Michael Wilbon: It's "Editorial Malpractice" for ESPN and Other Networks to Give LaVar Ball Airtime

Ryan Glasspiegel

On Friday, PTI discussed Lonzo Ball getting shut down by Patrick Beverley in his NBA debut, Beverley’s comments about LaVar Ball’s “riff-raff” putting a target on Lonzo’s back, and Wilbon’s disdain for everybody who airs Papa Ball’s thoughts.

“Let me just go off on a second on LaVar Ball — and all the networks including this one that put a microphone in front of him for minutes at a time,” Wilbon said. “That’s editorial malpractice. That shouldn’t happen. Okay? Because we don’t need to know what LaVar Ball says anymore. And what he’s doing, Tony — his behavior — what responsible father puts a target on his child? I find what LaVar Ball does now LOATHSOME at times. He’s not the only father who’s raised good kids or talented kids and to see this, particular for me, a father — for a black father to do this, to put his child in professional harm’s way. This incredible target. There’s now people in the league who hate your kid because you behave like a self-absorbed jerk. And networks like ours help him! I find it all loathsome. It’s worse than reality TV.”

While I get what Wilbon, who came of age through a Washington Post in the decades following the Watergate triumph, is saying — and Scott Van Pelt echoed similar sentiments in March, but the LaVar Ball train has nonetheless chugged on with no end in sight — the public has enormous power over individual outlets to determine what’s newsworthy now. Even mighty ESPN can’t be the arbiter it once was. Everybody sees engagement spike with LaVar Ball content, that begets more of it, and the tail wags the dog. Our site is as guilty of perpetuating it as anyone else. Everyone’s in a battle for eyeballs and if you don’t cover it someone else will gladly take the market share of reader, viewer, and/or listener interest.

It would be great to live in a world where nobody had to pander on giving attention to people you view as objectionable attention-seekers, but there aren’t too many businesses in sports media nowadays that have the luxury of buffer space to stand on that particular principle.

As far as Lonzo goes, his second night was much better. His rookie year will have ups and downs and however you feel about LaVar Ball, it must be said that Lonzo has carried himself as well as possible through the ongoing circus.