Behind the Big Baller Brand with Lavar Ball
The first five seconds of meeting Mr. Big Baller Brand himself, Lavar Ball, exploded as you may expect from seeing the headlines that surround him. Our car emerged through the gates of the golden Big Baller estate, curved around the horseshoe driveway and immediately grazed the edge of Mr. Ball’s pristine grass. The roll of mistake cutting across the manicured green immediately signaled the swing of the front door and a baritone “I KNOW YOU’RE NOT DRIVING ON MY PERFECT GRASS” from Lavar. Flushed with an internal dialogue of how we could ever recover this interview, Lavar quickly cut any tension by greeting us and diving into one of his many stories. When you meet Lavar Ball, you’ll quickly realize that the man has a story about everything.
“I KNOW you’ve never seen a chandelier like this,” echoes from Lavar as we migrate into the formal living room, which centers around money green velvet couches. He’s right, the ‘BBB’ glistens within its blinged out shell and serves as an immediate reminder that family is the centerfold of this home and brand. Lavar is never phased by anything, or anyone, and his confidence, that’s something that has always shone through growing up in a family of seven. Quickly, he will tell you he’s still the “coldest” of those seven siblings and that he “never liked listening to people too much.” What those early self-realizations taught a young Lavar, was how to push the limits and pave the road less traveled. “To be successful you need two things: one is a passion to do something, but you have to have one person who believes in you. And that was my mom and dad, I lived with 7 kids and I was the coldest one. I am the chief. I got influenced by nobody. My mom and dad were working all their life, and I don’t need Martin Luther King to tell me that ‘I have a dream’ for me to push myself to try something on my own. I already knew that from day one, and if you don’t wanna listen to anybody, you better have your own thing.”
Lavar and Tina Ball launched Big Baller Brand while their three boys were still dominating the AAU basketball scene in southern California. “Me and my wife came up with the BBB for my boys. As long as I make shoes for my boys, I’m good. I really don’t care how many I sell.” It’s a strong statement, but speaking with the Big Baller team around him, he truly means it. Lavar is going to do what Lavar wants to do. “It’s a family brand and if you look at it, the three B’s, it has double meanings: it means Big Baller Brand, but it also stands for three Ball brothers. The first B is ‘Melo because he’s different, he’s crazy. The second B is usually colored in or like a solid color, that’s ‘Gelo. And the third B is usually open which is Lonzo. The one that’s always colored in the middle, that’s always ‘Gelo, he always holds it down for his brothers, he looks after ‘Melo, but he holds down Lonzo. And he’s the strongest one if you look at him, he’s the biggest and strongest one.”
As we digress into the earlier days of the Ball family, Lavar’s body language melts into a state of relaxation as he recalls the stories of raising his sons. Stories of how competition was an institution of fun in their childhoods. “I took the pressure out of comparing and competition and made it fun, from day one,” Lavar tells me. “To them, it was just playing with dad in the front yard, but the ‘who can run the fastest to catch this’ or ‘who can hold themselves on this bar the longest’ quickly translated into their elementary school basketball team out running middle school competition.
The ‘Why Not You’ mentality is what really stuck with me from all of Lavar’s stories; and is truly the foundation of the Big Baller Brand. Lavar’s answers to the ‘why’ of so much that surrounds the Big Baller Brand, from the prices, to the designs, is simply “why not?” The way Lavar sees it, while people can give their opinion, it’s his brand. Why can’t he dictate how things operate within his brand? Why can’t he change the status quo of how athletic brands are run and how professional athletes are involved?
I have a respect for individuals who observe how things are currently done and question them. In my opinion and observance, that’s the core of where Lavar’s intentions and ideas are. Instead of following a trend, question it. Then accept it, or change how you want to position yourself in this world. That’s what Lavar is doing. “If you look, all the black athletes are doing all the work as far as the running, the jumping, bringing popularity to the sports and we all own nothing. So I said when I come into this game, we’re going to come in with our own brand, so now we are do the owning. And that’s the narrative, we are ‘the new breed’ and we think differently, we coming in and saying ‘F the money, it’s about the ownership.’ If you have all the money in the world, what’s next, you better have a passion to do something. Give the power back to the pro. That’s what those big corporations don’t want you to know.” I pressed Lavar on how that would look for athletes that sign endorsements with Big Baller Brand, to which he responded, “I tell them I’m not going to give you an endorsement deal, I’m going to give you a 40/60 ownership deal. You own 40% and I get 60%, and the reason why I get 60% is because you haven’t done nothing yet. But as your career goes on, we flip it and go 60/40. With this Big Baller Way, you are going to build off yourself, if you are going to be the franchise player, come get ownership.”
“All the people that talk shit about me doesn’t matter because you can’t stop me from doing what I love. When I do something that you don’t like, the only thing you can be, is mad, and nothing will change from that. So you’ll just be sitting there mad, that’s alright with me. I want to go forward and I want to do what I want to do. As long as I don’t hurt anybody doing it, I’m fine.”
The Big Baller Brand is undergoing a current re-launch of their ready-to-wear collection, one that coincides with Lavar’s number one goal: for all his boys to play in the NBA. “One slogan we have is ‘Built for This.’ Not everybody is going to be built for this, so not everyone is going to do this.” With the re-launch of the Big Baller Brand, Lavar may not implement EVERY critique that’s thrown his way, but he has expanded his way of thinking since the brand’s inception. He’s pulled back. He’s not constantly driving to the rim alone, he’s passing the ball to team members who can score in their own lane. He’s leaning into the ideas of the youth around him, telling me, “the best ideas come from the youngsters but by the time the idea goes up the 15 floors, it gets watered down with everyone’s input. We, the elders, we are the ones who run things, but we have to listen to the youngsters’ ideas too. We kind of combine with them, which makes it work.”
Where does Lavar see the brand in the next 10 years? The biggest brand in the world of course, expanding far beyond shoes and apparel. The basis of that assumption is answered by a simple “why not” from Lavar, and honestly, I can’t argue with that. When you’re dictating your own brand and your own destiny, who truly has the power to tell you it’s not possible.