LaMelo Ball Talks Wild Passes, Rookie of the Year and ‘Space Jam’



A fractured wrist is about the only thing that has stopped Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball. The injury cut 21 games from his rookie season. He recently picked up where he left off, lobbing a nearly full-court, pinpoint underhand pass in his first game back, against the Detroit Pistons.

At just 19, Ball has long been a celebrity, even before making his N.B.A. debut. Steered by his father, LaVar Ball, he was playing professional basketball overseas and starring in reality shows when most teenagers were focused on prom. His oldest brother, Lonzo, helped pave the road by spending a season at U.C.L.A. before becoming the second overall pick of the 2017 N.B.A. draft.

Now in the N.B.A. as well, LaMelo Ball has proved worthy of the commotion. His Hornets are in the chase to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16. He is averaging 16 points, 6.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds a game, and has come to be known for his passing and joyful play.

Though much has been written and said about him, Ball doesn’t say much. So The New York Times sat down with him, in a video chat, to ask him about his game, his life off the court and those wild passes he makes to Miles Bridges.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

At what age do you think you could have reasonably competed in the N.B.A.?

Reasonably competed? I would say, my thought process, I was 14 at the time when I thought I could have been.

Your father has drawn a lot of headlines over the years. What types of lessons have you learned from your mother, Tina?

Pretty much just everyday life stuff growing up: how to treat people right, how to go on with your day, have respect for people. Just all the stuff you need to get through life, for real, and just be who you are.

Do you have a favorite pass that you’ve made?

Yeah, probably a long time ago. One of my friends passed away and we had a game and then my brother [Lonzo Ball] just went for a lob. And I remember he was playing that game real hard because his man had just passed. So I was at halfcourt, he act like he was going to draw a play, and I just threw it like this with my left from halfcourt. And it was a lob, and he caught that, cocked it back, it was over. That was A.A.U., so it was hard.

Your coach, James Borrego, was a longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant and recently said your game reminded him of Manu Ginobili’s. What do you think of that comparison?

I don’t really do too much on the comparisons. I like to compare myself to myself pretty much. But I think I know why he did that one. I know he loves that Spurs team. So probably that’s a good answer for him, I guess.

If you had gone to college, where would you have played?

At first, I was going to U.C.L.A., and then they went to Under Armour or something. I decommitted. I was going to go to U.S.C., though. For sure, would have been up there.

What’s your favorite color?


Favorite movie?

I’m hoping it’s going to be this “Space Jam” 2, because I follow “Space Jam” 1 heavy. So, yeah, “Space Jam” 2 looks dope.

First song that really caught your attention growing up?

First one that I really liked? Honestly, I don’t even know, but just thinking back that far, type of music that my pops had playing. It definitely probably would be like a Lil Wayne song or a DMX. He always had that on.

Morning person or night person?

Definitely night.

Is there a country left that you’d still like to most visit?

Even when I was traveling, I ain’t ever even keep up. I just live in the moment. It’s wherever I’m at, I’m at. That’s how that goes.

When you’re coming down the court with the ball, do you feel like the game is in slow motion for you?

It’s just how I played basketball my whole life. So I was coming down when I was 3, same how I feel at 19.

How often do you see a pass that’s there and you can make it, but you don’t because you’re not sure that the recipient is ready for it?

That’s just where the chemistry comes. The more you play with me, the more you start understanding. That’s just all where that comes from. It’s honestly just our first year, whole team coming together. First time ever playing together. So I feel like it’s going well, but once you like really get to know me, then you’re going to know all the little passes and stuff like that.

Have you ever tossed the ball to Miles Bridges higher on purpose, just to see how high he can go?

Never on purpose, just wherever I feel like it needs to be.

The secret to shooting a perfect floater?

Just to shoot it with confidence.

You’ve said that you try to learn at least one new thing every day. Where does that mind-set come from?

Just being me. I mean, it’s something I grew up trying to do every day. My pops always says, “It’s always room for improvement.” You can learn every day and always just take something from somebody else and learn. You could take a negative and turn it into a positive or a worse situation and always just get something out of it.

Was obtaining the Rookie of the Year Award a goal for you entering this season?

Nah, not really. I ain’t really look at it as a goal. I just knew I was going to go out there, just had to be me. And if chips fall where they fall, you get the rookie of the year or you don’t. You still just got to play, though. It’s more of a team game. I’m trying to go to the playoffs, trying to go on a deep run, stuff like that.

What were you able to learn while out with the wrist injury?

Pretty much just learning how the whole body works, how you can get your knee, everything right. I mean your whole body, just how it all works together. One thing moves, something could be hurt. And it can be totally different things that’s actually hurting than what’s actually hurt.

Was there anything you picked up while watching the games?

Seeing our players more, seeing where we can be on the defense, seeing just stuff like that.

Have you ever been nervous on a basketball court?



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