NEW YORK — A black SUV pulled up in front of Sneaker Pawn on West 14th Street shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday, and out climbed LaVar Ball and his sons LiAngelo and LaMelo. A crowd had assembled in front of the store for the Ball family's event to promote their company, Big Baller Brand, which now claims more than 1 million followers on Instagram. Within an hour, the line of people stretched down the block. In the back of the store, LiAngelo and LaMelo were soon joined by Lonzo, the eldest Ball brother, second overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The three brothers, dressed head to toe in Big Baller Brand gear, sat on a tan couch in front of a table filled with Sharpies. Behind them, a black tapestry hung featuring the BBB logo. A camera crew from their Ball in the Family Facebook reality show filmed the proceedings. The brothers, with their cellphones splayed out on the table in front of them, looked bored as a line of kids and young people soon filed in. LaVar, on the other hand, was as loquacious as ever.
"What's up, young buck?" LaVar, wearing a black BBB hat and a white BBB T-shirt, asked one young man who came to have a basketball signed. "How you doing?"
One after another, the President Trump-feuding Ball family patriarch enthusiastically greeted fans who had come to meet the famous (or infamous) Ball family in person.
"Man, our goal is just to introduce the Big Baller Brand on the East Coast," LaVar Ball told Bleacher Report before the signings began. "You know, that's what we do, man. We bring all this new stuff to people that haven't seen our product. [People] come out here and touch and feel it and buy some things and we're good. Meet some new people and that's all I think about. That's the fun, is meeting new cultures, new people."
Lavar Ball @Lavarbigballer
BBB thanks NYPD for keeping everybody safe at our Pop Up Shop today. New Yorks Finest! https://t.co/Uz8yCTwfg92017-12-11 04:01:19
Part of LaVar's grand plan to promote his brand is to have his two younger sons join older brother Lonzo in the NBA. He said it will happen.
"Our goal is to get both of these boys, have all three of them on the Lakers," LaVar said. "And sometimes it's different roads to get to there. But we're going to get there. We're just on a different road right now."
The original plan to have all three graduate to the NBA after playing college hoops at UCLA is in flux as LaVar seeks a professional team overseas where LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16, can play together. It remains unclear where that might be, but the elder Ball jokingly mentioned both Russia and Lithuania during the event. (UPDATE: It has since been revealed that both are in talks to join Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.)
"I really don't have an idea right now, but they will be playing," LaVar said. "That's the main thing. The goal is to have them play. I don't care if we play in Cuba, Timbuktu—it don't matter. They just want to play. That's their passion, is to play."
On Dec. 4, LaVar pulled LiAngelo out of UCLA after LiAngelo and two other Bruins players were suspended indefinitely for shoplifting during a UCLA trip to China in November. President Donald Trump intervened by reaching out to Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the players were released and flown back to Los Angeles shortly after. Trump and LaVar Ball then became involved in a Twitter battle of sorts because the president felt Ball didn't give him enough credit for securing the boys' release.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
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! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think..2017-11-22 10:25:22
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
...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. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!2017-11-22 10:33:28
Lavar Ball @Lavarbigballer
#thetrumpdunk #stayinyolane @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/MEjGptbiuS2017-12-7 22:05:37
LiAngelo said he is looking forward to playing with his younger brother, no matter where that turns out to be.
"Yeah, hopefully somewhere, me and Melo [are] going to go play," LiAngelo said. "I don't know where it's at yet, but I know we're going to be playing soon."
Asked if feels he's missing out on the college experience, LiAngelo said: "It's fun. I respect the coaches and stuff, and I had friends on the team, but I don't feel like I'm missing out. I still gotta go my own way. I just gotta take a different route.
"Yeah, [college is] fun, but the real world is fun too, so I don't feel like I'm missing out on nothing."
Like LiAngelo, LaMelo is also out of school, as LaVar has withdrawn the youngest son from Chino Hills High School in California to home school and train him on his own. He had verbally committed to UCLA beginning in 2019 but said, "That's out now."
"Somewhere overseas," LaMelo added of where he plans to play now. "Just as long as we play together, that's the main goal."
He said it doesn't matter how far from home they have to go to make it happen. "We already know we're going far away from home, so that doesn't really matter," LaMelo said.
The problem is, it remains unclear how many viable pro opportunities the boys will have. LiAngelo, a 6'5" shooting guard, was never considered an NBA prospect. LaMelo, a 6'2" point guard, is a prolific shooter but still a young teenager.
"I don't know what the two younger brothers are going to do," ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told Bleacher Report. "There's no market for them in Europe unless somebody wants to bring the circus to town.
"I don't think there's any interest from any significant professional team around the world. People have got to remember that in Europe there are hundreds and hundreds of pro teams, but just because you make $1,800 a month playing for a 'pro team' in Iceland doesn't really necessarily make you a pro or a guy who could sustain a long career. So I don't think there's any market for the middle Ball brother. I understand the little guy is a pretty good player, but a volume shooter. So we'll see."
ESPN's Jay Bilas had similar sentiments and said he felt the best place for the younger brothers is college.
"I think it's better that [LiAngelo] plays in college, if you're asking me what's better for him as a person," Bilas said. "It depends on what he wants. If he wants to play professional basketball now, and he wants to live overseas and he's ready to pursue that life now, that's great. I don't see that. I don't see him as being a long-term pro. He's good enough to play overseas somewhere, but he's not an NBA player in my judgment. Maybe that will change as he gets older, gets better. And maybe he'll work on his game and become a far better player than I see him being.
"But there are a whole bunch of places that would take him right now to play in college. And for a person of that age, male or female, I think the best place for them to be is in college, for the education, the socialization and being in that environment, I think it's the best thing. But some of the Balls have proven they think differently."
The younger Ball sons appear to believe their father can lead them to the Lakers, much like he did for their older brother Lonzo, regardless of how different their paths are to get there.
"Yeah, it can happen," LiAngelo said. "He knows what he's doing, so I just trust the process."
You can follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @adamzagoria.