Celebrity children (prodigy athletes and otherwise) have forgone the mythical “high school experience” for ages—why should future Lakers superstar and NBA MVP (if you’re listening to his father, at least) LaMelo Ball have to throw on a backpack?
LaVar Ball announced that LaMelo Ball will be home-schooled for his junior and senior years of high school earlier this week, to what, at this point, has become a predictable barrage of headlines and tweets. Concerns about LaMelo’s education (the possibility of the guy who said he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one teaching history), his social life (but prom!), and his basketball future (where will he play, if not on his high school team?) suddenly became the A1 topic for talk shows, columns and talking heads reacting to said columns.
Aside from the fact that publicly debating LaMelo’s high school education is almost certainly more detrimental to his development than his missing group discussion on The Great Gatsby, the reactionary fervor misses the point: LaMelo Ball—by virtue of the very fact he merits all this discussion—is a celebrity, and many celebrity children are home-schooled. It’s Los Angeles; this is normal.
In fact, LaMelo might be the most famous 16-year-old in American sports. He’s already committed to UCLA (following in the footsteps of his two older brothers) to play basketball, which means LaVar’s grand plan—UCLA, then the NBA for all three boys—is proceeding quite nicely. In the meantime, the patriarch seems uninterested in acquiescing to public hand-wringing about any of his many, many hardline takes which are—at best—bold and funny, and at worst, offensive. His brash style and his progeny’s collective shooting percentage are 2017 sports media catnip, which has brought LaMelo 2.7 million Instagram followers and (somewhat controversially) his own sneaker at the age most kids are looking for their driver’s license and first job. LaMelo’s first car is a Lamborghini: Whether you think it’s overkill or not, it’s proof he’s already so far removed from a “normal high school experience” that physically taking him out of school is almost redundant.
The Ball family has been called the Kardashians of the sports world (much to LaVar’s chagrin) and has the reality show to prove it. Kendall and Kylie Jenner both graduated from Laurel Springs High School, a private distance-learning program based in Ojai, California—functionally, home schooling, and one of the many distance-learning options available for LaMelo. Though the Kardashians give a sense of what it’s like to be absurdly rich and famous in high school, the demands of Instagram modeling, appearances and makeup lines are different from what’s required to make it in the NBA. (Not harder or easier—just different.)
The better parallel comes from some of the sports world’s most famous siblings, the Williams sisters. Both were home-schooled at the behest of a father, Richard Williams, who was criticized for his take-no-prisoners approach to getting his daughters to the top of the tennis world with many of the same dog-whistling adjectives as LaVar has been using: “Some sort of supernatural confidence seems to allow Williams the ability to speak his mind,” wrote the Palm Beach Post in 1998, “regardless of what kind of silly, brazen or just plain bizarre thought is going through it.” The home schooling coincided with Williams’ now-apocryphal decision to coach the sisters himself, despite the fact that he was a self-taught tennis player—a decision that mirrors LaVar’s conviction that he’ll be training LaMelo on his own (despite the fact that basketball is, of course, a team sport). Compared to Williams, LaVar’s middling college basketball bona fides make him seem positively overqualified.
Emulating Venus and Serena’s path is not for the faint of heart and poses unique challenges in a sport so dependent on team hierarchy—not to mention potential eligibility issues when it comes time for LaMelo to (hopefully) head off to UCLA. It’s totally possible that his scheme will fall flat, that LaMelo’s talent won’t live up to LaVar’s intentionally hyperbolic claims, and he’ll be left being pretty good at basketball with only a superficial knowledge of the periodic table. In the meantime, he will have made more money than most of the people debating his high school enrollment will in their lifetimes (including this writer). Best-case scenario, all of LaVar’s dreams come true and the NBA becomes the National Ball Association. Either way, LaVar has made it clear he’s not afraid of taking his three sons the hard way to the top.