EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — As the Lonzo Ball era begins with the Los Angeles Lakers rookie saying he likely will be a target because of all the hype, team president Magic Johnson said he isn’t concerned about anything that Ball’s father, LaVar, does or all the attention surrounding the Balls off the court unless it affects the rookie’s game.
“Only time I am going to concern myself with what [Lonzo] does off the court is if it is affecting his play on the court,” Johnson said at the Lakers’ media day when asked about Ball’s reality Facebook series, “Ball in the Family.”
Lonzo Ball said his signature ZO2 Prime Remix will be on his feet when the Lakers open their season next month, but he might still change up his footwear from game to game.
“Right now, I think it is awesome,” Johnson said. “His family is great. They came out Saturday, we had a big Laker picnic. … His dad is wonderful with me, and I am cool with him. … I think [Lonzo] is tired of all this [hype]. He is just like me; I just want to play and I think he wants to play, and then Saturday night [for the Lakers’ preseason opener], sold out, in Anaheim, wow!”
Before he even plays his first game as a Laker, Lonzo Ball acknowledges that all the attention surrounding him, his father, the Big Baller Brand and the reality series will make him a target this season.
“Probably,” said Ball, who pointed out that he has finished shooting the Facebook series for this season. “[Just got to] go out and do my job.”
Ball is ready to just get to playing basketball and not deal with all the media attention.
“I love you all, but I would like to just play,” he said at his first media day. “… We’re focused on making the playoffs. Obviously, it’s going to be a tough journey, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Johnson does not have a problem with the Balls’ busy life off the court, but the Lakers president did say that he will say something to Lonzo or LaVar if anything off the court affects the rookie’s play. LaVar Ball has generated a ton of headlines with many of his confident predictions and quotes.
Magic Johnson has given Lonzo Ball advice on how to correct mistakes he saw the rookie make during summer league. Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Johnson said he and the elder Ball have had great conversations and “have been talking man-to-man, real talk about basketball.”
“No, I am not going to monitor LaVar,” Johnson said when asked whether he has to have a regular dialogue with the elder Ball given his visibility and outspoken personality. “My job, I got 15 dudes I have to monitor and that’s it, and who I am going to monitor. LaVar is a grown man. He is a great father. I wish you guys could see him with his wife [Tina, who suffered a stroke in February]. This man, he brought her last week, helping her and getting her to be stronger and walk better. I saw the same thing at his home.
“LaVar is having fun with all of this [media hype],” Johnson continued. “Give him credit, he understands how to market the Big Baller Brand. But my job is not to monitor him. Now, if something happens where it affects his son and it affects his son on the court, yeah, maybe I will pull him aside [and say], ‘Hey.’ [People ask], ‘Did you see LaVar on TV yesterday?’ ‘No.’ ‘You going to watch it?’ ‘No.’ Fifteen guys, that is all I am concerned with, and I am concerned with his son getting off to a good and fast start.”
Ball will take part in his first practice with the Lakers on Tuesday, and the franchise is excited about beginning a new era with the homegrown No. 2 overall pick out of UCLA. Johnson continued to add to the growing hype surrounding Ball by likening the point guard’s pass-first mentality and ability to make teammates better to himself.
While the two have different personalities and leadership styles — Johnson was vocal, outgoing and emotional on the court, while Ball is more reserved — Johnson feels they still share similarities.
“I got to coach him how to cuss a guy out,” Johnson said with a laugh when asked about Ball’s quiet-but-lead-by-example style. “See, I got some old heads here, all these old guys know I didn’t play that [way]. No, I think that Lonzo’s style is excellent. Actually, I am kind of happy that he is not like me because when I came in, I had veterans, so I had to be that way. He’s got young guys. The game is different today. So everybody was waiting to see what was this dude going to do. Is he going to come in like a prima donna or come in wanting everything? Know what? He has been the opposite. That is why they fell in love with him. He’s just been Lonzo.”
“For me, it’s been refreshing to see because we have never had one problem with him,” Johnson added. “So, yes, his leadership style is different than mine but it is the same [in terms of wanting to win and get best out of teammates]. And today’s basketball, maybe my style wouldn’t work. You think about my style, I am in your face. I don’t think the kids today would go for my style. This is the style he has to have in today’s game, and I think it works.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said Johnson has already been sharing stories about what the greats of the game did to become elite players. Pelinka also shared with Ball his own stories of how former client Kobe Bryant worked tirelessly on moves like his jab step — down to the angles to take by the centimeter.
Johnson has given Ball advice on things he saw at summer league, such as how the rookie would jump in the air sometimes and make decisions that led to charges at times. Johnson said he did the same thing as a rookie because he could get away with it in college. The team president told Ball to look to him as an older brother — ready to give advice whenever needed — and not his boss.
“Maybe like an uncle, he’s a little too old to be my brother,” cracked Ball, who called Johnson the greatest point guard to play the game. “I appreciate it.”
While Ball turned heads with his impressive passing and court vision to become the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, the 19-year-old point guard is curious to see how his body will endure the physicality of playing against professional players for an 82-game season.
“I heard some stories, so we’re going to see what the deal is,” Ball said of how rookies adapt to the grueling NBA schedule. “I think just the grind of the season [will be the biggest challenge], 82 games, I’ve never played that before and it’s my first year, so I don’t know what really to expect.”
Ball, though, says he can handle his increased profile and fame. He hired one bodyguard but otherwise says he still approaches daily life like he always has.
“I’ve been feeling like this my whole life, so I really don’t feel nothing, to be honest,” Ball said when asked whether he feels added pressure. “… People know me wherever I go, but I’m not going to stay inside all day, gotta get some sunlight some of the time, live in L.A., ya know?”
Ball’s boss knows a little about being in the L.A. spotlight and has shared some secrets with his point guard protégé on how to handle L.A. But he believes his rookie floor leader will be just fine and has the “perfect” laid-back personality for Southern California.
“It’s perfect, man,” Johnson said. “He’s a cool, good-looking young man. With the game to match. Wow, that’s L.A.”
“He is a natural leader. When you won a state championship, turn UCLA around and [get it] heading in the right direction, he makes everyone around him better, but he also gives you a pass that you can score. Some other guy used to do that. I don’t know his name, but some other guy [around here] used to do that. And so we needed a leader on this team. And we have one now.”