Whatever your expectations of LaVar Ball’s WWE debut—and I say “debut” because it would be foolish to assume this is his last appearance—they were met.
If you thought this would be the most idiotic, nonsensical celebrity wrestling angle since David Arquette won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, you’d be right. The father of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Lonzo Ball, took his shirt off and performed a karate exhibition.
If, on the other hand, you expected it to be such exquisite train-wreck television that you wouldn’t be able to keep from texting your friends about it, then you were also satisfied. In a sense, it was the Platonic ideal of professional wrestling segments, because it reinforced everyone’s preconceived notions of what this art form is all about.
But was LaVar Ball actually good at being a WWE character? Did he show any aptitude when it came to crafting a compelling in-ring story? Well, that’s what you and I are here to decide. Here is Ball’s WWE Raw scorecard.
So, this might have started us off on the wrong foot. The Miz, host of the eponymous Miz TV segment, didn’t seem to have his heart in the proceedings, listlessly welcoming the Balls to the WWE Universe. Then, out came LaVar and LaMelo Ball to the strains of generic WWE instrumental music. LaMelo looked like he had 80 centipedes crawling all over his body and would’ve preferred to be anywhere else in the world.
Imagine if your dad asked you to come see him perform at open mic night at the Comedy Store on a Monday afternoon. And then he took his shirt off. This is how LaMelo must have felt walking down the ramp at Staples Center.
Then, LaVar started strutting a bit before committing to a full-scale sprint to the ring, a la John Cena. Unlike Mr. Cena, LaVar didn’t land the slide under the bottom rope. Instead of gracefully gliding to the middle of the ring and snapping up to his feet, he kind of flopped over on his back like an elderly golfer denied the use of a cart on the back nine. At least LaVar got his own TitanTron.
One of the most important parts of a WWE Superstar’s job is cutting live promos and selling the drama inside the squared circle. Those who can’t captivate an audience with their words are doomed to failure (or they’re getting a manager).
Kudos to LaVar for understanding a vital component of this job: getting your catchphrase in early. “Big Baller Brand in the house! This what we do,” he screamed for seemingly no reason. We were already aware that he was in the house, plus Big Baller Brand T-shirts were displayed on mannequins all over the ring. We got it.
LaVar introduced his son Lonzo, who trotted down the ramp at a healthy pace and remembered to shake everyone’s hand before taking a seat. I mean, that’s a leader, folks.
(Sidebar: Where was LiAngelo during this whole thing? I’m worried he’s become the Tiffany Trump of the Ball family. Hopefully we can get #FreeLiAngelo” trending on Twitter this fall.)
Now that all the principals are in place, we can begin getting into the meat of the segment. Cutting a wrestling promo is about convincing the audience that two people don’t like each other and hoping they pay to see the pair fight at a pay-per-view event. LaVar Ball and The Miz are not wrestling anytime soon, so what’s the point of this?
Well, The Miz started by claiming he’d partner with Big Baller Brand, which LaVar took exception to. You see, there’s only three letters: BBB. But Miz wanted to add an M—BBBM. When I think about this segment, the letters B and M do come to mind, so right now, everything makes sense.
After Miz degraded UCLA for losing in the NCAA tournament, LaVar stood up from his seat and said he knows what “Miz” stands for: misinterpreted zone. I don’t know what that means. I wish there was a joke here, but there isn’t. I’m just confused.
“Or, it stands for a million zippers.” There’s no way that’s what “M.I.Z.” stands for. For one thing, where’s the “I” come in? Please help. Has LaVar gone off script or did no one care to write one for him?
“There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ‘em.” That’s a pretty good line. It’s sort of like “Who has two thumbs and likes TGI Fridays? This guy,” but trademarked by Ball. If a shirt with that slogan on it isn’t available later Tuesday, then how can I believe anything Ball ever says?
LaVar started shaking on the bottom rope and imploring LaMelo to “handle my lightweight.” His poor son looked simultaneously confused and befuddled at what he was supposed to do. This might’ve been the first time in his life that his father has ceded the spotlight to him in any way, so I don’t blame him for being a bit flummoxed.
Miz asked LaVar to “prove it,” which led him to tell Miz “stay in yo lane.” More catchphrases equal more points for LaVar. Well done, if you smell what I’m cooking. “The hunt is on and you the prey,” LaVar threatened.
In a normal wrestling segment, this kind of gamesmanship leads to a physical altercation, being that the whole point of the art is to watch a fight with a predetermined outcome. As such, the moment grew more tense. “Oooh boy, you make me, blururuururueajrhearhah,” LaVar said while babbling and shaking again, like a new-age Bernie Mac. Miz took off his elaborate robe.
LaVar then said “put your clothes back on, buff man,” but took his own off. That’s what wrestling fans like to call a swerve, when you expect one thing but get something completely different in the process. Tell a dude to put his shirt back on, then take yours off? The mind is boggled.
Finally, the karate. Whatever dramatic tension there was in this segment was gone. LaVar’s martial art skills were somewhere between former WCW President Eric Bischoff’s and Chris Tucker’s in Rush Hour. “Beat that n—a ass. Beat that n—a ass,” LaMelo said directly into a microphone on live television. I’d say this was the most awkward moment for race relations in WWE history, but this happened in my lifetime.
At that point, the Ball portion of the show was over. He’d disrobed, performed a shambolic display of fighting maneuvers and inadvertently convinced his son to speak a racial slur on national TV. LaVar did nothing to make me suspend my disbelief or cause me to think I saw anyone have an actual wrestling match, but he did remember all of his catchphrases and made sure to put over his merchandise:
Wrestling is all about the blowoff, as in what we pay to see. The good guys vs. the bad guys. Being that this is L.A. and LaVar’s oldest son is now the Lakers‘ most prized acquisition in years, you’d assume the Balls would get some measure of revenge on Miz to make the crowd happy. On the other hand, no one wanted to see LaVar attempt to throw a worked punch and either give the Miz a black eye or miss so badly the first five rows could feel the breeze from his fist blowing by on their faces.
Instead, former Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose entered the scene wearing a Big Baller Brand T-shirt with intent to do what LaMelo was saying earlier. “You don’t want none of this, cuz I’m real with it,” LaVar said as he wandered aimlessly around the ring, still shirtless. He served his purpose, though Lonzo told him to “say somethin’ to the crowd” anyway. Again, another first: The first time anyone has had to ask LaVar Ball to speak.
Ambrose made some ball puns, plugged the next pay-per-view (conveniently called “Great Balls of Fire”), and then his music played for no reason. It all culminated in a six-man tag team match that most of the people in my section used as a bathroom break. If the alternative was seeing Ball miss a roundhouse kick by a country mile and exposing the wrestling business for an entire generation of fans, I would have taken that instead.
Overall, Ball wasn’t that bad. Again, expectations were met. Surely, the TV rating for the segment will be higher than usual. Maybe Big Baller Brand even sold a T-shirt or two in the process. In the all-time rankings of celebrity wrestling appearances, Ball was miles better than Drew Carey but nowhere near the glorious heights of Mike Tyson. LaVar fits somewhere between Kevin Federline and RoboCop saving Sting from the Four Horsemen at WCW Capital Combat 1990.
Congrats to LaVar Ball. You’re better than RoboCop. And yes, you can put that on a T-shirt, free of charge.
Final grade: Better Than RoboCop
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