CHICAGO – TJ Leaf appears to have the perfect blueprint on how to handle LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of his former UCLA teammate, Lonzo Ball.
“LaVar is going to say what he’s going to say,” Leaf, the 6-foot-10 power forward said from the NBA Combine. “It is what it is. We can’t control that.”
LaVar Ball has been off the rails since he started exploiting his three basketball-playing sons to further his Big Baller brand. He continues to extend his 15-minutes of fame by making headline-splashing statements like saying in his “heyday” he “would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one,” or saying Lonzo is “the best player on the world” and right now “is better than Steph Curry,” or believed his can command a billion dollar endorsement deal for his brand.
Or this doozy in an interview with the Orange County Register after UCLA lost to Kentucky, 85-76, in the NCAA tournament:
“Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow.”
Leaf, who is white, was asked if that comment bothered him.
“No. Absolutely not,” he said. “The season didn’t end how we wanted and we all know that it was just a team effort.”
Leaf tied for team-high scoring and rebounding honors in the loss with 17 points and seven boards. He shot 7 of 11. Ball had 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
But none of that matters. Leaf praises Lonzo for helping increase his basketball IQ during their one season together, says they are close, and appears to have tolerated LaVar in his one-year at UCLA.
Lonzo is expected to be a top three pick while Leaf could be right in the middle of the first round, which is Miami Heat territory. The Heat will have the 14th pick if they do not defy the long odds (1.8 percent chance) and move into the top three. Leaf is expecting to work out for the Heat in Miami before the June 22 draft.
“Me and Lonzo are really close off the court and on the court,” Leaf said. “It was a blast playing with him this year. We’re still very close. We talk all the time, I’m close with him and his family. He has a great family. Obviously his dad is pretty bold in what he says. But that’s his father. He loves him and at the end of the day he wants what’s best for his son.”
I asked Leaf what was the biggest misconception about LaVar.
“There’s a lot of people saying a lot of things about him and his family,” he said. “No one really knows. I don’t even know. They have their own stuff going on in their own family. It unfair for people to say things sometimes.”