The Good, the Bad — damn, those shoes are Ugly

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I’m assuming we all know about Lonzo Ball’s new shoes. The base pair sells for $495, and the super-deluxe edition will run you over a grand for kicks that look like they belong to an over-exuberant server at Applebee’s.

There’s a lot at play here, and my feelings are conflicted, so I broke the situation down in the best way I could: old Western movies. I’m the Man with No Name (ignore the heading above).

The Good:

Athletes deserve a larger share of the money they garner for the industries that they’re competitively obliged to be part of, especially when it comes to endorsements. Their successes rarely trickle back to their communities, and all the money they receive is run through a bigger company first. This subject matter has been talked about since the Fab Five wore black socks in Ann Arbor, and the movement to pay college players for the considerable revenue they bring in has recently picked up steam.

Eventually, this sort of thing had to happen. The “Big 3” of shoe companies, Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, have cornered the market on promising young players so profoundly and forged such a monopoly on endorsements with the top talent that challenging them seems impossible. But it’s not. A player-run, collectively owned and cooperatively operated endorsement brand is a great idea for the modern sports age.

And it’s super sick that Lonzo is using his talent to give jobs and opportunities to his family and those around him, who had a huge role in getting him where he is today.

The Bad:

I mean, beside the gross vicariousness that uses Lonzo as his father’s proxy for relevance?

The whole thing stinks of privilege. LaVar Ball decided the ludicrous price seemingly on a whim, telling Dan Le Batard “I figured that’s what the shoe was worth.” Before justifying his prices, Ball offered this sage nugget of business savvy:

“You see, when you are your own owner, you can come up with any price you want.”

The reality is that many NBA players don’t come from enough wealth to create their own brand and produce their own merchandise. Many kids can’t afford such overpriced shoes, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend shaming them for their inability to drop out a couple hundred on the shoe:

The negligent price reminds me a bit of Yeezus brand clothing. I keep trying to find legitimate reasons for the items to be so expensive, but all I see is arbitrarily expensive, obviously average products that use high cost as part of their aesthetic quality. It’s conspicuous consumption, and it’s gross.

LaVar has also become an impetus for his son’s success. For the first time in the companies’ histories, all refused to offer a top-tier prospect a deal. And sure, his father’s omnipresence may not totally dissuade teams from selecting his very talented son in the upcoming NBA draft. But if there were two equal prospects, one with non-intrusive parents and the other with a dad who pulled him into a whirlwind of talent commodification at his expense, who would you prefer drafting?

The Ugly:

The shoes are trash. Straight discount Kobe’s.

The situation would definitely be better if Ball was a superstar — pulling a few strings and get other high-profile athletes join him on a professional endeavor that would no doubt be hugely financially enticing. Hey, that may actually work (I’m still looking for a job, BBB).

But he’s totally unproven, still well over a month away from even being drafted, and is forcing league decision-makers to consider his off-court inclinations before his on-court brilliance.

Now that’s a bad business model.

The tale of Lonzo Ball is sure to be compelling, whether he becomes the NBA’s next big thing or flames out as a third-string bust in Phoenix (wouldn’t the funniest scenario be if he just ended up totally average?).

His Big Baller Brand ties have already raised the league’s collective eyebrows, and my advice to Lonzo would be to make everyone remember just how dominant he is as soon as he gets back on the hardwood. As the first true face of Big Baller Brand, it’s likely that the company’s success will come hand-in-hand, for better or worse, with Lonzo’s. Better keep shootin’.

Austin Isaacsohn covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @AustinIsaacsohn.