In What Men Want, out Feb. 8, Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, a sports agent who is trying to become a partner at her company, but is being kept down by men who think she needs to "stay in her lane." In order to prove herself, she decides to try and represent a young basketball player who is expected to go number one in the NBA Draft. His name is Jamal Barry, and while the What Men Want star player isn't a real athlete, his situation does seem to be based on real life.
Jamal, played by Shane Paul McGhie, is a pretty easygoing, shy guy. He simply likes playing basketball and is really good at it. Jamal could be based on no one or anyone, if we were just looking at him. But it's the character of Jamal's dad, Joe Dolla (Tracy Morgan), who makes it seem that this father-son pair is based on a real duo.
In the film, Joe Dolla is a huge personality, who brags about being everything to his son (his nutritionist, psychologist, therapist, anything that ends in "-ist"). He goes on and on about the special smoothies Jamal drinks that make him good at basketball. He's very full of himself, loves money, and thinks that Jamal is the best thing to ever happen to the sport, so he's ready to cash in.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it seems that Joe Dolla might be inspired by LaVar Ball, father of current Lakers player Lonzo Ball, the number two overall draft pick in 2017. Giving a basketball dad in a movie an outrageous personality wouldn't have to be inspired by someone real, but because LaVar so famously made headlines for talking some big talk before Lonzo was drafted, it doesn't seem farfetched.
ESPN has an extensive (and interactive!) list of things LaVar said between the end of 2016 and throughout 2017, and many of them sound like they could be said by the fictional Joe Dolla. For instance, he told TMZ Sports (via ESPN), "I've told them [Lonzo and his two brothers] this since Day 1, since they've been babies: 'Somebody's gotta be better than Jordan, why not you?'" He also said on more than one occasion that Lonzo, not yet in the NBA, was better than Steph Curry. One of the quotes that sounds most like it could be put straight in the movie is when he told Stephen A. Smith, "I'm the one who made Lonzo. You know why? 'Cause I picked a beautiful wife to make him. Had it all planned out since day one."
On top of that (and many, many other comments), he said that he himself could have taken on Michael Jordan. "Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one," he told USA Today. "He cannot stop me one-on-one. He better make every shot ’cause he can’t go around me. He’s not fast enough." (LaVar played basketball in college and not to much success.) LaVar also has a shoe and clothing company, Big Baller Brand, which pretty much says it all.
As for Lonzo, he didn't seem that phased by his father's comments when LaVar was getting a lot of press, because he was used to him behaving that way. He told First Take during a 2017 interview, "At the end of the day, I'm on the court, not him." And when asked if he listens to his dad's words to the media, said, "No, I know what he’s going to say." A clip of Lonzo and LaVar entering one interview — LaVar first, Lonzo following behind with his hood up — also feels similar to a scene in the movie where Joe is front and center and Jamal is just standing in the background listening to music.
LaVar has previously been made fun of on Saturday Night Live with Kenan Thompson playing him. His LaVar bragged, "My boy averaged 50 points a game, 100 assists, 500 touchdowns, and he was just certified 100 percent fresh by Rotten Tomatoes."
Clearly, LaVar got a lot of attention, so it's not a stretch to think that Joe and Jamal are at least loosely based on him and Lonzo. It is a surprise, however, to go into a rom-com/magic powers movie and see that such a large part of it seems to be inspired by this pro basketball media drama that reached its high point nearly two years ago. Makes you wonder what Lonzo and LaVar will think if they see it.