Listen up, Mom. Pay attention, Pops.
It’s not about you.
When your kid strides onto the field or the court or the balance beam, you’re not standing with her. If your Little Bradley or Brinley knocks one out of the park, feel free to scream your fool head off. That’s perfectly acceptable – even expected.
Just don’t steal their thunder by taking the victory lap for them.
Parents like LaVar Ball – I’d introduce you to him but Lord knows it’s not needed – represent everything the sports parent shouldn’t be. Whatever you do, avoid this guy’s approach. He’s brash and in-your-face, a Ball hog when it comes to the media. His outrageous comments undermine the efforts of his son and only increase the pressure surrounding him.
Oh yeah, his son. Remember him? Lonzo Ball can flat-out ball, that much is for certain. The rookie Los Angeles Lakers point guard tore it up in an NBA summer league game on Wednesday, going for 36 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, five steals and two blocked shots. He should come out with his own brand of optometrist eye charts, because he’s a visionary as a passer. He delivered one dish that surely gained approval from his new boss Magic Johnson, grabbing a defensive rebound before turning and flicking a full-court lob to a streaking teammate for a layup.
But rather than his impressive play, guess what all the Lonzo-related talk centered on? The fact that he was wearing Kobe Bryant’s Nikes. You know, instead of the $495 Big Baller Brand kicks that LaVar has been peddling. Just another case where Pops has unwittingly (at least I hope) shifted the focus away from what really matters.
Take note, parents – LaVar Ball should not be your role model. Father of the Year, he’s not.
Again, no one is suggesting that parents shouldn’t be proud of their children’s athletic successes. Nor am I calling for some kind of gag order. Mommas and Daddies, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with talking to a reporter. (That would have been odd had I intimated otherwise, right?)
You talking to the media about your kid isn’t the problem. Reporters, myself included, have crafted countless stories about athletes that have been helped and strengthened by the insights of the athlete’s parents or guardians.
But here’s the point – the story was still about the kid. Not about you.
The parent’s role is infinitely important. You are the chauffeur, shuttling those sweaty tykes to and from practices and games. You’re the doctor, attending to scrapes and strains and sprains. You’re the coach – even when you’re not. Sometimes being a parent means slapping grounders or throwing spirals or playing goalie. Not when anyone is watching, mind you, but precisely when they’re not.
You’re the president of the fan club. No one will ever take that away from you. When your kid triumphs, you should beam like an LED bulb. That’s your boy! That’s your girl! Go nuts. Be happy for them.
Conversely, when your child fails, your hug can be a healing balm. That isn’t the time to stage a PowerPoint presentation breaking down the exact ways your child could have performed better. Don’t ream him out in front of his teammates. He knows he screwed up – what he needs from you is comfort, not fury.
If you’re that kind of a supportive and caring parent, your child will respect you all the more. Remember when Kevin Durant won the NBA’s MVP trophy in 2014, then melted into a river of tears recounting the sacrifices that his mother Wanda had made to aid his journey? Durant looked at his mom and said, “You the real MVP.” If it didn’t get cloudy in your ocular region when you watched that clip, your inner Doppler radar is busted.
Yet that scene would not have made anything close to the same impact had Wanda stood to her feet, thumped her chest and bellowed, “Sit down, Kevin! I’m the real MVP!”
But that’s not Mama Durant. She gets it. She joined her son’s on-court celebration when he won his first NBA title with the Warriors last month, but it didn’t feel intrusive. It just seemed like KD’s biggest fan sharing in his moment. She didn’t grab for the mike. She didn’t make any bold predictions. She loves her boy, and she was naturally happy for him.
LaVar Ball seems to have a different agenda. Does the guy love his kids? Probably. But he has a funny (read: selfish) way of showing it.
Here’s the kicker, parents. Your kids don’t need you “helping” in that way. Lonzo Ball seemingly understands this. For whatever reason, perhaps out of respect for his dad, Lonzo hasn’t asked him to stop.
In a brilliant Foot Locker commercial that first aired around Father’s Day, several NBA rookies were shown sharing wistful memories of their fathers. Familiar stuff, really. Games of one-on-one in the driveway, rising early to drive to all of their AAU and high school contests.
Lonzo, in a bit of self-deprecating advertising genius, proved to be the comic relief, declaring, “Of course, there’s that big day when your dad berates your high school coach in front of an entire crowd for not getting you enough touches.”
With a perfect straight-faced delivery, Lonzo provides more examples of dad’s impact: “Or that special day when your dad sits you down to tell you where you’re going to college” and when he “went on ‘First Take’ and shouted at Stephen A. Smith about how you’re already better than the reigning league MVP.”
The bit made Lonzo infinitely more likeable in my book. It showed a willingness to poke fun at himself.
It was also funny and sad at the same moment.
The commercial ends with Lonzo recalling how LaVar (yes, this all actually happened) told “29 out of 30 teams to not bother drafting you.” The camera then cuts to Boston rookie Jayson Tatum, who smiles and says, “And fishing. We went fishing a lot.”
I crack up every time. But, intrinsically, a very real message can be uncovered beneath the layers of sarcasm.
LaVar’s antics are embarrassing. Now, I’m betting that LaVar won’t really get that message.
Parents, here’s the real question — will you?