Just days before the NBA draft, Lonzo Ball signed an exclusive trading card deal with Panini. And on Thursday night, the company will be creating its first rookie card in real-time at PaniniInstant.com as Ball is drafted by his new team.
The 6’6″ point guard prospect has been in command ever since stepping foot at UCLA, where he led the country this past season in assists (7.7 per game). Then after declaring for the draft this spring, he launched his own sneaker with his family’s new company, Big Baller Brand—a first for an incoming rookie—while being a basketball leader for his two standout brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo.
On Tuesday, the NBPA spoke with the trendsetter at the union’s headquarters for his Panini debut appearance, where he signed products, learned about trading cards and played HORSE with a fan. The conversation covered preparing for his big draft moment, learning from the pre-draft process, building his BBB brand, making hip-hop music, developing his game, guiding his brothers while observing Kevin Durant and other stars, and much more.
NBPA: How’s the vibe with family and friends back in Chino Hills ahead of this life-changing moment for you?
Lonzo Ball: Everybody is happy for me. Everybody knows that I wanted to be in the NBA since I’ve been a kid. And now that it’s finally here, it’s just great and I enjoy the process, everything that comes with it. And I’m just looking forward to hearing my name called.
NBPA: What do kids say when they see you?
LB: Everybody wants a picture. They’re saying, “Congratulations. Do you want to make songs?” A lot of fun. I actually met a kid today that was actually really hyper. His name is Young Dylan. He’s a rapper, too. He was on Ellen. He’s cool.
NBPA: Reflecting on the whole pre-draft process, what was it like for you?
LB: A lot of fun, a lot of working out, definitely hanging out with the fam, just because I worked out at my house in Chino Hills. So I’m glad I got to see all my people and just blessed to be in the position I am right now.
NBPA: What did you learn about the business side of the NBA, meeting GMs, going through the workouts and overall becoming a professional?
LB: A lot more than just basketball, and you have to get into that life now because it’s a job, it’s a business. And when I came in [for each workout], everybody took part in that. It seemed like a lot.
NBPA: Any interesting questions during the team interviews?
LB: Nah, not really. Everything I got asked, I’ve been asked a million times.
NBPA: What haven’t you been asked yet?
LB: [laughs]. Everything is usually about my dad, shoes, workouts. It’s pretty basic.
NBPA: What do you wish people asked you more about?
LB: I’m not sure, but I have an answer for everything.
NBPA: With the Big Baller Brand, what have you learned about releasing a brand-new sneaker?
LB: The sneaker part was really cool because they came to me, like, “You want to make a shoe?” I was, like, “What? Are you being serious?” And they were, like, “You just design it. We’re going to make it.” I’m, like, “Alright, cool.” And we came out with this. And I’m proud of what I did, and I’m just thankful for everybody that’s in my life that helped me get that shoe.
NBPA: What was cool with designing it?
LB: It’s just cool that you can make your own shoe—not just making the colors. You’re making the material, how you want it to feel, how you want it to look.
NBPA: What was something that surprised you about the production?
LB: It’s a lot more to a shoe than I thought. There’s actually like three parts to the shoe. There’s an upper and then there’s a midsole, and there’s a sole. I thought it was just one shoe. And then I got to pick the traction of it, what I wanted on the top. And it was really fun. It was all new to me, so it was seeing it for the first time. I don’t even know how to describe it because I never had somebody tell me I could make a shoe like that. But I’m definitely looking forward to making more shoes down the line, and I hope the public likes it.
NBPA: You’re the first incoming rookie ever to have your own brand. Do you feel like a trendsetter?
LB: Yeah, my people let me know, “You know you’re the first one to do it? You cool with all this?” And I was, like, “Yeah.” So I’m just thankful to be able to do all this and hopefully it all works out.
NBPA: Are you creative and entrepreneurial in how you think of ideas?
LB: Yeah, I try to.
NBPA: Five years from now, let’s say, where do you want Big Baller Brand to be?
LB: That it’s up there with Nike and adidas—just take it from my house in Chino Hills and bring it all the way up. That would be definitely a dream come true.
NBPA: In the community, how do you want to make an impact there?
LB: I’ve talked to my people. I’m definitely going to give back for all the people that’s been there for me. I’m looking forward to everything that comes with it.
NBPA: Speaking of people who have been there for you, you recently wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune about your father, LaVar. Why was that important for you to do?
LB: Just show people how I feel about my dad and how I think they should portray him as. I think people put the wrong name on him just because of the stuff he says, but to me, he’s like the best dad in the world. So I wanted just to put that out there.
NBPA: In the story, you mentioned his signature breakfast he always made for you. What goes into that?
LB: He made breakfast for me ever since I was born. He makes breakfast, my mom makes dinner. So he’s kind of known around Chino Hills for his breakfast. My favorite is definitely the egg, the sausage and then he makes pancakes and he puts strawberries on them. That’s my favorite.
NBPA: You said he’s never told you, “Great game,” because he only focuses on something that you could improve. What kinds of things is he still stressing to you?
LB: He’s been saying, since I’ve been in seventh grade, “Never be complacent”—even when I have a good game. “You could always do better,” which is true. “No one has a perfect game, but if you try to be perfect, you’re going to end up being good.” So that’s his philosophy.
NBPA: As you’ve been preparing for the draft, what kind of guidance are you giving your two younger brothers?
LB: It’s cool just to be able to be there for them and be the first one to show them the way. And hopefully they follow and even do better than me.
NBPA: What are the training sessions like with them?
LB: It’s fun when I go against my middle one, Gelo. Melo is a little bit too small still, but it’s definitely a lot of fun. They’re getting better. I see it in them and I’m just proud of them.
NBPA: How are you helping them get better?
LB: Gelo, I’ve definitely got to help him just with ball-handling because he already has the body. Once he gets the guard skills, he’ll be fine. And then Melo, it’s mostly just his head to help him with his basketball mind.
NBPA: How would you describe your game?
LB: The way I play, I just try to do whatever I can to help my team win, whether that be sacrificing shots, taking more shots. It really doesn’t matter to me. I just like to win.
NBPA: How about your passing creativity?
LB: It started from a young age, too, because of passing to my brothers the whole time. And it just stuck with me and now I kind of pass all the time.
NBPA: And your deep shooting range?
LB: A lot more people are shooting threes now if you look at the league. It’s crazy, like everybody is getting pushed down a position, like 3s are 4s now and 2s are 3s. And the three-point thing is definitely a threat as you can see with the Warriors. I think I can shoot it from pretty much anywhere.
NBPA: How did you develop that distance?
LB: A lot of practice with my dad in the backyard.
NBPA: When you watched the Finals this year, what stood out to you? Did you study Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry’s game being you’re a point guard?
LB: Kyrie’s finishing game is crazy. Steph can get going at any time. But I was watching KD. KD is a beast.
NBPA: What did you take away from his game?
LB: He can hoop for sure. And I think he had something to prove just because he left [Oklahoma City] and everybody was giving him stuff for it. You can’t mess with him because he won. I’m glad for him. I know he’s happy. I know his mom’s happy. And KD definitely did his thing in the Finals for sure.
NBPA: As you imagine being in the playoffs one day, what’s that vision for you?
LB: It’s the same thing as KD. The Larry O’Brien is on my chest and hopefully it’s bringing the championship—do what I can to help the program and everybody there, and just have a good time while I’m doing it.
NBPA: What’s something fun about you that people don’t know?
LB: I just like to make rap music. That’s about it.
NBPA: What music are you working on right now?
LB: I’ve got a tape coming, and I’m helping my friend out. He’s a real rapper. But I think it’s fun getting in the studio. In my free time, that’s what I do.
NBPA: Describe your style of rap.
LB: I talk about my life, where I’m from, family. Whatever I did that day, I try to incorporate it. It’s just fun to get your thoughts out there.
NBPA: Who’s your favorite rapper of all time?
LB: Of all time it’s Lil Wayne, but right now it’s Future. I haven’t met them, but it would be cool if I did.
NBPA: So what’s your suit look for draft night?
LB: I’m just going with clean black, all black. I wear black a lot.
NBPA: How about the shoes?
LB: It’ll be black—a little flashy, but nothing too serious.
NBPA: When you hear your name called, what do you think will be entering your mind?
LB: Just happy. I’ll be there with my family and I’ll get to see all of them. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time, and now it’s here.
NBPA: What are your rookie goals for next season?
LB: Just trying to make the playoffs, to be honest, wherever I go. I know it’s not going to be a winning [title] team, but just the first go, let’s get to the playoffs.
NBPA: As you think about your legacy with inspiring the future generation of basketball players, how do you want them to look up to you?
LB: I think in today’s world, championships are everything. So once you get up there, you’ve got to aim for the highest, and you can get as many as you can.