One Small Beef with What Steve Kerr Said About LaVar Ball and ESPN

By Tully Corcoran

Steve Kerr is one of the best guys there is in sports when it comes to talking about stuff. Thoughtful, reasonable, insightful, funny — he’s great. And on Monday he expressed some reasonable, candid and funny thoughts about the continued media coverage of LaVar Ball, who is extremely annoying.

Everything Kerr said in there is non-disputable, but there was something he didn’t say that I think bears mentioning: LaVar Ball complaining about a game matters just as much as the game itself, which is to say: not at all.

Sports has traditionally been derided as the “toy department” by journalists covering the real world. Sports are a self-contained world. They’re a construction that is meant to simulate or distill real life, but what happens within the walls of that construction is mostly irrelevant outside it.

Taking a game seriously requires you to play along with a fantasy that something real is at stake. It’s fun to do that, and it’s a cathartic relief valve for all sorts of tensions, and it only works if everyone involved is playing along, too. If you’re going to devote time and attention to these things, you sorta need Nick Saban to say winning the big game made him the happiest he’s ever been in his life, and you can apply what you learn from him in pursuit of greatness in your own life.

If you do, you’ll have extracted something real from something fake, and that’s the whole point of sports.

But whatever you think of LaVar Ball, he lives inside the walls. He’s part of the fantasy. He is a sports figure in pursuit of extraordinary goals, and the fact that he is unbelievably annoying about it makes him more interesting.

Kerr is right that a parent wanting his kid to play more is a boring story, but the fact that Ball actually said it out loud to a reporter is still 50 times more interesting than what anybody on the Los Angeles Lakers has said about a game this year.

Coaches understandably like to focus on the games themselves, because that’s how their performance is evaluated. But “the NBA” is a lot more than the games. It’s a whole entertainment and media ecosystem, an ongoing reality series full of characters who get along and don’t get along and have to resolve interpersonal conflicts, manage perceptions, balance work-family-leisure and use outfits and memes to passive-aggressively communicate with each other and the outside world.

Ball is as big a part of all that now as anybody. You don’t have to like it, but it’s all in the game.