Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball shoots against the Toronto Raptors during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game
LaMelo LaFrance Ball (born August 22, 2001) is an American professional basketball player for the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was selected by the Hornets with the third overall pick of the 2020 NBA draft.
Ball began high school at Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California, where he won a state championship and achieved national success as a freshman with his older brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo. Before his junior season, a coaching dispute prompted him to leave Chino Hills and sign with Lithuanian professional team Prienai. In 2018, he played in the Junior Basketball Association (JBA), a league created by his father, before returning to high school as a senior with SPIRE Academy in Geneva, Ohio. A former UCLA commit, he was a five-star recruit but chose to forgo college basketball amid eligibility concerns and play in Australia for the Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League (NBL) in 2019, winning NBL Rookie of the Year. He was selected by the Hornets with the third overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft and was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2021.
Ball and his brothers have attracted national attention since playing together in high school. His father, LaVar, also grew into a media personality in 2017. Ball has a signature shoe by his father’s company, Big Baller Brand, and a role on his family’s Facebook Watch reality show Ball in the Family.
High school career
In his freshman season, Ball started playing basketball for Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California. He was teammates with his two older brothers, Lonzo and LiAngelo, and his cousin, Andre Ball. In his first game, Ball scored 27 points as a starter. On March 5, 2016, he scored 26 points in a win over Sierra Canyon School for the CIF Southern Section Open Division title. Later in the month, Ball helped his team capture the CIF Open Division state championship, recording 14 points in the title game against De La Salle High School. Chino Hills finished the season with a 35–0 record and claimed the mythical national championship. Ball averaged 16.4 points and 3.8 assists per game and shared MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors with his teammate, Onyeka Okongwu.
On December 26, 2016, Ball made national headlines for making a half-court shot two seconds into a game. On February 4, 2017, he suffered his first high school loss despite scoring a game-high 36 points, with Oak Hill Academy ending Chino Hills’ 60-game win streak. In his next game, on February 7, Ball scored 92 points in a win over Los Osos High School, the second-most single-game points in California high school history. He was criticized by analysts for cherry picking, as he often waited near half court to get an open shot on his next possession instead of defending. Ball finished the season averaging 26.7 points and almost 10 assists per game, earning MaxPreps Sophomore All-American first team recognition. On July 27, he featured in an AAU game against five-star recruit Zion Williamson that was featured in national sports media.
On October 2, 2017, before his junior season, Ball left Chino Hills to be homeschooled because his father disapproved of newly-appointed head coach Dennis Latimore and school administration. On December 7, he signed with agent Harrison Gaines to play professionally overseas alongside his brother LiAngelo. The decision indicated that he would not play college basketball. In the following days, Gaines offered the brothers to professional teams in various European countries and in Japan.
Ball (right) with SPIRE Academy at the Flyin’ to the Hoop Invitational in January 2019
On November 5, 2018, after skipping his junior year and a part of his senior year to play professionally, Ball joined SPIRE Institute and Academy, a prep school in Geneva, Ohio, where he played under head coach Jermaine Jackson. SPIRE competed outside the jurisdiction of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, allowing Ball to play without concerns over his amateur status. A number of prominent high school teams canceled their match-ups with SPIRE because Ball’s professional experience would threaten their eligibility under their state federations. His team was removed from the Hoophall Classic tournament because event organizers did not meet a $10,000 request from a Ball family associate in order for Ball to play. On November 10, 2018, Ball debuted for SPIRE, recording 20 points, 13 assists and five rebounds in a 96–84 win over The Hill School. On March 7, 2019, he scored 41 points, including 29 in the first half, in a 102–67 victory over Hillcrest Prep North at the Grind Session World Championship. Ball helped his team reach the final and was named season MVP. He was ruled ineligible for the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game due to his professional experience.
Ball verbally committed to play college basketball for UCLA at age 13, before starting high school, becoming the third of his brothers to commit to the school. Ball, who was also recruited by Virginia and Washington State at the time, said that UCLA was his “dream school.” He emerged as a top recruit in the 2019 class during his sophomore season in high school. Most recruiting services considered him a five-star recruit and one of the top point guards in his class. When Ball returned to high school after a professional stint in 2018, he remained a five-star recruit.
The 2017 release of Ball’s Melo Ball 1 signature shoe by Big Baller Brand, his family’s sports apparel company, threatened his eligibility under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Ball’s father ignored the concerns and considered having his son skip college for that reason. Ball’s signing of an agent and his professional experience further imperiled his NCAA eligibility. Despite questions surrounding his eligibility, which discouraged major NCAA Division I programs from recruiting him, he expressed interest in playing college basketball upon his return to high school in November 2018. In the following months, however, Ball explored alternative options, including prep school, the NBA G League and professional leagues in Australia and China.
On December 11, 2017, Ball signed with Prienai of the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL) with his brother, LiAngelo. Ball reportedly became the youngest American to ever sign a professional basketball contract. The brothers’ move to Lithuania was heavily reported by American sports media. Prienai withdrew from the Baltic Basketball League upon their arrival and took part in various exhibition games sponsored by Big Baller Brand. On January 13, 2018, Ball made his professional debut, going scoreless in five minutes against Lietkabelis. On February 4, he scored a season-high 19 points, with four three-pointers and six assists, in a loss to Žalgiris. In an exhibition game toward the end of the month, he suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for a month. On April 25, Ball left Prienai with his family, with his father criticizing the team’s head coach Virginijus Šeškus, in part because Ball did not receive enough playing time. He finished the LKL season averaging 6.5 points and 2.4 assists, shooting 26.8 percent from the field, in 12.8 minutes per game.
Los Angeles Ballers (2018)
On May 4, 2018, Ball signed with the Los Angeles Ballers of the Junior Basketball Association (JBA), a new league created by his father as an alternative to college basketball, and was touted by the league as its “marquee player. In his debut on June 21, he posted a triple-double of 40 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals, shooting 15-of-40 from the field, in a 134–124 win over the New York Ballers. Over eight regular season games, Ball averaged a triple-double with 39.6 points, 14.6 rebounds and 11.5 assists per game, while being named to the All-Star Game. In the playoff semifinals versus the New York Ballers, he scored a season-high 55 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He led Los Angeles to a JBA championship over the Seattle Ballers. After the season, Ball was named to the league’s select team, called JBA USA, which would face several European teams on an international tour. On October 31, in an exhibition game versus Dzūkija on the tour, he was ejected after slapping an opposing player in the face during a scuffle. On November 5, he left the JBA tour to return to high school in the United States for his senior season.
Illawarra Hawks (2019–2020)
On June 17, 2019, Ball signed a two-year contract, including NBA out clauses, with the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian-based National Basketball League (NBL). He joined the Hawks through the NBL Next Stars program, which aims to develop NBA draft prospects. In August 2019, after playing for No Shnacks at the Drew League, Ball was named Leader of the New School, an award honoring the league’s top rookie. For the NBL season, he moved to Australia with his former SPIRE Institute coach Jermaine Jackson, who became his manager and helped him acclimate. In late September, he had success at the NBL Blitz, a pre-season tournament. He recorded 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a preseason win over the Perth Wildcats.
On October 6, in his first regular season game, Ball tallied 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on 6-of-17 shooting in a loss to the Brisbane Bullets. He assumed a more important role following a season-ending injury to star point guard Aaron Brooks on October 27. Ball recorded a season-high 32 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists on November 25, in an overtime victory over the Cairns Taipans, to become the youngest NBL player to record a triple-double. In his next game, Ball posted another triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists but was held to 10-of-28 shooting in a loss to the New Zealand Breakers. He became the fourth player in league history, and the first since the NBL switched to 40-minute games in 2009, to record consecutive triple doubles.
On December 8, before he played another game, it was announced that he would miss about four weeks of action after bruising his foot in practice. On January 16, 2020, while still sidelined, Ball decided to sit out for the remainder of the season. He parted ways with the Hawks on January 28 to return to the United States and prepare for the 2020 NBA draft. Through 12 NBL games, Ball averaged 17 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, shooting 37.7 percent from the field. At the end of the season, he was named NBL Rookie of the Year over Kouat Noi by five votes (49–44).
Ball was projected as the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. In the 2020 NBA draft, which was held on November 18, 2020, Ball was selected with the third overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets. He and his brother Lonzo, who was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft, became the first set of brothers to both be drafted in the top 3 of the NBA draft. After an up-and-down preseason, he began the regular season coming off the bench. Ball made his debut on December 23, 2020, going scoreless along with one rebound, three assists, and two steals in 16 minutes in a 121–114 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On January 8, 2021, against the New Orleans Pelicans, Ball and Lonzo played in their first regulation game against each other at any level. Ball helped rally the Hornets from an 18-point deficit to a 118–110 win. He narrowly missed a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. On January 9, at the age of 19 years old and 140 days, he became the youngest player in NBA history with a triple-double, breaking the record set by Markelle Fultz by 177 days. Ball had 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists in a 113–105 win against the Atlanta Hawks. On January 30, Ball recorded a then career-high 27 points, along with five rebounds, nine assists, and four steals in a 126–114 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. For his performance in December and January, Ball was awarded with Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month after averaging 12.2 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals over his first 21 games in the NBA. On February 1, Ball made the first start of his career in a 129–121 victory over the Miami Heat. He finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. On February 5, Ball recorded a career-high 34 points, along with eight assists, four rebounds, two steals, and one block in a 138–121 loss to the Utah Jazz. He also became the youngest player in franchise history to record a 30-point game. He was named Rookie of the Month again for February after averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists in 13 games. On March 21, Ball suffered a fractured bone in his right wrist in a loss against the Los Angeles Clippers and was listed as out indefinitely. On April 19, Ball was cleared to resume basketball activities. On May 1, Ball made his return from injury, putting up 11 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists, in a 107–94 win against the Detroit Pistons. After the season Ball was named the 2020–21 NBA Rookie of the Year and was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
On October 20, 2021, in the Hornets’ season opener, Ball matched his career-high seven three-pointers, while putting up 31 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in a 123–122 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Ball is the youngest son of LaVar and Tina (née Slatinsky) Ball, who are both former college basketball players. LaVar, who stands 6-foot-6 (1.98 m), competed with Washington State and then Cal State Los Angeles. Tina, who stands 6-feet (1.83 m), also played with the latter school. Later on, LaVar played professional football as a tight end for the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football after being loaned from the New York Jets. In 2017, LaVar became a popular but polarizing sports media personality, primarily for making outlandish remarks about the careers of himself and his sons. Ball’s cousin Andre plays college basketball for Pepperdine.
Since his freshman season in high school, Ball has drawn the attention of national sports outlets and established a large social media following. By 2017, many analysts were calling him a celebrity. Ball has a role in the Facebook Watch reality show Ball in the Family, which was launched in August 2017 and documents the lives of his family members. On June 26, 2017, Ball appeared on a segment of WWE Raw with members of his family, during which he told his father, “Beat that nigga ass!” The WWE later apologized for his “inappropriate language.” Ball is the subject of a rap single titled “Melo Ball 1” and released by his brother, Lonzo, on September 8, 2017.
On August 31, 2017, Big Baller Brand, a sports apparel company launched by Ball’s family in 2016, released a signature shoe for him called the Melo Ball 1 (MB1). He became the youngest athlete to ever have a signature shoe.
LaMelo Ball makes history in Hornets’ comeback win over Pacers, draws MVP chants
In his first game after his NBA Rookie of the Year campaign, LaMelo Ball picked up right where he left off.
And the crowd serenaded him with chants for an even more prestigious honor: MVP.
It’s only one game, but Ball helped the Charlotte Hornets erase a 23-point second-half deficit against the Indiana Pacers to secure a 123-122 victory in the season opener on Wednesday. A 24-0 run in the third quarter, in which Ball had 12 of his 31 points, sparked the Hornets’ comeback victory.
Hornets guard LaMelo Ball scored 31 points with nine rebounds and seven assists against the Pacers.
“Yeah,” Ball said after the game, “I definitely heard (the MVP chants). The city turnt. I love it. We’re gonna keep on trying to win.”
Ball, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, made seven of nine 3-pointers. He finished with nine rebounds and seven assists.
It was the third career 30-point effort for Ball, who became the third-youngest player with 30 points in a season opener. At 20 years and 59 days old, he also is now the youngest player in NBA history with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists in a season opener.