Up Next


Lonzo Ball wouldn’t make the NBA All-Rookie team the way he’s playing now

Will the pressure on the Lakers guard make him better?

“Everything negative — pressure, challenges — is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

— Kobe Bryant

Hollywood loves a good sequel. For decades, the Los Angeles Lakers have sought to be pro sports’ most Hollywood franchise, a scintillating melding of style and power, celebrity and happy endings. And Magic Johnson, the point guard and director of “Showtime” and its five NBA championships in the 1980s, seeks to produce “Showtime: The Next Generation” with Lonzo Ball as his leading man.

Now the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, Johnson drafted Ball No. 2 overall in June and said the California native was up to leading the team’s return to championship glory. The 6-foot-6 guard from UCLA is one of the league’s fastest players. That’s remarkable when you consider that he plays with his father’s boasts and bombast and the great expectations of Laker Nation on his back.

Ball has rebounded well and dished out some dazzling assists. But he’s also been one of the league’s worst outside shooters.

Furthermore, many in the chattering class talk and write as if they seek to toss ball bearings under Ball’s feet, making it more likely that the 20-year-old will flail, fall and fail.

Later Monday, Ball and his Los Angeles Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center, the home arena for both NBA franchises. The game arrives as the franchises bear down on the one-quarter mark of the current season.

If the vote for the NBA All-Rookie first team were taken today, Ball might not be on it. Indeed, Ball has not been the best rookie on his team. That distinction goes to Kyle Kuzma, a smooth-operating forward from the University of Utah.

Still, NBA seasons are long, and NBA careers are longer. Who knows how quickly Ball can improve, how good he can be or how far he can take the Lakers in future seasons?

Ball was the MVP on his championship Las Vegas Summer League team. So far, what happened in Vegas has stayed in Vegas. Still, Ball has played best just when the pundits clattering about flaws in his game have grown loudest.

Lately, Ball has sported the kind of no-nonsense hairstyle that young men who have just left college wear on early job interviews. He’s already landed his dream job.

He’s young, gifted and black. He’s rich too. It’s not easy being any of those things, let alone all of them at once.

Ready or not, he’s become the focus of a drama maybe just a little before he was ready for the close-up that stars must endure. He’s just a kid, the eldest of LaVar Ball’s three basketball-playing sons.

He talks softly. He plays hard. He plays a game for seriously high stakes. He seeks to rise to the challenge of immense pressure and great expectations.

Magic Johnson believes in Lonzo Ball. But will Ball make us believe in his magic before the great expectations go poof?

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.