Lonzo, LaMelo and Big Baller Brand: How Ball brothers slowly moved away from family business

Lonzo, LaMelo and Big Baller Brand: How Ball brothers slowly moved away from family business

If you (understandably) turned off your Big Baller Brand alerts last year, you may have missed the Feb. 19 announcement revealing that the “global sports and lifestyle brand” had launched a new website, BigBallerBrandInc.com, with nearly 50 new products available for only the most Baller of fans.

“The Big Baller Brand is BACK and better than ever! Over the past year, my team and I have been working diligently to expand Big Baller Brand and improve the overall customer experience,” Big Baller Brand CEO LaVar Ball said in a press release. “We are thrilled to announce the launch of our new website BigBallerBrandInc.com. I want to thank our loyal fans for patiently waiting for the relaunch and continuing to grow with our family!”

NBA MOCK DRAFT: Where does LaMelo Ball land?

Despite the use of both caps lock and an exclamation point, LaVar couldn’t divert attention from the notable absences of Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball and potential top-five draft pick LaMelo Ball, his oldest and youngest of three sons, respectively. LaVar and his middle son, LiAngelo, are featured prominently on the front page of the new site, but Lonzo and LaMelo are nowhere to be found.

Only a few years ago, LaVar was telling anyone within shouting distance that his sons — and consequently, Big Baller Brand — were ready to take over the NBA. This latest development continues the trend of Lonzo and LaMelo distancing themselves from the company.

So why have two of the original Big Ballers shifted away from the family business? There were plenty of cracks in the relationship along the way …

April 2016: Big Baller Brand’s original launch

Big Baller Brand announced a “soft launch” for June 2016 on its original website. BBB initially sold limited sports apparel, including T-shirts, sweatshirts and shorts.

“It is both an honor and a privilege to bring this family-oriented and -created brand to the public,” a statement on the site read. “Now you too can celebrate the athleticism and discipline it truly takes to become a ‘Ball’ player. Join our community of basketball and sports lovers, as well as ‘Ball brother’ fans by purchasing our one and only Big Baller shirts or apparel.

“You won’t regret it.”

March 2017: LaVar wants $1 billion shoe deal

Before Big Baller Brand began producing its own shoes, LaVar was prepared to partner with an industry heavyweight — for the right price.

“A billion dollars, it has to be there,” Ball told USA Today. “That’s our number, a billion, straight out of the gate. And you don’t even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 (million) over 10 years.”

At the time of LaVar’s bold declaration, Lonzo was a freshman at UCLA, while LiAngelo and LaMelo were still playing at Chino Hills High School. (They also planned to play for the Bruins.) Shortly after those comments, longtime Nike executive George Raveling called LaVar “the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years.”

The Ball family did not sign with Nike.

May 2017/August 2017: Big Baller Brand reveals Lonzo shoe; Big Baller Brand reveals LaMelo shoe

Lonzo’s original ZO2 shoe hit the market for the family-friendly price of $495.

Only a few months later, LaMelo’s shoe, the MB1, set off questions about his future eligibility at UCLA.

“We’ll worry about it when we get there,” LaVar told ESPN. “Who cares? If he can’t play, then he can’t play. It doesn’t mean he’ll stop working out and getting better. … Maybe in two years they’ll change the rule and he’ll be able to the NBA straight out of high school.”

LaMelo never played at UCLA.

January 2018: Big Baller Brand bombs with Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau gave Big Baller Brand an “F” rating based on several complaints against the business and a failure to respond to some of those complaints. Many customers claimed they bought items from the website and were charged even though those items were never delivered.

An “F” rating didn’t seem to bother LaVar, of course.

“Better Business Bureau is as outdated as the Yellow Pages,” LaVar said in a text to ESPN. “Who cares about them? Tell them that Yelp! has replaced the Better Business Bureau. We honestly thought the Better Business Bureau was out of business. The new BBB stands for the Big Baller Brand.”

The Better Business Bureau is not out of business.

March 2019: Lakers question Lonzo about shoes

After suffering multiple ankle injuries as a member of the Lakers, Lonzo was asked about his line of Big Baller Brand shoes and whether they could be the root cause of his problems.

“Yeah, they talked to me,” Lonzo told ESPN. “They asked me about it, and I told ’em, ‘I feel comfortable.’ If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t play in ’em. If I didn’t play in (his signature BBB shoes), I’d play in Kobe (Bryant’s signature Nike shoe). I work out in (LeBron James’ signature Nike shoe), but that’s because they’re heavier.”

The Lakers also reportedly expressed concerns about Big Baller Brand’s status with the Better Business Bureau and the number of complaints the company had received.

March 2019: Lonzo parts ways with Big Baller Brand co-founder

Lonzo ended his relationship with Big Baller Brand co-founder and family friend Alan Foster after suspecting Foster’s involvement in $1.5 million missing from his personal and business accounts. Ball believed Foster used access to his accounts in order to “enrich himself.” Lonzo later claimed Foster used his mother’s medical situation as an opportunity to make transactions because “she took care of all the money.” Tina Ball suffered a stroke in February 2017.

Further driving home the end of his connection with Foster, Lonzo shared a photo of himself on Instagram with a Nike slogan and the caption “Moving on to bigger and better #MyOwnMan.”

Following the separation, Lonzo’s manager Darren Moore posted a video of ZO2 shoes sliding into a trash chute. Lonzo revealed he had covered his BBB tattoo with a new image of dice.

Ball proceeded to sue Foster, alleging he put together a “fraudulent scheme” in order to take money from the Balls and shift it into his personal accounts. The FBI also launched an investigation into the alleged fraud.

Foster had previously admitted to running a fraudulent stock scheme in 2002.

July 2019: Big Baller Brand clearance sales

A photo of Big Baller Brand merchandise being sold at a volleyball tournament for discounted prices went viral. BBB T-shirts originally listed at $50 were dropped down to $5.

Signs listed a $100 bundle deal for shoes, a hoodie, T-shirt and socks, a far cry from the previous $495 price for ZO2s.

September 2019: Lonzo admits shoes were not ready for game action

On the “Lightharted Podcast” with former Lakers and current Pelicans teammate Josh Hart, Lonzo admitted the ZO2 model was “not ready” to be used in an actual basketball game.

“No one knows this, but (Lonzo’s manager Darren Moore) had a backpack and he had an extra, like, four pairs of shoes in there because I had to switch them every quarter because they would just rip,” Lonzo said. “If I had say in the first two games — the real truth — the shoes wasn’t ready.”

So why continuing wearing the shoe?

“I had to debut them,” Lonzo said. “We went so far with it. Cool, I can get a quarter in, but that’s it. We gotta switch ’em every quarter. And it’s crazy, because right when I switched my shoes, all of a sudden, magically I got good again.”

September 2019: LaVar, Lonzo argue over Big Baller Brand

In the aftermath of the Foster scandal, there were discussions about changing the name of the brand.

“The brand is demolished right now,” Lonzo said on an episode of the Facebook reality show “Ball in the Family.”

LaVar quickly rejected the idea, saying Foster “wasn’t the main person.” Lonzo replied, “He ran everything.”

September 2019: Lonzo tells LaMelo to pursue deals outside of Big Baller Brand

LaMelo didn’t follow Lonzo’s route of UCLA to the NBA, instead moving to Lithuania and then Australia for professional opportunities. But LaMelo did manage to build up a significant following, creating marketing opportunities well before the 2020 NBA Draft.

During a conversation with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Lonzo spoke about the importance of LaMelo choosing his own path when the time comes to sign a shoe deal.

“I tell him all the time, this is your decision,” Lonzo said. “You’re gonna have a chance to go talk to adidas. Go talk to Nike. Go talk to Puma. Talk to everybody. Take every meeting. Whoever wants you the most, man, go with them. I told him, make sure he takes control of his career now. Don’t wait like I did. Hopefully that helps him. He seems like he’s taking it all in, and I’m excited for him.”

October 2019: Alan Foster countersues LaVar

Foster filed a lawsuit against LaVar, claiming that he embezzled $2.5 million from the company in order to fund his own lavish lifestyle.

The Ball family responded by saying it would “continue to vigorously pursue their civil action against Foster seeking civil damages” and also “continue to cooperate with law enforcement in order to seek justice for his egregious actions.”

October 2019: LaVar says Lonzo and LaMelo won’t sign with Nike

LaVar remained committed to Big Baller Brand through all of the drama surrounding the company. In an interview with TMZ, he immediately shot down the idea of Lonzo or LaMelo signing a deal with Nike instead of BBB.

“You can’t even curl your lips to say my son going sign with somebody,” LaVar said. “You can’t curl your lips — Big Baller Brand. I said it’s a family brand, didn’t I? OK then. That’s all I got to say. … Lonzo can think all day. He ain’t signing with nobody. Big Baller Brand, that’s what I said.”

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Nike had “serious interest” in LaMelo and sent a scout to Australia to monitor him during the 2019-20 season, per TMZ. There was no formal offer made to LaMelo at the time.

October 2019: Original Big Baller Brand site is dead

BigBallerBrand.com was shut down, but to make matters worse for the Ball family, it also redirected to Foster’s personal page, touting his “Baller Financial Network” and “elite online mentor courses.”

Foster’s site included a section entitled “Making a Pro Athlete” featuring an image of Foster and Lonzo — in Big Baller Brand apparel.

February 2020: Another awkward LaVar-Lonzo interaction

LaVar presented Lonzo with a Big Baller birthday gift bag during an episode of “Ball in the Family,” complete with “Family Don’t Break Up” shirts. The scene quickly became tense as LaVar talked about putting all of the family’s money together and keeping BBB alive.

“As a family, we just gotta stick together,” LaVar said. “Like, OK, we’re good. Put your money over there. My money over here. … Melo over here. And we put all our money together, that’s where the venture capitalists come in and say, ‘We got a hundred (million) for y’all.’ We don’t need to have a hundred (million). We got it right here if we put our s— together.”

Despite LaVar’s best efforts, Lonzo was clearly hesitant to reinvest.

February 2020: Big Baller Brand launches new site

LaVar declared Big Baller Brand is “BACK” at BigBallerBrandInc.com — but are Lonzo and LaMelo on board?

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p class=”block-element__p”>Sporting News reached out to Big Baller Brand and asked if Lonzo and LaMelo will be part of the company moving forward.

“Big Baller Brand started as a family brand and remains a family brand,” a BBB spokesperson said.

BBB is interested in pursuing other athletes, the spokesperson added, but there are currently no specific plans regarding players outside of the Ball family.

One day before the Big Baller Brand launch, LaMelo echoed the same message Lonzo sent out before he parted ways with Foster: “I’m my own man.”

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