Take 5: Big Baller Brand and the ZO2s

LaVar Ball, the proudest dad in sports

*Take 5 is a series where I give my opinions on five recent stories in the world of sports.  Today, we have a signature shoe from one of the biggest NBA draft names, the Warriors and Cavs’ domination, a potential baseball rule change, the Champions League final being set, and another quarterback moving to the broadcast booth.  

Ever since Lonzo Ball took the floor for UCLA last season, the Ball family has been a sports media mainstay.  Despite the obvious talent of the three brothers, Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo, it’s father LaVar who’s been drawing constant headlines.  With bold statements including claims that Lonzo is better than Steph Curry and that LaVar himself could beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1, LaVar has become a polarizing figure and has used his newfound popularity to launch the Big Baller Brand.  When major shoe companies rejected to sign the Ball family to a $1 billion shoe deal, it was time for the Big Baller Brand to take matters into their own hands.

1) Lonzo Ball Releases $495 “ZO2 Prime” Signature Shoe: Lonzo’s first signature shoe became available for pre-order last Thursday, along with the autographed $995 ZO2 Wet and the $220 ZO2 Signature Slides.  The ridiculous asking price is unsurprising, given LaVar’s involvement with the project.  Equally par for the course were the explosive statements that Jordan couldn’t sell $495 shoes because he’s “not Lonzo” and that anyone that can’t afford the shoes isn’t a Big Baller.  At this point, the act is getting old.

From a physical standpoint, the shoes actually look pretty good.  Of course, not $500 worth, but I could easily see them selling well at a reasonable price point.  There are more issues.  The shoes aren’t even set to ship until November 24, and no refunds or exchanges are allowed.  The shoe has drawn great criticism from icons such as Shaq, and the public seems to agree, as reports suggest that fewer than 300 pairs were sold on day one.  However, this doesn’t mean the shoes are a failure.

LaVar Ball is many things, but foremost, he is an advertising genius.  With his bold statements and larger-than-life personality, he’s made a huge name for him and his family, with everyone talking about them.  None of the Ball brothers are even in the league yet, and only Lonzo has played college ball!  No matter how much you might not like them, the Balls aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

This could, however, be a problem for Lonzo.  Just based on his father’s actions, there is a large population of people that already dislike him, and NBA teams are well aware that drafting Lonzo means you have to deal with whatever comes out of LaVar’s mouth.  Plus, it seems a bit arrogant releasing a signature shoe before you’ve even signed an NBA contract.  Lonzo is still unproven, an NBA nobody.  I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see him slide a bit on draft day.

2) Warriors and Cavaliers Sweep Opening Two Rounds: Now for some actual basketball.  This year’s playoffs have been historically uncompetitive, and it took 13 conference semifinals games to be played before we even saw a single-digit game.  Two of those series are still ongoing, but the favorite in each conference, the Dubs and Cavs, have already swept the Jazz and Raptors, respectively.  Following sweeps of the Trail Blazers and Pacers in the opening round, that means each team is currently 8-0 in the playoffs.  It might be a 30-team league, but these squads have seemed to be on a collision course with each other to the Finals ever since the Cavs took last season’s Finals in seven games.

Can anyone stop either the Warriors or Cavaliers in the conference finals?  Of course, it’s possible, but it seems unlikely.  The Spurs probably have a better chance than anyone given that they currently lead the Rockets 3-2 and are better than both the Celtics and Wizards in the Eastern Conference.  However, especially with the way Draymond Green has been playing recently, I just don’t see it happening.  I don’t believe either 8-0 team will make it 12-0, sweeping their way to the NBA Finals, but wouldn’t it be something if we had a matchup of two teams coming in undefeated?  My prediction stands where it was at the start of the year, Warriors over Cavs in 5.  The 2017 Warriors feel similar to the 2014 Spurs- unstoppable.

3) The End of Extra Innings?: Sunday Night Baseball turned into Monday Morning Baseball when the Yankees and Cubs played 18 innings at Wrigley Field, a game twice the standard nine innings which saw the Yankees prevail 5-4.  Plenty of records were set, and most notably, the six hours and five minutes marathon featured more strikeouts (48) than any game in baseball history.  I love extra inning games- teams dig deep into the bullpens as fans don rally caps.  The atmosphere is exciting as any pitch could lead to the deciding run.

There are complaints, though, that reaching into the bullpen and playing longer games isn’t worth the toll on teams for a relatively unimportant single game of a 162-games season.  Preseason games currently feature ties, and baseball is already considering adding a runner on second base to start each extra inning.  I understand the currents, but from a purist perspective, it just doesn’t seem right adding ties to baseball.  Plus, it takes away one of the most entertaining parts of the game at a time where baseball desperately needs to be more fun.

4) Real Madrid, Juventus to Meet in Champions League Final: The stage is set for the biggest club tournament in Europe as powerhouses from Spain and Italy have emerged out of the semifinals.  Real Madrid are current reigning champions and have won the tournament a record 11 times.  They defeated fellow Spanish side Atletico Madrid in the semifinals in a rematch of the Champions League Final from both 2014 and 2016 by winning the first leg at home 3-0 and then fighting back on the road after conceding two early goals to finish ahead 4-2 on aggregate.  Juventus are two-time cup winners and reached the finals with 2-1 and 2-0 victories over AS Monaco.

According to UK sportsbook William Hill, Real Madrid open as favorites with 6-5 odds to win, compared to 7-4 odds on Juventus and 9-4 on a draw in regulation.  I tend to agree, slightly favoring the defending champions to repeat on June 3rd in Wales.  Until then, Real Madrid will attempt to secure the La Liga title from Barcelona, with whom they are currently tied with a game in hand.  Juventus is seven points clear of AS Roma in the Serie A, and should lock up the domestic title this week.

5) Jay Cutler Signs with FOX Sports: It looks like Tony Romo isn’t the only quarterback making the move to the booth this offseason.  Cutler will now serve as an NFL analyst and looks to be a good fit for the role, given his apparent lacking of care for what others think of him.  Cutler had quite the up-and-down NFL career, finishing with a 68-71 record as a starter and making it as far as the NFC Championship Game with the Bears.

Cutler was always a quarterback who could make the necessary throws and really put on a show.  However, he sustained his fair share of injuries and was frequently called into question for his work ethic.  At the end of last season, the Bears were clearly going in another direction, and at 34, Cutler would have been unlikely to start for a new team in 2017.  With nothing really left to prove, it seems a smart time to call it quits.  He may have had a bad reputation, but Cutler will go down as an above-average quarterback that never really made the jump to elite status.  Here’s wishing him success in his next step.

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