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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What Did LaVar Ball Do for a Living?

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Who is this guy and why does his name keep showing up in my news feed?” A lot of non-sports fans have been asking that question about LaVar Ball lately. For those who don’t follow the NBA, college hoops, or high-profile Twitter feuds, here’s a quick rundown.

LaVar Ball was born on October 23, 1967 in Los Angeles, California. He attended Canoga Park High School, where he became a star quarterback. At West Los Angeles College, Ball’s focus shifted to basketball and he set a school record for single-season rebounds by amassing 316 of them in 1985. He transferred twice, first to Washington State University and then to California State University, Los Angeles.

In the early 1990s, Ball’s brief tenure as a collegiate tight end got him invited to an NFL tryout. He’d go on to join the practice squads of the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. Across the pond, he briefly played for the London Monarchs—a British-based American football franchise—before retiring from the game in 1995.

By that point, Ball had saved up quite a lot of football money. With this, he established himself and his wife, Tina (another college basketball veteran), in an affluent Los Angeles neighborhood. Once there, she got a job teaching high school physical education, while he kicked off a new career as a personal trainer. Today, Ball still earns money by helping clients attain their fitness goals. But nowadays, the man’s also got a lucrative side hustle.

LaVar and Tina have three sons: Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo. Like their parents, all three are basketball players—and they’ve become celebrities in the world of hoops fandom. Lonzo, in particular, has earned a lot of well-deserved attention. Following his magnificent career at UCLA, the Los Angeles Lakers selected him as the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

In 2016, LaVar founded an athletic apparel company called Big Baller Brand, or “BBB” for short. Advertisements for the organization have centered heavily on Lonzo and his brothers.

LaVar’s also shown a penchant for controversy. Within the past three years, he’s claimed that he could have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in college and that Lonzo is more talented than two-time NBA champion Steph Curry. Both claims provoked outrage from journalists. And the media really had a field day this past March, when BBB honored Lonzo by putting out a line of $495 sneakers. During the frenzy, the great Shaquille O’Neal recorded himself lambasting Ball in rap form.

Sports enthusiasts aren’t the only people who’ve taken issue with LaVar Ball’s statements; last month, he managed to tick off Donald Trump. Their feud started when LiAngelo was visiting China for an exhibition game in November 2017. He and two UCLA teammates were accused of shoplifting and detained by the authorities. Trump, who was also in China at the time, discussed the matter with President Xi Jinping. Following their chat, LiAngelo and his fellow players were released on bail—and thus dodged a potential 10-year prison sentence. Although the UCLA students thanked Trump, LiAngelo’s father publicly refused to do so himself.

After the dust had somewhat settled, Ball did end up sending Trump three pairs of those $500 sneakers. “They’re a hot item,” Ball told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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