Lonzo Ball's Family and Friends & The NBA's Problem

Lebron James and Maverick Carter created The Shop on HBO to be an avenue for athletes and entertainers to speak openly in the friendly environment of a barbershop, away from the repetitive press conferences, pointless sideline interviews, and obnoxious Twitter comments.

 

I had never heard Lebron curse until this show, which goes to show how much athletes have to be “on brand” to appease their sponsors, team, league, teammates, fans, city, and sport, all of whom (including the players themselves) have developed such a thin skin for criticism that the word “trigger” now triggers hurt feelings and apologies.

 

Needless to say, it’s good that a show like The Shop exists. Many people want to hear what these, primarily black with a smattering of respected of white guys (Jon Stewart, Jimmy Iovine, and...wait, is that Seth Rogen???), athletes and entertainers want to say on both heavy and light topics.

Time to Talk Shop

Which brings me to the most recent episode with Lonzo Ball. If you haven’t heard, a very close family friend of the Ball family, Alan Foster, allegedly stole $1.5 million from Lonzo Ball and the Ball family enterprise, Big Baller Brand. Foster also owned 16% of the Big Baller Brand. Unbeknownst to the Ball family, in 2002, Foster was convicted of defrauding nearly $4 million from 70 people in a fraudulent stock scam and spent five years in prison.

 

Ball openly discussed the fraud on The Shop, surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Don Cheadle, Maverick Carter, Lebron James, Jimmy Iovine, and others.

 

“He was like my second dad,” Ball said of Foster. “I’ve known him since I was 12. I bought my mom and dad a house, and he had a room in there. When we looked at the [financial] transactions, shit didn’t start happening until my mom got sick because she took care of the money shit. That’s what really hurt me.”

 

If you don’t think Foster thought that Lonzo, at age 12, and his two younger brothers, had a great chance of making the NBA given his genes and tenacity of Lavar Ball, then you don’t know con-men. They’re in it for the long game waiting for their turn.  

 

I speak often about how fraudsters look for opportunities to steal when they think they will not get caught. Foster saw his opportunity when Ball’s mother got sick and figured no one was watching over the finances.

 

Foster clearly didn’t thinking about another roadblock to his fraud, Ball’s financial advisor, Humble Lukanga, who identified suspicious transactions by Foster. Lukanga raised the red flags to Ball in October 2018, but Lukanga’s advice was disregarded until April 2019.

 

When Lonzo was asked why he didn’t immediately heed warnings about Foster’s financial management, he said, “[Foster is] like my second dad. So when he [Lukanga] came to me, I just talked to him [Foster] and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He just gave me his story. Now, looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped at it back in October.”

This is happening with A LOT of athletes. Right now! And nobody is saying nothing. - Lebron James

It’s motivating when the same line I’ve been spouting for years is repeated by the most powerful man in all of sports.

 

After Ball explains his situation on The Shop, Don Cheadle asks about the never ending frauds in sports, “Why is that still such a deficit though in professional sports? These aren’t new stories.”

 

Lebron James, the billion dollar man, resoundingly responds, “No, they’re not. This is happening. He’s (Ball) telling us about this here tonight, but it’s happening with A LOT of athletes. Right now! And nobody is saying nothing.”

 

Instead of the group diving deeper into this incredibly pervasive problem, Pharrell takes over the conversation to provide some generic platitudes about holding patterns, building something that lasts, and Lavar Ball as the GOAT dad, sounding like a yoga teacher killing the vibe after a cathartic workout.

 

No one on the show veers back to address the most question in all of this: What is the solution to this endemic of fraud in sports?

 

Everyone in professional sports - leagues, unions, teams, players, agents, lawyers, accountants, trainers, etc. - knows that pro athletes are constantly exploited and defrauded. I have yet to talk to anyone in the industry who has disagreed. Not one person.

 

When Lebron James says on a national TV show how huge of a problem fraud is but fails to address the problem, it shows that the majority of people don’t know there is a solution. It also evidences how big this problem is.

The Solution

The solution to fraud isn’t obvious because it’s not part of the process. People follow what everyone else is doing. When athletes make the pros, they’re told to hire a financial advisor and/or business manager that they trust. Despite their inexperience and understanding of finance, twenty-year olds chat with advisors for a few hours and choose based on likability. When they don’t know another option exists, what else are they supposed to do?

 

As time goes on, more and more athletes are becoming aware of BrightLights. The solution to fraud always seemed obvious to me because of my background as a financial regulator. I witnessed that if there was no oversight of activity and enforcement of the rules, the financial industry would do whatever they wanted because no one was looking, and there were no consequences.

 

Translating this to the sports world: the solution means providing oversight of those who control a pro athlete’s money by an independent professional who does not control his money.

 

When I say independent, that means no family or friends of the athlete can do this. Family and friends are too close to the athlete, and those relationships are already too psychologically complicated. As in Lonzo Ball’s case, he still trusted Foster even after his financial advisor alerted him to suspicions. Family and friends, whether they control money or not, are a common risk that BrightLights vastly mitigates through its oversight.

 

When I say professional, I mean that the person overseeing your finances has to be qualified to do this job, meaning he/she should have an advanced certification (like a Certified Fraud Examiner or Certified Public Accountant) and regulatory/compliance/accounting/investment experience. Hopefully, this person also has results he/she can point to in order to show what he’s accomplished. Far too many regulators are employed for one to two years solely to pad their resume, learn very little, accomplish less, and jump to the first lucrative offer from a bank or other financial company.

 

It is self-serving to say that the professional to do this should be someone qualified like me, but it’s why I started BrightLights. My unique experience created a niche that I was perfectly qualified for. I have a running joke with people that I’m the only former financial regulator in the sports industry. It’s yet to be proven wrong!

 

BrightLights’ oversight would have deterred Foster from thinking he could steal $1.5 million because he would have known BrightLights was watching all transactions. It can be harder than you might imagine to find criminal records of some individuals, particularly when they’ve changed their name and/or have a common name. Whether Foster’s criminal history was identified in a background check or not, the deterrent that BrightLights creates with its monitoring in place (not to mention the rule not to involve family/friends and finances) would have kept Foster from seeing the opportunity to defraud the Balls.

Cast Your Life

 “You got to cast your own life,” Jimmy Iovine, legendary music producer and co-founder of Interscope Records and Beats Electronics, advised Ball.

 

“Lebron or Maverick knew how to cast their lives…[with] the people you surround yourself with. You can do all this great work, and then in the end, end up with nothing, less than nothing,” Iovine warned.

 

Professional sports continues to race around a well-worn track as Don Cheadle wonders why we keep running the same route. No one except BrightLights is proactively looking, and none of these athletes on The Shop - or thousands of other pro athletes - know there’s a solution.

 

It’s here. And it’s going to be known.