CHARLOTTE — LaMelo Ball grew up playing 3-on-3 games against his older brother Lonzo on a concrete court in the backyard of their parents’ home in Chino Hills, California.
“Nobody took it easy on me — fighting, scrapping, falling on concrete,” LaMelo said. “Parents would get scared when their kids went back there. It was something you had to witness for real.”
That is where the Ball brothers learned to compete — and first dreamed of playing in the NBA.
On Friday night, they’ll make history becoming the first siblings selected in the top three of the NBA Draft to compete against each other when Lonzo’s Pelicans host the rookie LaMelo’s Hornets in New Orleans.
Sure, there have been been plenty of brothers that have played against each other through the years. Currently there are nine sets of siblings in the NBA, including Steph and Seth Curry; Giannis, Thanasis and Kostas Antetokounmpo; Jrue, Aaron and Justin Holiday; Tre and Tyus Jones; Brook and Robin Lopez; Marcus and Markieff Morris; Juancho and Willy Hernangomez; Caleb and Cody Martin; and Jalen and Jaden McDaniels.
But the battle of the Ball brothers is one of the most high-profile sibling matchups ever.
They have a big social media following, in part because of their outspoken father, LaVar. They garnered national attention on the basketball court when Lonzo, then a senior, paired with middle brother LiAngelo and then-freshman LaMelo to help Chino Hills High School go 35-0 and win the California Interscholastic Federation Division I state title in 2016.
While they took different paths — Lonzo went to play at UCLA while LaMelo went overseas to play professionally — Lonzo was the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2017; LaMelo was third overall in 2020.
“At the end of the day, we both ended up where we wanted to be,” Lonzo said. “So the hard work definitely pays off. If you put your mind to it, I really think you can do anything.”
The brothers have never played each other in an actual game, and Lonzo said he almost never played LaMelo 1-on-1 while growing up because he was nearly 4 full years older than his kid brother and physically superior at the time.
Those games were mainly reserved for LiAngelo, who is one year younger than Lonzo and who had a brief stint with the Detroit Pistons before being cut prior to this season.
“We pretty much played 3-on-3 every day,” Lonzo said. “We always went at it. And I think you see that in (LaMelo’s) game. He’s not afraid of anyone and he has always played up (in age) and it has always been that way for him.”
Both players wear number “2” jerseys and the 6-foot-6 Lonzo, who is averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists, is no longer physically superior to 6-foot-8 LaMelo. The rookie is averaging 11.8 points and 4.9 assists.
Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said it is a “phenomenal achievement” for brothers to make it to the NBA, let alone be top three picks.
Van Gundy said he’ll never forget the night when was coaching the Miami Heat and looked across the court during the national anthem to see his brother Jeff, the then head coach of the Houston Rockets, and wondering, “How the hell did we get here?”
“There are 363 days a year where you are rooting for each other and then two days a year where you are trying to kick each other’s” butt, Van Gundy said.
LaMelo said he’s leaned on his brother for advice since coming into the league, and they stay in close contact.
“Pops had us real close” growing up, LaMelo said.
Lonzo said while he expected the game to be televised nationally as soon as LaMelo was drafted, he’s treating it just like any other game of his four-year NBA career.
“It’s going to be cool seeing him out there and everything,” Lonzo said, “but he is going to do what he can for his team and I will do what I can for mine.”
Added LaMelo: “My family, they are probably going to get the most joy out of this.”