The Lonzo Ball Incident Isn’t Everything, But It Means Something

A pretty standard rule in sports is to always have your teammates’ backs. Whatever mess they get themselves into, you owe it to yourself and to the team to stand beside them. It seems like your basic baseline of unity and camaraderie. On Friday night, Lonzo Ball said to hell with all that:

I’m not saying you have to roll into every altercation and start swinging fists. But it’s customary to stand near your teammate and yell at whoever is wearing a different colored uniform and within earshot. Perhaps put a hand on someone’s shoulder to keep an arm’s length between the two quarreling parties. Maybe bearhug the aggressor and walk him backwards towards the scorer’s table. Nearly anything can be done to show your support.

There are dozens of examples just from the NBA of players having their teammates’ backs. Many times, this is done to a fault. At the extreme top of that scale is Stephen Jackson asking precisely zero questions and not even thinking once before following Ron Artest into the stands during the Malice at the Palace. The dude swung at fans purely as a favor for his coworker.

At the other end of the scale is Carmelo Anthony throwing a lazy punch after the fight finished then backpedaling faster than anyone has ever backpedaled all the way to halfcourt. That weak move is a black stain on the otherwise-pure Nuggets-Knicks brawl in 2006.

Now, I’m not condoning violence of any kind. But if there is going to be violence, I want Stephen Jackson and not Carmelo Anthony on my side, is what I’m saying. And I definitely don’t want Lonzo Ball. This isn’t the mid-2000s, however. We can be fairly confident punches won’t be thrown. Nearly all “altercations” these days consist of a lot of jawing with perhaps some limited shoving or grabbing. This is the point Ball made to justify his actions, which was actually somewhat reasonable:

He’s right. It was a prudent move on his part. But guess what, when I’m playing basketball I’m not looking for prudency from my teammates. I’d rather have support. Ball turned his back on his teammates, literally. He put his fear of a technical over his duties as a teammate. This isn’t an unforgivable sin or anything, but it says a lot.

Ball sees the court masterfully during game action, where by all accounts he is a great and unselfish teammate. To become a truly great player, he’s got to be that way when tempers flare. He’s got to see that situation for what it is, too. He can deliver a pass in just the right spot, but the right spot to be at that moment was behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Ball wasn’t there.

However, all this is not super important in that it almost certainly won’t change anything about this team. They’re the same team after the incident that they were before it. They aren’t very good. This won’t make them better or worse. It won’t change who Ball is or what he means to his fellow Lakers. I doubt Ball’s teammates will let this change how they think of him. Which would be the right thing to do. You know why? Because they ought have his back no matter what.

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