How This Lithuanian Outpost Lured LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball


Over the next few days, Lithuanians learned the basic facts: LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16, are the younger brothers of Lonzo, the star rookie point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. The boys’ father, LaVar, has become famous in his own right over the past year, most recently entering the news cycle for goading the President of the United States into a Twitter feud.

“It is the talk of the country,” said Althea Cawley-Murphree, an official at the American embassy in Vilnius.

The teenagers, for now, may be more fame-adjacent than truly famous, and scouts have doubts about their realistic prospects in the game. But for Vytautas, a financially struggling club looking for ways to raise their profile for sponsors and sell more tickets, that was enough.

“One of the brothers on Instagram has as many followers as Lithuania does people,” said Adomas Kubilius, the director of the club. “At the beginning, it seemed almost like a joke, just something for fun.” He paused for a second and shrugged. “And then it got serious.”

Photo

From left: Lonzo, LaMelo, LiAngelo and LaVar Ball at a celebration for LaMelo’s 16th birthday in September.

Credit
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Crosswalk Productions

At 2 a.m. the night the brothers signed the contract, Kubilius was awakened by a phone call from Vilius Vaitkevicius, the team’s sports director. Social media was simmering over the news.

“The whole world knows us,” Vaitkevicius said on the phone, peppering the call with expletives.

The impending arrival of the Ball brothers — they are scheduled to come to Lithuania on Jan. 4 and could play their first game five days later — has sent a jolt through Prienai, a small town on the banks of the Neman River with a population of around 9,000 people.

One of the handful of restaurants in town, for instance, changed the text of its scrolling LED sign almost as soon as the news was announced.

“TANGO PIZZA WELCOMES BALL FAMILY TO PRIENAI CITY!!!!!” it read, casting a red glow on a sleepy, snow-covered intersection below.

Jaunius Malisauskas, the owner of Tango Pizza, has been plotting with his wife, Dovile, and the rest of his staff to come up with special ways to welcome the two Americans to town.

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