By LARRY VAUGHT
PADUCAH — The Big Baller Brand came to Paducah for Mustang Madness and it was everything one might have imagined — or maybe more.
Kentucky coach John Calipari’s appearance at the event two years ago helped attract a similar crowd to what filled the 3,000-seat arena Friday night to watch Spire Academy, featuring LaMelo Ball and a team of other future Division I players, play and dominate The Rock (Fla.).
But it was about more than the game. It was about Big Baller Brand CEO LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of Los Angeles Lakers player Lorenzo Ball. Before the game he signed 100 times the number of autographs that Calipari did here and after the game fans packed the hallways waiting for another autograph.
The Big Baller Brand gear — that ranges from $30 for a T-shirt to several hundred dollars for tennis shoes — was a popular item, especially with younger fans who put the gear on as soon as they purchased it.
“It’s all the same everywhere we go. This is nothing ordinary. To catch Melo and the rest of this team, everybody had to come check it out at least once and it is a beautiful show. At the end of the day, that’s all it is is entertainment,” LaVar Ball, who sat on the front row of the bleachers watching the game, said.
“We do autographs. It’s part of the game. You can’t come in and say, ‘I am so good I don’t want to sign nothing.’ Whenever I can and time allows me to do it, I am going to do it.”
What about signing more autographs than Calipari?
“We are different. The CEO of Big Baller Brand, you usually don’t catch the top guy on the ground level like this. I am supposed to be up in the stands higher looking down on this and not with all the people,” LaVar Ball said. “That is the difference between me and these other guys who own big companies. I am down here with the young folks.”
He delighted those young folks and others when the game ended and he started shooting deep 3-point shots. After a few misses, he knocked one home to a huge ovation from fans — and players from many of the other participating Mustang Madness teams who came to watch the game.
“Shoot a 3-pointer for the crowd? I was trying to shoot it for myself. I said I know I can make a 3-pointer. I was going to shoot until I made one,” he said. “I know I can still make a 3-pointer. I used to shoot from half-court from ease like a free throw. Now I am 50-something years old and I am still thinking it is going in and my mind is thinking it is a swish but I just throw it up. It’s all fun.”
What about a future partnership with the Grind Session which sponsors showcase events like this across the country?
“There might be. It might. Only time will tell. I don’t force nothing. I just let it happen,” Ball said.
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Spire Academy plays again Saturday night at 7 p.m. CST against Trinity International.