Opinion: Like it or not, LaVar Ball deserves praise. He’s had two sons in NBA draft top three: LaMelo in 2020, Lonzo in 2017

The 2020 NBA draft will be remembered as a painful one for critics of LaVar Ball.

Sorry, haters, but on Wednesday, Ball made history. He became the only man to have sons picked in the Top 5 of the NBA draft.

LaMelo Ball, LaVar’s youngest son, was taken by the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 3 pick. Lonzo Ball, LaVar’s oldest son, was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft.

“It is not an accident,’’ said Mel Sims, who coached Lonzo, LaMelo and their brother, LiAngelo, when he was an assistant coach at Chino Hills High School in Southern California. “LaVar dedicated his life to his boys, developing them.’’

As measured by the NBA draft, only one set of brothers is close.

The only other brothers both picked in the top 10 of the draft are Eugene Short, ninth overall in 1975, and Purvis Short, fifth overall in 1978.

LaVar Ball, shown in 2018, had sons Lonzo and LaMelo taken in the first three picks of the NBA draft. (Photo: Sean Logan, The Arizona Republic)

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So on the eve of LaVar’s historic night, it was time to call George Raveling, the Nike executive and former college coach who in 2017 said Ball is “the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last hundred years.”

Surely he wanted to pay respects to LaVar despite LaVar’s penchant for outrageous statements (in his heyday, he said, he could have “killed’’ Michael Jordan one-on-one) and meddlesome ways (he publicly criticized former Lakers coach Luke Walton when Lonzo was with the Lakers and he criticized former New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry after Lonzo was traded to the Pelicans.)

“I’m not going to get involved in that circus,’’ Raveling said.

So it was time to reach out to Charles Barkley, the NBA Hall of Famer who in 2019 said of LaVar, “Wherever LaVar Ball is, there’s a village missing an idiot.’’

Surely Barkley wanted to pay LaVar respect for what will transpire at the draft and, well, we’re still waiting for Barkley to respond to a text message.

Then there are the critics Sims said he heard when LaVar was coaching Lonzo, LaMelo and LiAngelo on the AAU circuit and playing against older kids — sometimes five years older than LaMelo.

LaMelo Ball is heading to the Charlotte Hornets after being drafted third overall. (Photo: Rick Rycroft, AP)

“They were saying he put too much pressure on them. ‘Oh, they’re little babies,’" Sims said. “But when you play with older kids, you have to play better all the time. And he had expectations and those kids played up all the time and that’s what made them as good as they are.’

“One of the critical things is he had a hands-on attitude. He taught them what they needed to know and he put them under a physical conditioning program that allowed them to play with stronger, bigger players. He had a plan. Those things, I think, made a difference.’’

When NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Charlotte had selected LaMelo Ball, the player was sitting between his parents. And don’t forget about the Ball boys’ mother, Tina, said Sims.

“All the media and all the fans, they were fully focused on LaVar, but Tina was a high contributor to the success of the boys,’’ he said.

Sims was Tina’s basketball coach at Alta Loma High School and helped her get a scholarship to California State University at Los Angeles. That’s where Tina met LaVar, who was a member of the men’s basketball team.

They married and had their three sons, with LaVar in charge of basketball and Tina playing a less visible role.

“She was the stabilizing force behind everything that was happening,’’ Sims said. “I don’t think that they could have made it any other way. She was a safe harbor for them to go to.’’

Tina Ball suffered a stroke in 2017 and her ability to communicate remains limited. But she is part of Facebook’s “Ball in the Family’’ reality show, which has documented part of her recovery.

Over the years, LaVar has said that as their boys were growing up, Tina took care of the schoolwork and LaVar took care of basketball.

Lonzo Ball celebrates with his father LaVar after being introduced as the No. 2 overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. (Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)

“He didn’t allow a lot of people on the outside influence him,’’ Sims said. “There are a lot of coaches that restrict your talents and don’t let your talents bloom. And lavar, one of the things he did was he played a wide open ballgame. If you ever saw the club teams play, they played with reckless abandon. I mean, they pressed all the time. it was run and shoot, run and shoot.’’

In that system the Ball boys thrived, with Lonzo and LaMelo becoming elite playmakers. At Chino Hills High School, LaVar insisted the coaches use the same freewheeling style of basketball LaVar used when he was coaching his sons in AAU basketball.

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In 2015-16, all three Ball boys played for Chino Hills and the team went 35-0 and won the mythical national championships. Sims recalled the conflict before and after that stellar season.

“They’re were a lot of arguments,’’ Sims said. “I mean, outright screaming matches at summer league games. And scrimmages and so forth. It was ugly.

“LaVar was constantly giving instructions and the system was working. People were trying to deny it but it was actually working. You got to give him that.’’

After the 2020 draft, you got to give LaVar props.

Like it or not.

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