LaVar Ball, father to Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and "basketball's most famous stage dad," loves media attention. He gets plenty of it, although at times it's a little difficult to understand why. Type his name in Google, and, like Paris Hilton before him, the autocomplete reads, "What is LaVar Ball known for?"
Ball has caused a stir in the past for comparing Lonzo's skills to NBA superstar Steph Curry, for refusing to pursue sneaker deals with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, and for claiming he had the power to "decide" Lonzo would play for the Lakers.
The latest chapter involves Ball's middle son, LiAngelo, a starting guard for the UCLA Bruins who was arrested last week for shoplifting during a team trip in China. A complicated diplomatic situation ensued, and LiAngelo and his two teammates were eventually released from jail and immediately sent home.
President Trump, always quick to self-congratulate, tweeted that his intervention on the players' behalf was the deciding factor in their release. When ESPN asked him about Trump's role in the situation, Ball's response was: "Who?"
Trump did as Trump does, taking to Twitter:
Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
Ball is the founder and CEO of the sports apparel company Big Baller Brand (BBB), which earlier this year released sneakers retailing at $495 a pair in coordination with Skechers' Brandblack venture. Far from a behemoth in the $55 billion global sneaker industry, BBB sold about 356 pairs in their first week on the market. Yet his latest communications "strategy" has catapulted Ball into a level of press coverage the big boys would kill for.
How has he pulled this off, and what should entrepreneurs take away from it? Is Ball's publicity record a praiseworthy accomplishment or a cautionary tale?
Here are the three strategies Ball used--the LaVar Ball communications three-pointer, if you will--to make it work:
1. Borrow the followers of social media influencers.
Ball's choice to engage in a simple but provocative fashion with a high-profile critic paid near-term dividends. He was bombarded with requests for media interviews as the president took the bait, appearing on CNN the day after the second Trump tweet and enjoying all of the free publicity that comes with a modern-day presidential dust up.
By doing so, he tapped into President Trump's enormous social media following (43.1 million on Twitter), gaining millions of online impressions for himself and, by extension, his brand. All without spending a dime.
2. Identify and tap into a ready-made constituency.
Ball is a controversial figure, unpopular with many basketball diehards and other casual sports fans. But in this case, he has postured himself against an even-more-unpopular public figure.
President Trump's disapproval is up to 57 percent of Americans, according to Gallup Daily. Among basketball fans, this is even higher -- 62 percent disapprove of the president, the highest among major sports in the U.S. As Damon Young wrote on The Root on Monday, Trump's reaction made "people who are usually turned off by Ball's antics...root for him."
3. Buy yourself some time.
Ball's move also used a classic communications tactic: Buy time for your business to turn things around.
Although Lonzo remains the most prominent (if reluctant) face of the BBB brand, he has struggled since entering the NBA. He's shooting only 30.7 percent from the field and an abysmal 22.7 percent from 3-point range.
While he leads the league's rookies in rebounds, this is far from the complete player the Lakers expected when they drafted him number two overall last spring. By deflecting attention from the on-court challenges of his main brand ambassador, Ball is buying time for his son to (literally) step up his game.
Trolling heads of state and exploiting the arrest of a child are hardly models of savvy communications strategy. But a thoughtful and studious business leader will look closely at Ball's actions this week and draw useful communications lessons: how to borrow the reach of social influencers, to position yourself strategically with a ready-made audience, and to buy time for an operational turnaround.
If you can pull off all three (and avoid being lampooned as a Halloween costume idea) you'll do just fine.