*The Washington Post’s Kent Babb spent time with Tina Ball, wife of LaVar Ball and mother of Lonzo, LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball, as she quietly recovers from a stroke that nearly took her life a little over a year ago. Tina has spent the past few months living with her parents as they help her regain strength both mentally and physically.
- At various times as the days and weeks passed following the stroke, Tina’s family was told she might die, but then she survived; that she’d be left in a vegetative state, but then she awoke; that she’d never walk again, but then she stood. Feeling has slowly returned to her right hand, and she is considered healthy under the circumstances. But the incident left her with expressive aphasia, a condition that affects a third of all stroke survivors and — though Tina can visualize precisely the words she’d like to say — largely robs them of verbal communication. In other words, the matriarch of the most loquacious family in sports has lost her ability to speak.
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- Relatives would occasionally find her alone in a room, not wallowing in self-pity but filling in an adult coloring book or combing word-search puzzles. After LiAngelo was one of three UCLA players detained in China last year for shoplifting, an incident that drew attention (along with several tweets) from President Trump, LaVar pulled his two younger sons out of school and signed them with a professional team in Lithuania. When Tina and her parents visited them in January, included in her bag was her whiteboard and flash cards.
- On less dramatic days, members of the video crew treat LaVar’s arrivals and departures from the hotel like an event. And when he’s in the mood for chicken wings or ribs instead of the salted fish at the hotel buffet, they load a van and follow him to BIR.BUR.BAR a few blocks away and require restaurant employees and patrons to sign waivers to appear on the show — or leave. “It cause a lot of stress,” one of the employees says, and because LaVar has spent the past five months living like a mad king — in his own faraway castle, in extreme isolation but for family members and loyalists, devoted subjects who assemble in anticipation of him — it’s nearly impossible to tell what is authentic and what is staged, or even whether LaVar himself can tell the difference. In his suite on this afternoon, during an interview he insists is recorded, LaVar sidesteps questions that would humanize him and offsets the occasional tender moment about his wife — “As long as she can smile, give a kiss and a hug,” he says, “I’m good” — with striking displays of cruelty — “That’s probably why she had the stroke, so she can be quiet for a minute.”
- And whether he is still playing a character or has lost himself in it, soon LaVar will be coming home.The exchange is both uncomfortable and inspiring, and how many thoughts — everyday, forgettable things she might’ve once taken for granted — are drifting and trapped in her mind? Are there specific things that Tina, whose life has changed in every meaningful way, wishes she could say? “Yes! YES!” she says, her eyes widening because it is a most fundamental itch, perhaps the most basic part of a person’s identity, that no one can possibly scratch. “God bless . . . ugh!” “She’d love to tell you,” Bob says, and before long they’re discussing her upcoming visit to Lithuania and what Tina will feel when she sees LiAngelo and LaMelo for the first time in months. What will that moment be like? What would she tell them, and LaVar, if she could? Tina thinks about it, and for no perceptible reason, her lips move. “Yeah, um . . . look . . . here,” she says. “I . . . can . . . do it . . . on . . . my . . . own.”
Read the Full profile at Washington Post.