LITTLE ITALY — Lonzo Ball is lighting up the United Center as he plays for the Bulls — and his famously outspoken father, LaVar Ball, is lighting up the city during a visit.
LaVar let it be known he was in Chicago on Sunday via his usual method: a pop-up shop for his Big Baller Brand, an apparel line featuring all three of his basketball-playing sons. The event, held at Flee Club, 2221 W. Taylor St. in Tri-Taylor, drew a line down the street — with wait times exceeding an hour to meet the father of the Bulls point guard.
T-shirts commemorating “The Face-Off” between Lonzo’s Bulls and brother LaMelo’s Charlotte Hornets on Monday sold out during the event. The Ball family patriarch signed autographs, took photos with fans who asked and offered “let’s take a picture” to those who didn’t — but his sons didn’t make the event.
Fascinated by Ball’s notorious claim he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, 9-year-old Major Wills asked, “Are you sure about that?”
Ball doubled down.
Sabrian “Boo” Sledge, co-owner of Flee Club, allowed Ball to slap his Big Baller Brand logo over his store wall. Sledge presented Ball with a gallon of milk and a batch of his mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, saying he remembered Ball’s love for milk and cookies being a recurring bit on “Ball in the Family,” a Facebook show that pinned the Balls as the Kardashians of basketball.
The camera-loving Ball has never been shy to express grand aspirations. He once said he would help his sons become NBA players by “speaking it into existence.”
On Sunday, he placed a Big Baller Brand shoe at the end of his autograph table. It read, “I told you so.”
“Now I say my boys are going to be the first billionaires to play basketball,” Ball said. ”Individuals, we’re all millionaires. But as a family, we’ll be billionaires.”
Someone in Ball’s audience shouted back, “That’s bars.”
“That’s what makes me do what I do,” Ball said. “I’m going to show folks: When any Black family sticks together, it’s going to grow far.”
Ball said he’s not too interested in trying deep-dish pizza or seeing the Bean while in Chicago. He’d much rather spend time with his fans.
“The energy is the same as mine,” Ball said. “I can’t go to Beverly Hills and have this many people popping and dropping like that. They not going to do that. But they’re going to have a line all the way around the building, too.”
Jesus and Edith Aguilar bundled up their 4-month-old baby, Kaylani, and waited in line while bearing cold gusts of Chicago wind. They said they already checked, and Big Baller Brand doesn’t sell baby clothes. But they hoped LaVar would take a picture with their kid.
“He’s a role model as a dad. I’m a dad now, too,” Jesus Aguilar said. “He carries on his family. And that’s how it is in Chicago. You care about family.”
“Family always,” Edith Aguilar agreed.
Ball is trying to bring that family connectivity to the Bulls. He said he met with the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations and lobbied him to “get all three of” his sons: Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo.
“By themselves, they are good. But together, they’re great,” Ball said.
Fan Fernado Rodriguez waved his phone in front of Ball as the basketball patriarch predicted LaMelo Ball will be the youngest player to win NBA MVP. Rodriguez posted the video to Instagram immediately.
“LaVar always has a lot to say, and you never know what you’re going to get. He keeps everyone on their toes,” Rodriguez said. “LaVar is giving back love. He interacts with everybody, greets the people. I’m glad he’s spreading good vibes in the community. We need it.”
As Chicagoans headed home feeling like Big Ballers, Sledge and his co-owner, Darris Kelly, showed Ball their sprawling basement of sneaker inventory. The business started eight years ago out of Kelly’s Maywood home.
Ball told Sledge he was proud to use his celebrity to support Black men building their own brand.
“They can’t break us apart. That’s what’s killing them,” Ball said. “At the end of the day, this ain’t nothing but good entertainment.”
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