBS Sports about Ball's reserved personality
NEW YORK -- Andrew Bogut understands high expectations. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him No. 1 overall in 2005, and general manager Larry Harris immediately said he would be a "foundation piece" who could help get them back in the playoff picture the following season. At Bogut's introductory press conference, Harris told reporters that he had informed Bogut he saw him becoming the best center in the conference within five years.
That sort of thing wasn't necessarily new. At 19 years old, in his first season at the University of Utah, Bogut was already seen as the best player to ever come out of Australia, per DraftExpress. Still, at 33, the Los Angeles Lakers veteran can't imagine what it's like being Lonzo Ball.
"His situation is night-and-day different from mine," Bogut told CBS Sports before Los Angeles' 113-109 overtime loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday. "I came from a small school with relatively no attention. He's come from UCLA to the LA Lakers, and his dad's in the media every day. Every little thing he does, which was outlined when he got a haircut, is a story. That's kind of the beast of LA and that's kind of the beast that his pops has built. You've gotta kind of deal with it."
Everyone around the Lakers seems to think Ball is dealing with it as well as one can. Unlike his father, LaVar, he does not outwardly court attention or say anything inflammatory in interviews. Sometimes, he can come off as shy, even bland. It is a great irony that this particular 20-year-old has become a reality-show star whose celebrity status transcends the world of basketball.
Before Ball even played a preseason game, USA Today launched "Lonzo Wire," a vertical that covers nothing but the Ball family. After Tuesday's loss, as Los Angeles swingman Corey Brewer said that Ball "doesn't let anything get to him," a huge horde of reporters and camera operators surrounded Ball on the other side of the visitors locker room at Madison Square Garden, hoping for a shareable soundbyte. The 31-year-old has had much more brash, outspoken teammates in his career.
"He doesn't really say anything," Brewer said. "He's a quiet kid. Back when we came out, if Joakim Noah was on Instagram and stuff like that, it would have been ridiculous. It would have been 80 people over there too. It's a different era."
Lakers coach Luke Walton said that there is a lot of pressure on Ball simply because he is the starting point guard of a storied franchise. Walton feels it is the coaching staff's job not to coddle or protect him, but to create an environment where he is comfortable pushing his boundaries on the court without fear of it going poorly. "Everything that he does gets scrutinized by everybody," Walton said, in a way that is distinct even from what he saw as a member of the Los Angeles teams starring Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
"I think it's worse," Walton said. "Maybe worse isn't the right word, but I think there's more of it now because of where our society is today. There's so many different outlets -- social media and whatnot -- that everybody has an opinion on what's going on. Everything that gets said goes directly to players' smartphones. There's more for them to have to deal with than, I think, any generation that has played before them."
Without social media and LaVar's wild assertions about him being better than Stephen Curry, Ball could not have become such a big name already. His 3.6 million Instagram followers are a great thing for Big Baller Brand, but they come at a cost. He couldn't even go a month in the NBA without talking heads debating whether or not he is a bust.
If the coverage and criticism has seemed extreme, the Lakers are not blameless, either., president Magic Johnson called Ball the face of the franchise and said he expected the team to retire his jersey one day. Ball's first 26 games have not necessarily been disappointing -- his terrific feel for the game has been evident on both ends -- but, if he is supposed to save the organization and become a superstar, he has a long way to go. Ball's percentages have plummeted since college, and his difficulty shooting off the dribble could turn out to be a long-term concern.
"People just want to knock him because of all the talking that's been around the family and the hype," Bogut said. "Whenever there's a big hype train, people want to knock that down. People have questioned whether there's already too much hype around him considering he's a rookie and he's had good and bad games, and that's an argument they can make. But for the most part, he puts his work in and he'll be fine. Basketball IQ alone, he'll be in this league for many years and be one of the better players and part of this franchise.
"People forget he's one year removed from college and he's playing in the best league in the world and he's still learning on the fly. He's got a clothing label, he's producing rap songs, he's got two brothers that are garnering attention as well. So it's not easy for him. You put that on any 19-year-old shoulders, I don't care who you are, you're going to have your good days and your bad. But he's learning from it."
If and when Bogut sits down to write a book about his career, he said the Ball circus will not be a huge part of the section about his time in Los Angeles. "It might be a couple pages; I doubt it'll be a chapter, though," he said. Bogut, after all, was a member of the 73-win Golden State Warriors team that became the biggest and best show in sports a couple of seasons ago and took Curry to a new stratosphere of stardom. Walton, an assistant coach on that Warriors team, said that it helps that Ball's teammates and coaches love being around him, adding that he does not let the outside noise influence his mindset.
Being in the spotlight is simply a fact of life for Ball. While he might not be completely comfortable there, he cannot run from it. When his massive media scrum started, he looked each reporter in the eyes and responded to questions with succinct, straightforward answers. One person asked him about New York's Frank Ntilikina, who was picked six spots after Ball, plays the same position and is receiving a fraction of his hoopla.
"He's young, just like me," Ball said. "Playing in a big city, you know, trying to find his way."
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