LaVar Ball is a Trickster

Some of the fondest memories I have of my adolescence are the times spent outside playing sports with my brother and cousins. We played seven game series of two-on-two basketball in the driveway until we broke all of the next door neighbor’s windows. We played football in the backyard until we trampled the grass and my mom’s flowers to dust. We played baseball with tennis balls, bare hands, and a metal bat that one of my brother’s friends used to beat up his own brother while we were hooping one day. Things got intense.

What’s stuck with me even more so than the actual games we played, though, are the arguments that we had over said games. And what’s stuck with me even more than that are the arguments that we had over who we thought we most emulated when playing these games. We bickered for whole summers over whether my brother played more like Carmelo Anthony or Antoine Walker. We listened everyday to our cousin John as he explained to us how, since he’d been working on his jumpshot, he resembled a hybrid of Lebron James, Paul Pierce, and Gilbert Arenas, and we’d laugh when his face sunk when we all agreed that he actually played just like James Posey. Even the adults got in on these arguments. My uncle Mark swore up and down that his son Darius was better than Dwyane Wade, while I reminded him of Shane Battier (yes I took this as disrespect). My dad would walk out the room in disgust when Mark would then say that his game was reminiscent of Scottie Pippen back in the day.

Did any of these arguments matter? Of course not. Obviously, none of us made it to the league or anywhere close. But still, arguing about stuff that doesn’t matter is one of the funnest (and blackest) things you can do. Seriously, go to any barbershop in a black neighborhood, and you’ll probably walk into some pointless argument about whose grandmother makes the best sweet potato pie or who the top five rappers of all time are. And these debates occur not to establish some consensus or to uplift fact; they simply occur for the sake of debate.

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Arguing about nonsense should be considered a sport in itself. There’s an art to it, a certain flair you have to have, the brashness to bend facts, to tell a blatant lie and mean it, a steely-eyed commitment to one’s position that has everyone else in the room thinking, wait–this nigga is really tripping. Essentially, it’s a performance, one whose goal isn’t to win the audience through logic, but through sheer cunning and wit and cleverness, through positioning oneself as the trickster.

This sort of signifying and the myth of the trickster predates the arrival of Africans to the United States via the transatlantic slave trade. Perhaps the most popular trickster tale in American folklore, Brer Rabbit, actually is a story that originated in West Africa. This has huge implications as to how deeply ingrained this form of signifying is embedded in black culture. Eventually, this morphed into the playful game of playing the Dozens–where two people would pretty much tell jokes, each trying to one up the other, until someone gave up–and this then became a huge part of hip-hop culture, where the emcee becomes the trickster, playing the Dozens on record, establishing supremacy through clever wordplay and braggadocio.

This is all just a long-winded way of saying that, if you don’t understand the cultural significance of talking shit in black communities, it’s really impossible to understand the walking clickbait named LaVar Ball. The continued fascination with this dude makes it pretty clear that, for as much as nonblack folks try to act like they understand black Americans, they really don’t know a single thing about us because, if they did, there would be nothing novel about him. He’s the guy at the barbershop that will argue for hours that Lebron James would’ve been a bench player if he played in the 80’s. He’s the crazy uncle that still maintains that Michael Jackson bleached his skin even after you show him the autopsy records confirming that he had vitiligo. It’s not about fact with people like this. It’s simply about the game, and LaVar Ball is playing the Dozens with a media apparatus that doesn’t even know it’s being played.

He’s a trickster, and to make matters worse, he’s not even a good one (just ask Kyrie Irving). He’s all bluster and no grace, no subversive intellect that makes you sort of admire him for being able to get over on you, and, knowing this, I’ll still probably continue clicking on every article and watching every interview with his name in it. What can I say? I love the art too much, man.

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