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LaVar Ball’s former Washington State teammates take his wild comments in stride

UPDATED: Sat., March 18, 2017

UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, right, shakes hands with his father LaVar following an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State on March 4 in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, right, shakes hands with his father LaVar following an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State on March 4 in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
By Jayson Jenks Seattle Times

As LaVar Ball sees it, he would have had no problem beating the greatest basketball player ever.

“Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one,” the talkative father of UCLA superstar Lonzo Ball told USA Today last week. LaVar Ball, who draws attention and headlines with ease, added, “He cannot stop me one-on-one.”

It was rightly pointed out that Ball spent one season, 1987-88, at Washington State. And in that one season, observers noted, he averaged 2.2 points. It was hard to tell whether Ball was joking or serious, and he became an easy target.

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell tweeted that Ball knew “damn well” that Jordan would have “torched” him. Charles Barkley told ESPN’s “Mike & Mike:” “Listen, I’m too old and fat to play basketball, but I’ll challenge Mr. Ball to a one-on-one. How about that? I don’t even know how old he is – he’s got to be around my age – but no guy who averaged two points a game can beat me at one-on-one. I’m positive of that.”

Is it possible that LaVar Ball’s talent had been underutilized and overlooked under Kelvin Sampson at Washington State? Is he the rightful heir to Jordan’s throne? Would he, in fact, have “killed” Jordan in one-on-one?

In short, his former teammates at Washington State say: No.

“Not a single chance,” said Neil Evans, a forward on that team.

“Not a chance in hell,” said Harold Wright, who is now an assistant coach at Rainier Beach High. Wright laughed, then repeated, “Not a chance in hell.”

“Let’s see,” said Anthony Kidd, a backup forward who started laughing. “Had Michael Jordan been on crutches, with a cast on his right arm and had the stomach flu, he might have been able to beat Michael Jordan.”

Of all of Ball’s teammates, Kidd might be the most fairly suited to assess Ball’s ability if for no other reason than he averaged 2.3 points that season.

“I can’t say much,” Kidd said. “Listen, we were in the same boat. But of course I’m not comparing myself to Michael Jordan, either. Ooooh boy.”

Four of Ball’s old college teammates gave scouting reports on Ball’s ability because, well, it’s March Madness and it’s not often the father of a player claims to be able to beat Michael Jordan. All of them liked Ball, talked about his engaging personality, mentioned how much they enjoyed being around him.

“He was a very likeable person,” said David Sanders, the leading scorer on that team and Central Valley High School alum. “LaVar had confidence, but it was playful.”

“There’s different kinds of trash talking,” Kidd said. “There’s a Gary Payton kind of trash talking that wasn’t fun at all, and then there was the LaVar Ball kind of trash talking that was a lot of fun.”

When Wright heard Ball’s comments, he was not surprised. “Not at all,” he said. “That was him. That was pretty much the reason why he didn’t get the chance to play. He would tell you straight up, ‘Man, when I got in, I’m gonna shoot it.’ Since I’ve seen him, that’s the way he’s been.”

Ball transferred to Cal State Los Angeles after that season. He is now a personal trainer and has three sons who are all really good basketball players (Lonzo has two brothers in high school who are both highly recruited players).

Perhaps the most accurate thing that can be said about LaVar Ball, the basketball player, is this:

“Let me just put it this way,” said Evans, a forward who averaged 6.4 points that season. “All three of his kids are a lot better than he was.”

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