Friday, May 11, 2018

Ball-ing Again

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Bryce Harper has an ingrown toenail.  The Nationals strolled camels – literally – into spring training to “get over the hump” in the playoffs.  Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is playing baseball with the New York Yankees.  The NFL rumor mill is white hot.  Kirk Cousins is going everywhere.  Increasingly outrageous mock drafts are published in a reality-is-overrated click-bait competition.  The NFL Combine is underway…which means prospects are running around in often unflattering attire while fans obsess over cone drills, bench presses and 40-yard dash times. 

Toenails.  Camels.  Rumors.  Sports swingers.  BMI-defying men running around in spandex.  Is this sports or some disguised version of TMZ or a cheap reality show?  The theater of the absurd is upon us.  That the circus is flirting with actual entertainment is either a compliment to the charade or sad commentary on my desperate need for a legitimate sports fix.

But not all is sports-based foolishness.  There’s some serious business too.  The foundation of college basketball is fracturing under the pressure of widespread scandal.  But that athletes were likely paid by bad actors and that numerous blue-blood programs are implicated feels more like confirmation of long-held suspicions than a revelation.  And then there’s this horrible news: former Buffalo Bills QB Jim Kelly’s jaw cancer has returned – an absolute gut punch.  Hard to find words or to understand this latest challenge, given what Kelly and his family have already endured.  Needless to say…#KellyStrong.

I’m gathering myself here.  The uncharacteristic melancholy of recent “Views” resulted in friends encouraging more positive takes.  So here it goes.  I’m imagining happy times in the bleachers.  My team is winning.  My pal just returned from the concession stand with nachos drenched in that irresistible and artery-clogging “cheese” sauce.  The dude behind me bought two beers and, in a pay-it-forward moment, handed me one.  Angels walk among us.  The only thing better than beer is free beer. 

Now I’m feeling good.  If positive is what you want, positive is what you’ll get.  Let’s ride…

A basketball player returned to the court recently.  He had been out for a couple weeks nursing a knee injury.  His absence was barely noticed and news of his return was mostly crowded out by those aforementioned “stories.”

The lack of buzz was unprecedented and refreshing.  The player deserved it, because the player is Lonzo Ball. 

Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball, is an over-the-top, Big Baller branded, 24/7 reality show.  Whatever insecurities and inadequacies LaVar retains from his own life (and they appear prodigious) he has sworn to overcome through his three talented sons.  And so, cursed as the oldest, Lonzo’s journey from hyped high school prodigy, to the freshman face of UCLA basketball, to rookie point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers has been disturbingly burdened by LaVar’s endless meddling and outrageous expectations.

But Lonzo’s quiet/LaVar-less return to the court may indicate a respite.  After yanking Lonzo’s younger brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo out of college and high school, respectively, LaVar’s been detained in Lithuania while he micromanages his two youngest sons’ transition to European professional basketball.  Now that’s doing big brother a serious solid. 

Potential guilty conscience aside, a distracted LaVar will hopefully offer Lonzo, a quiet, polar-opposite personality from his father, a chance to just play basketball.  And what a talent he appears to be.  The NBA’s narrative is dominated by high-flying dunks and prolific scorers; Lonzo is neither.  He is instead a Jason Kidd clone - a selfless, pass first/score-only-when-necessary, masterful ball distributer.  Lonzo has uncanny court vision and a feel for timing and space.  He is one of those rare intergalactic talents beamed to Earth every so often to remind us of how beautiful the game of basketball can be when unrefined isolation is replaced with a passing maestro and ball movement. 

That Lonzo might finally be escaping his father’s obnoxious shadow is certainly cause for optimism, for there’s a much more authentic and substantive spokesman dying to speak on the young man’s behalf: his game. 

So hip hip hooray, a cheese-soaked nacho and a swig of free beer to Lonzo…and any moment when a young talent comes of age and outraces the expectations of others. 

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