On Wednesday night in Las Vegas, two of the most well-known and marketable high school basketball players of a generation faced off in an AAU basketball game. The result was pandemonium, with thousands packed in to a tight gym and nearly one million watching online.
During the matchup, ESPN Sports Business reporter Darren Rovell made it clear he felt the fascination with the ball family was behind the overwhelming crowds — both in person and online — for the event. That didn’t sit well with the team at Ballislife, which was behind the live stream of the game.
In a lengthy online exchange with USA TODAY, Ballislife’s Matt Rodriguez provided data from previous streams of Zion Williamson match ups to forcefully disagree with a Rovell tweet which claimed only 20 percent of those watching the game knew who Williamson was. Despite the attention surrounding both LaMelo and LaVar Ball (who was coaching the Big Ballers AAU squad), Rodriguez was insistent that Williamson was at least as large a draw as the Balls … and very likely a much larger one.
Per Rodriguez, Wednesday’s Las Vegas match up drew 620,000 unique viewers. When the Ball family’s Big Ballers faced off against the Compton Magic on May 27 — a game Big Ballers famously lost by 50 — Ballislife’s livestream drew 57,000 unique viewers.
Compare those numbers with the views from Williamson’s SC Supreme game in the Adidas Uprising Championships, which hosted 322,000 unique viewers, and it seems fairly straightforward that Williamson may actually be a bigger draw to the kind of crowd that would go out of its way to watch a livestream of an AAU contest. After all, that previous Williamson game had the highest livestream audience in Ballislife’s history prior to Wednesday night.
Rovell may not be totally familiar with Williamson, but plenty of celebrities are. After all, Drake was wearing his jersey earlier this year, not LaMelo Ball’s.
It’s obvious that the combination of Ball and Williamson on the same court was the catalytic combination that drew more onlookers than any other prep basketball game in memory. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Rovell — who has done some excellent reporting into Ball’s business practices and how the Big Baller Brand is expertly using techniques like drop shipping to minimize it’s overhead as it rolls out Lonzo Ball’s signature shoes and t-shirts — would be seduced by the concept that the Ball hype was driving the online attention and viewership for Wednesday’s game.
Rovell had numbers, they were just focused on the bottom line, not the fans behind the baseline.
UPDATE: A prior version of this story claimed that Rovell had deleted a Tweet. That was incorrect, and his Tweet, which was a reply to another Twitter reply, has since been added above. We regret the error.