I originally started this article as a slam of the JBA (known affectionately to me as the ‘Junior Baller Association’), and how Lavar Ball stepping out of the spotlight to help his sons only brought on his own downfall. But the more I wrote (as is the case with other Ball family dynamics), the less it became about Lavar, and the more it became about something else.
Let’s get one thing clear: I love Lonzo Ball as a player NOW. But when the noise around him died down (aka LeBron infamously telling Lonzo after a game to shut his dad up…allegedly…per Twitter memes), and you began to watch him play, you saw how remarkable he was. He’s the second best ball handler (lol) and playmaker on the Lakers roster behind LeBron. He fixed his shooting form, and even was able to avoid being traded as many rumors stated could happen in the offseason. And yet the overwhelming opinion I come away after watching Lonzo STILL is just that he needs to score more. Enter in the only other Ball brother who hasn’t been arrested in a foreign country: LaMelo.
I won’t go into too much background about him since he has been in the limelight since his brother laced up for UCLA, and his dad somehow found a microphone. He scored 92 points in one high school game (he cherry-picked, settle down stat geeks); he dropped out and played professionally in Lithunania (did pretty good); he even joined the flagship JBA program started by his father (also did pretty good). I could and may go more in-depth in an article about him later, but that’s not the point. He decided recently that he would leaving the JBA, and going back to high school. This not only put him back in recruiting talks to go to college, but he can also get his diploma. Score one for education.
However, this article isn’t one to applaud someone close to the Ball family for finally convincing them that they made a stupid mistake. This article is instead looking at how paying players in a tax-able system is doomed to fail…
For those of you that don’t know, I support the paying of players. I think it’s stupid how the University of Tennessee sells Peyton Manning jerseys, how UNC sells Michael Jordan jerseys, how Texas sells Durant and Aldridge jerseys, and not a single one of those athletes gets a dime for it. There are countless of examples of this that occur at the universities, and this is just with jerseys. The whole NCAA football and basketball franchise for video games got killed because (most recent for all you youngbloods out there) Robert Griffin, III was on the cover, and was mentioned by name in the video game for NCAA Football. And yet, he did not get as penny. That is criminal.
Yet, how does a sport where the athletes aren’t officially paid get…well, “paid”? I mean, the ‘college athletes get paid’ shtick is one of the longest running jokes ever since colleges had them. Programs get busted all the time for paying, giving ‘impermissible benefits’, or any other legal mumbo-jumbo (sidenote – shout out Coach O). So you may be asking the same question I approached looking at the JBA with, “What happens if you can legally pay the players?”
We got the answer: you get screwed. No high-profile players led the exodus that we were expecting. No teams got gashed by players saying, “F’ this, I don’t need a degree in Communications [or whatever other BS degree’s classes the university ‘makes them attend’]” and taking their talents to Lavar. In essence, the JBA died before it even got off the ground. AND THEY WERE OFFERING KIDS LEGAL MONEY.
The whole reason that every player going to college didn’t yank their commitments and flock to the JBA is simple: the JBA gets taxed. Facilities aside, why would you not want to play in the JBA? You can play and train all you want. You get paid a six-figure salary. And to top it all off, you don’t have any classes you have to ‘attend’. But one element of the beautiful, murky world of corruption, bag-men, and illegal recruiting that the NCAA created pervades over anything the JBA could possibly have: all payments to recruits can’t be taxed.
The gorgeous (and yes, I do mean gorgeous) thing about $100k being handed to a recruit is that it can’t be taxed. It’s illegal, which means the government can’t get it’s ‘fair share of the pie’ per say. Uncle Sam LOVES taking as much as you’ll let him. If there is a paper trail, which illegal recruiting in the NCAA makes a point in avoiding, Uncle Sam can find you and ask you where there portion is. The JBA gives a paper trail. The players HAVE to be taxed. That nice six figure salary that those JBA players ‘make’ gets knocked down a couple pegs. However, their buddy that decided to still go to that D1 college and probably won’t make the NBA? Yeah, he still living out of that bag from the first monthly installment of his tax free ‘salary’, and there is plenty more of those coming his way.
Don’t get me wrong, it is sad to hear the stories of the guys that actually don’t get money, or actually went to said college for the degree. It’s sad that for every program that does things the right way, there are more that have that ‘little black book’ to make sure all payments are on time and for the correct amount. But will it change? Never. The failure of the JBA made it clear. There cannot be a legal entity that actually wants to pay all college-aged players a wage for spending every waking moment training and playing a sport for your amusement. By taking the moral high ground, they doomed themselves to fail. For the JBA to succeed, they will need to sink down to the level that the NCAA has set for all competitors wishing to try and pry the monopoly from them. An area where a slight misstep could have you land in hot water with whatever government agency caught you.
In essence, the smartest move by LaMelo Ball, on or off the court, was jumping from the JBA’s sinking ship, captained by his father.