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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 Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

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
Why Is a Pineapple Called a Pineapple?
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by James Hunt

Ask an English-speaking person whether they've heard of a pineapple, and you'll probably receive little more than a puzzled look. Surely, every schoolchild has heard of this distinctive tropical fruit—if not in its capacity as produce, then as a dessert ring, or smoothie ingredient, or essential component of a Hawaiian pizza.

But ask an English-speaking person if they've ever heard of the ananas fruit and you'll probably get similarly puzzled looks, but for the opposite reason. The average English speaker has no clue what an ananas is—even though it's the name given to the pineapple in almost every other major global language.

In Arabic, German, French, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Swedish, Turkish—even in Latin and Esperanto—the pineapple is known as an ananas, give or take local variations in the alphabet and accents. In the languages where it isn't, it's often because the word has been imported from English, such as in the case of the Japanese パイナップル (painappuru) and the Welsh pinafel.

So how is it that English managed to pick the wrong side in this fight so spectacularly? Would not a pineapple, by any other name, taste as weird and tingly?

To figure out where things went wrong for English as a language, we have to go back and look at how Europeans first encountered the fruit in question, which is native to South America. It was first catalogued by Columbus's expedition to Guadeloupe in 1493, and they called it piña de Indes, meaning "pine of the Indians"—not because the plant resembled a pine tree (it doesn't) but because they thought the fruit looked like a pine cone (umm, ... it still doesn't. But you can sort of see it.)

Columbus was on a Spanish mission and, dutifully, the Spanish still use the shortened form piñas to describe the fruit. But almost every other European language (including Portuguese, Columbus's native tongue) decided to stick with the name given to the fruit by the indigenous Tupí people of South America: ananas, which means "excellent fruit."

According to etymological sources, the English word pineapple was first applied to the fruit in 1664, but that didn't end the great pineapple versus ananas debate. Even as late as the 19th century, there are examples of both forms in concurrent use within the English language; for example, in the title of Thomas Baldwin's Short Practical Directions For The Culture Of The Ananas; Or Pine Apple Plant, which was published in 1813.

So given that we knew what both words meant, why didn't English speakers just let go of this illogical and unhelpful linguistic distinction? The ultimate reason may be: We just think our own language is better than everyone else's.

You see, pineapple was already an English word before it was applied to the fruit. First used in 1398, it was originally used to describe what we now call pine cones. Hilariously, the term pine cones wasn't recorded until 1694, suggesting that the application of pineapple to the ananas fruit probably meant that people had to find an alternative to avoid confusion. And while ananas hung around on the periphery of the language for a time, when given a choice between using a local word and a foreign, imported one, the English went with the former so often that the latter essentially died out.

Of course, it's not too late to change our minds. If you want to ask for ananas the next time you order a pizza, give it a try (though we can't say what you'd up with as a result).

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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