It pays to pick a fight with President Trump.
That, at least, is the case for bloviating basketball dad LaVar Ball who has earned himself $13.2 million worth of free digital and TV ads since he started feuding with the president on Nov. 17. The number comes courtesy of Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood and was first reported by ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell.
Smallwood and his company made their calculations based on how often Ball’s Big Baller Brand — a fledgling sneaker and apparel brand — has been mentioned in the media since Ball and Trump began feuding over the president’s role in getting Ball’s son LiAngelo released from Chinese custody after he was busted for shoplifting with two UCLA teammates.
“This back and forth with Donald Trump has extended the brand awareness outside of just sports,” Smallwood told Yahoo Sports.
“People who don’t follow sports are starting to get more awareness of the brand. To have that reaction from someone as high up as Trump, it has definitely helped [Ball] reach a larger audience… [Ball] doesn’t seem to be following any sort of marketing playbook. He couldn’t have known Trump would respond to him, but he’s fortunate Trump did.”
The beef between Lavar and Trump began shortly after LiAngelo was busted for allegedly stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in China. At the time, Trump was in the middle of a two-week tour of Asia and the president claims that he personally reached out to Chinese President Xi Jinping on behalf of LiAngelo and teammates Jalen Hill and Cody Riley. Trump insisted all three players say “thank you,” which they all did, though LaVar has not been forthcoming.
According to Trump’s version of events, LiAngelo, Hill and Riley would still be in Chinese custody — they were under house arrest at a luxury hotel — if it weren’t for the president’s personal interactions with Xi.
“It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence – IT WAS ME. Too bad!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
“Just think LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you,” Trump rumbled on. “But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!”
Lavar, never one to miss a chance to get on TV, questioned Trump’s role in the whole fiasco during a typically bizarre CNN interview on Monday.
“Did (Trump) help the boys get out? I don’t know. If I was going to thank somebody, I probably would thank President Xi. He’s in China. He’s the president of China,” Lavar told a visibly flabbergasted Chris Cuomo during a rambling and semi-incoherent 23-minute appearance.
“I helped my son get out of China. I had some people that had boots on the ground that knew the situation.”
The interview got national attention and the cable news network is not one Ball would typically make an appearance.
There is a downside to Ball’s attention grab.
When the feud is mentioned, so is LiAngelo’s sticky-fingered trip to China. Thus, the crime and LiAngelo’s subsequent indefinite suspension from the UCLA basketball team hasn’t faded from view even though there have been plenty of natural endpoints to the controversy. LiAngelo and his teammates are trying to get back in coach Steve Alford’s good graces and onto the floor. This can’t be helping.
On top of that, Lavar’s self-promotion continues put an extra bright spotlight on his oldest son, Lonzo, who is struggling to live up to sky-high expectations as a rookie point guard for the Lakers. So far this season, Ball is averaging 9 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds per game but is shooting a stunningly bad 31 percent from the field.
But, hey, it’s all in the name of the Big Baller Brand.