For several weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump has been casting around the sports world for the sort of foil he understands. Someone who is above reason and good sense, and would simply like to toss 'Your mom is so fat …' jokes around with him while the world gawps.
Unlike the realm of politics, sports has turned into a comforting milieu for the President. It's the only place his incoherent rambling predictably elicits the desired reaction – chaos.
In a matter of weeks, he's tipped the NFL into tumult, fomented open revolt in the NBA, split ESPN down the philosophic middle and, working in tandem with ownership, made the NHL look leaden and gormless.
But he has thus far been unable to find what he really wants – a high-profile individual willing to slither into the media mosh pit with him, strip to the waist and trade online slaps for a nice, long while.
The likes of Colin Kaepernick, Steph Curry and LeBron James have been directly or indirectly invited via social media to join Trump's vaudeville duo. All have decided they've got better things to do with their time, such as go to work – a responsibility that seldom seems to trouble the President.
How ridiculous have things got down south? People who wear spandex for a living have more dignity and forbearance than the chief executive.
As it turns out, Trump's reality-TV instincts can only gain so much traction with professional athletes. At their core, the best pros are salespeople. Too much public fuss is bad for business.
Trump's perfect sort of person would have nothing to lose by the encounter, something to gain from infamy for its own sake and a public filter in need of replacing by a trained technician.
So good news. LaVar Ball is, as usual, free.
Over the past year, Ball has become notorious as America's loudest and most overinvolved helicopter parent. His son, Lonzo, is a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers and an unusually shy and retiring fellow – which starts to make sense once you get a load of his father.
The elder Ball will say anything at any time without the least regard for whether it makes any sense or has any basis in truth.
He has claimed he was a superior one-on-one player to Michael Jordan in his prime (he wasn't), that Lonzo was already better than NBA MVP Curry (he isn't) and that Nike would give him a billion-dollar shoe contract (it didn't).
Ball says a lot of stuff like that – comments so deranged and hyperbolic they skip right past outrageous into comedic territory. With these credentials, it's a wonder he hasn't already been appointed Vice-President.
Depending on your perspective, Ball is either emblematic of societal decay or harmless fun. He is a bit of a dope, but on the plus side, he does not have the nuclear codes tucked into his golf bag.
Ball floated into Trump's tunnel vision over the past week when his middle son, LiAngelo, a freshman at UCLA, was arrested for shoplifting while on tour with the team in China. In what might be the only successful foreign-policy intervention of his presidency, Trump convinced the Chinese to spring LiAngelo and two of his teammates.
If it wasn't quite a happy story, it was at least one that didn't end with "… and everybody screamed at each other until they got tired and went home." In Trumpland, that's a Cuban Missile Crisis-level win.
But, of course, the President could not leave it there.
He prodded the Balls on Twitter for a public thank you: "Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump?"
They did that, grudgingly.
Trump circled back for more: "To the three UCLA basketball players I say: You're welcome, go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China … HAVE A GREAT LIFE!"
At which point, LaVar Ball began returning fire. When asked about Trump's involvement, Ball barked, "Who?"
The rest of what he said doesn't matter. He'd hit the target straight off. There can no better way to bait Trump than impugning his fame.
Trump's and Ball's eyes met across the internet. And that was it. The two most attention-hungry men in America had seen in each other their soul's perfect match. A profoundly dysfunctional, but politically expedient, romance was begun.
Trump responded to Ball's response within hours: "I should have left them in jail."
Ball's response to that response: "I would've said thank you if he would've put him on his plane and took him home … There's a lot of room on that plane." Ball further suggested that he had the situation well in hand until the U.S. government wandered in and stole his thunder.
Trump's response to the response to his response, issued on Wednesday: "It wasn't the White House, it wasn't the State Department … – IT WAS ME." Then he called Ball an "ungrateful fool."
Now we await the response to the re… you get the picture. If Trump were impeached tomorrow, I'd expect that he and Ball would have a deal to reboot Crossfire the next day.
Regardless of the medium, we can expect this back-and-forth to continue playing out for three years. It's a modern-day Vidal v. Buckley, minus wit, shame and a proper grasp of grammar.
I suppose this should sadden us – the highest office in the most powerful country on Earth reduced to a bully pulpit fit for berating a hopped-up soccer mom with delusions of grandeur.
But, honestly, this is probably a best-case scenario. Ball is doing us all a favour – and I mean 'all humans' – by giving the President someone to fixate on. Trump needs a Binky. As long as he has his Binky, he will be less inclined to get out of his crib and spark a global conflagration on Snapchat.
LaVar Ball is the ideal man to pull Binky duty. He's the hero the world needs right now. If he accepts the challenge, he may also be the last famous person in the United States who at the moment can credibly claim to be doing real public service.