The two Ball brothers, three years apart, have never faced each other outside pickup games and duels in the Ball backyard. Friday night's contest between Lonzo's New Orleans Pelicans and LaMelo's Charlotte Hornets will be meaningful to both.
"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," Lonzo said on Thursday. "This is our first time matching up in a real game. ... I think it just shows that all the hard work paid off. We're really close, we grew up together doing the same thing even though he's younger than I am."
Both brothers talked about the backyard games growing up. Lonzo said he was always too big to play LaMelo one-on-one, but there were a lot of 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 games. He said LaMelo had to play against bigger competition all his life so that has entered his game today -- he isn't afraid of any opponent.
LaMelo said "nobody took it easy" on him in the backyard.
"That's probably the most competitive basketball I've been in -- in the backyard, back there fighting, scrapping, falling on concrete, playing hella hard," LaMelo said on Thursday. "Parents getting scared when their kids go back there. It was a whole lot. Just something you had to witness, for real."
Neither brother tried to build up the possibility of guarding one another when they hit the floor on Friday night. Instead, both said they'd do what their respective coaches asked them to do in order to go out and get the win.
Maybe the family group chat will get the truth, but LaMelo said this one isn't about bragging rights.
"It's all love. That's my brother," LaMelo said. "We grew up together. You know our pops has us real close. We spent every day together. Pretty much talk to each other all the time now. He's still my brother at the end of the day."
Lonzo and LaMelo played together for one year in high school -- when Lonzo was a senior and LaMelo was a freshman -- alongside brother LiAngelo at Chino Hills High School in California in 2015-16. That team went undefeated and finished the season 35-0.
After that, the two took different paths to get to the NBA. While Lonzo went the traditional route, playing for one season at UCLA, LaMelo elected to go overseas, playing for one season in Australia's National Basketball League.
"Yeah, everybody has to find their own way," said Lonzo, who is playing in his fourth NBA season. "Obviously I went the more traditional route. He didn't. But at the end of the day, we both ended up where we wanted to be. Hard work definitely pays off. No matter who you are, if you put your mind to something you could do it. I really believe that. It worked for me. It worked for him."
Whether they were playing in the backyard, at Chino Hills or in any number of pickup games the two have competed in over the years, what they wanted to achieve has never changed, LaMelo said.
"The goals and everything has always been the same," LaMelo said. "We knew we were going to the league, be successful in the league and be Hall of Famers. That's what we're working for now."