When Lonzo Ball was just another spoiled kid who played basketball at an elite level in Southern California, his father manipulated the media with the sole intention of turning Lonzo Ball into a household name. It worked in a very real way. The LaVar media blitz pressured Magic Johnson into drafting Lonzo instead of De’Aaron Fox, even as Magic had doubts after Lonzo’s workout. But LaVar the showman kicked in. He coordinated a second workout supervised by -guess who- that took place at the family crib. Magic drafted Lonzo a few weeks later with LaVar taking the appropriate congrats. He was the puppeteer. He pulled the strings.
But it was all smoke and mirrors. LaVar didn’t follow the first rule of business. He didn’t vet his employees. One of them, a shady character with an embezzlement past, was a barbarian LaVar let into the gate. He stole money from Lonzo.
Kevin Garnett had $77 million taken from him while he wasn’t paying attention. Garnett sued his accountant Michael Wertheim for enabling wealth manager Charles Banks IV’s greed. Banks, coincidentally, defrauded Tim Duncan of millions and went to jail for it. Decades earlier, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the victim of a greedy money manager and sued him for $55 million dollars.
So Lonzo has company. He had $1.5 million taken, small change compared to more influential and richer NBA athletes. But it is stealing. And it could have been prevented had LaVar done his homework.
He would have known that Alan Foster had a criminal past. Though warned about Foster, Lonzo deferred. He opted to let his father handle it and his father, well, didn’t. So Lonzo did it for himself.
“As a result, I have decided to sever all ties with Alan effective immediately.” (Lonzo Ball)
It was Foster who talked LaVar out of negotiating a Lonzo shoe deal with one of the big companies, and instead, starting one of his own. At the time, it didn’t make business sense. Nike has a monopoly. Adidas and Under Armour have a significant stake in the market. Big Baller Brand would have needed serious venture capital financing and even then it’s an impossible market. Building a brand takes years. Competing against a goliath like Nike is asking to fail before you begin.
It didn’t help matters that Big Baller Brand’s customer service was a train wreck. 184 complaints in 3 years of business, an F grade with the Better Business Bureau. The Federal Trade Commission has taken 200 complaints. My father ordered a sweatshirt as a gag gift for me and it was four months late.
When LaVar finally read the emails and documentation of Alan Foster helping himself to the family money, LaVar was overseas and was reportedly stunned. Like, about what? You hire a convicted criminal to handle your money and he keeps some for himself without your permission or knowledge, and this is a shock? Ever heard the saying the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior?
In the ’90’s, Alan Foster was sentenced to 7 years in prison for mail fraud and two counts of money laundering. He was part of a scheme that defrauded 70 investors of $4 million- a poor man’s version of Bernie Madoff.
This is what LaVar said about Alan Foster. “This dude is one of the smartest suckers ever.” Aside from the hilarity of the word “sucker” applied to an employee with a criminal past and not LaVar himself, daddy Ball didn’t care that Foster was re-arrested after his 7 year prison stint for a felony violation. He went back to prison for 5 months.
Apply for a job today and there is a drug screen, college transcripts to mail, references, every job including selling lemonade on the street corner in the summertime when you were twelve that has to be verified, not to mention a complete background check. What was LaVar thinking? Scratch that. He wasn’t. Thinking.
LaVar is devastated. He should be. He brought this low-life into his son’s orbit. His prepared statement about the matter was classic LaVar, not taking accountability for his screw-up. “I’ve always believed in the best in people. Regretfully, I put my complete trust in Alan Foster to manage my son’s business affairs.” But see that’s that problem. Lonzo didn’t need LaVar’s trust. He needed his intelligence, his attention to detail, his background check, his business acumen. Lonzo needed his father to recognize he’s not a professional and that he needed to hire one.
Big Baller Brand is in danger of becoming a trivia question. My hoodie sweatshirt might be a collector’s item now that Lonzo has scrubbed all mention of Big Baller Brand from his social media accounts as well as his father’s name and the Vegas betting money is on Nike signing Lonzo.
There is a severe consequence of an inferior businessman making an average shoe. Lonzo’s injury which should have been a couple of weeks max has caused more than the usual strain on other parts of his body. Was it the shoe? The Lakers trainers asked that same question.
Lonzo owns 51% of Big Baller Brand. LaVar owns 16%, as does his mother, and Alan Foster owns 16% as well. Severing ties with Foster isn’t as cut and dried as a press release. And then there is the missing $1.5 million.
Humble Lukanga of Life Line Financial Group asked Foster to account for the missing money but Foster is playing mum. According to Lukanga, “Over $1.5 million dollars has disappeared and he has wired over $474,000 to himself through Marathon Consulting. So close to $2 million dollars had touched Alan’s hands but $1.5 million of it has disappeared in cash and can’t be tracked.”
Lonzo is the one who is being dragged down in the mud. It’s his money.
“This has been a very difficult decision as I had a great deal of love and respect for Alan. But the time has come for me to take responsibility for my own career, on and off the court.”
Lonzo at 21. An adult. When Magic Johnson said at the end of last season that 2018-19 would be the biggest year of Lonzo’s life, he was exactly right. He was predicting the future. And he wasn’t talking about basketball.