Lonzo Ball is this generation’s Allen Iverson. Iverson is currently as popular as he’s ever been. With YouTube, kids are becoming fans of a lot of athletes they weren’t actually around to see.
With that being said, experiencing it while its happening is just….different. I grew up in the middle of the Iverson phenomenon and the Lonzo Ball hype feels eerily similar.
What made Iverson such an icon was his defiance, not only in his style, but also in his game. He brought the playground to the NBA when everyone else was doing their best Michael Jordan impression. Now, in an era with point guards at every level of basketball shooting jumpers from forty feet, doing their best Steph Curry impression, (just check any Lamelo Ball highlight tape) Lonzo Ball is “pass-first” in every sense of the term.
He’s actively looking to set up his teammates for easy points when most star point guards in today’s game are leading their team in shots and points.
During summer league play he became the first player in summer league history to record multiple 10+ assist games. He was also the first player to ever record a triple double in summer league play and finished with the highest assist per game average in Vegas Summer League history (9.3).
He routinely made highlight reel passes. Summer league attendance and ratings were also the highest they’ve ever been. Everyone wanted to see what he would do next.
As far as style, Iverson dressed hip-hop when everyone else in the league were wearing suits. It caused some controversy but he was emulated by every young player that came after him and it became the new normal. It eventually led to the NBA instituting a mandatory dress code. Ball, like most kids today, doesn’t do the baggy clothes and white t-shirts, but it doesn’t get more defiant than turning down 20 million dollar shoe deals to start your own brand.
Spearheaded by his father Lavar, he launched Big Baller Brand, in May of this year. Gone are the days of the $90 million dollar Lebron-style rookie shoe deals. All of the major shoe companies came together in the mid 2000’s and decided to cap the amount spent on shoe deals for rookies.
It hovers around $4 million per year over 5 years, while a majority of rookies actually make less, while getting free product. The Ball family decided to go against the norm and start their own brand with the hopes of having a partnership with one of the major shoe companies.
It sent shock waves through out the sports world, and threatens the current construct of how apparel companies do business with athletes. One Nike executive went as far as to call Lavar Ball the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last 100 years. A pretty bold statement considering just last decade several players (including a Nike athlete) beat up a couple rowdy fans during a nationally televised game.
There was a four game stretch during summer league where Ball wore a different shoe brand every night to prove he can create buzz for them, continuing to position himself for a partnership. He was regularly a trending topic on twitter, while ESPN even had a graphic breaking down his performance in each shoe.
This also comes during a time when popular rappers and entertainers are pushing messages of independence and entrepreneurship within the culture. Only time will tell whether Ball can make the sustained cultural impact Iverson made. One thing for sure, anyone that can make summer league basketball exciting has to be doing something right.