The last time an NBA sports agent was despised like Rich Paul is despised was in the ’90s when it was en vogue to emphatically dislike David Falk, who happened to be the agent of Michael Jordan. Like Falk, it’s not a coincidence that the agent of LeBron James has a lot of detractors around the league for efforting a LeBron James league, rather than allowing the league to evolve around James in an organic way.
Rich Paul’s peers have complaints. He didn’t graduate college so they are bitter he was certified, even though other agents didn’t go to college and are certified. One agent told NBA reporter Chris Broussard, “you can’t give a dentist a scalpel and say, go do heart surgery”, implying a sports agent’s job is so complicated and intricate if you don’t do it well, your client’s life will be over. News flash: a sports agent isn’t that important. But he is necessary for a league that has $7.4 billion dollars in revenue.
An anonymous agent, perhaps the same one that said he hates Black Lives Matter, implied that Rich Paul is a prop. He doesn’t really have a job outside of being in the LeBron James circle. That all of Rich Paul’s accomplishments are because of LeBron James. Rich Paul is the beneficiary of LeBron James affirmative action, so to speak. It was one more condescending Rich Paul story that is biased. And lacking substance.
“Now I know that it’s this facade that it’s Rich Paul, but it’s really LeBron who recruits for Rich Paul. So it’s almost like they’re trying to control AAU at the NBA level.”
An agent’s job, whether it is a literary agent or a sports agent or a talent agent, is more involved than just signing a client up. Sure, that is a big part of the job description. But you have to keep the client. And to keep the client you have to make him more money than the agent next door can do. You have to find a way to accomplish your client’s goals. Because there are so few elite players, NBA agents are always trying to backstab the other in order to get someone else’s clients.
LeBron James, by nature of his communication style, gives Rich Paul an advantage other agents don’t have. He has access to spaces that are closed. But last I checked, James Harden, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic, Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, Kemba Walker, Bam Adebayo, Brandon Ingram, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler, Rudy Gobert, Kyle Lowry weren’t Paul clients. He has not forced a monopoly on the league, snagging all the best talent.
Anonymous agent believes the union and the NBA are enabling Paul because of the power of LeBron James. He makes it a point to say he loves LeBron James but wishes he would have stayed out of the agent business. Of course. Because James wields power and influence and whatever he touches is changed. But not everything.
Last year Marcus Morris, a Rich Paul client, agreed to a two-year deal with the Spurs ($20 million) then reneged to play with the Knicks for a one-year $15 million dollar deal. Morris explained it at the time that he didn’t know there were other offers out there. He negotiated directly with the Knicks without Paul and it ended his relationship with Rich Paul. He is now represented by Roc Nation.
My favorite Rich Paul story is not how he and LeBron got together, over throwback jerseys that Paul was selling out his car. It’s that LeBron asked him for his SSN and then sent him a check, his first paycheck, and they never discussed a job and didn’t quite know how it would all work and fit in. Leap and the net will appear.
On each of LBJ’s stops, Cleveland twice, Miami, and now Los Angeles, Rich Paul has been there, even telling LeBron what he doesn’t want to hear which is why LeBron wants him around. He wants to hear things he doesn’t want to hear.
The league is confused about Paul because they cling to this outdated version of LeBron and his passive-aggressiveness which is true, and how he has cherry-picked the players he likes- also true- and erased the players that won’t help LeBron meet his goals- true again. But the problem with reflexive thinking is that you miss the point. Rich Paul is not an enabler to LeBron James wishes. He is way more dangerous to the league of rich white men than that. It is Rich Paul who is making the decisions and LeBron is following his lead.
This is the blueprint for discrediting black men’s accomplishments. Imply they lack the intelligence, or that they are unscrupulous, or they are incompetent. But business matters here. If Rich Paul loses money for certain players, it is within their right to leave and find new representation. The implication that Rich Paul is the only agent that loses money for some clients is fallacious reasoning.
Really, it’s not that deep. NBA agents work for NBA players and not the other way around. The role of the agent, like the late Henry Thomas, is to negotiate deals and to be father, brother, advisor. The agent has a point of view and exercises it in front of a willing audience. A lot of agents have powerful voices within a player’s inner circle and are trusted to make the best decision for the player. A lot of players are followers, or they give their agent equal share in the strategy. That, in a nutshell, is the Rich Paul-LeBron James story. They both need each other.
Last year when Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans, the Pelicans front office made a tactical decision not to play him. Vindictive and petty, they removed Davis from all the promotional and highlight reel videos. Not playing him was Pelicans justice, a reminder that they controlled him.
Rich Paul wasn’t having it and complained to the league office who told the Pelicans they had to play Davis (a new rule stating healthy players cannot sit out games) or get fined $100,000 per game. New Orleans is a small market. They couldn’t afford the $2 million it would cost them if Davis missed the rest of the season just because they wanted him to. And so they played him and Anthony Davis did Anthony Davis things.
Any good agent worth his salt would have notified the league office about the Pelicans plans. But at this point, Rich Paul is a mythical figure. Anything he does is seen through the prism of a hero or villain. He was blamed for the Pelicans having to play Davis. If Davis had gotten injured and his trade value plummeted Paul would have been blamed for that too.
Rich Paul’s business behavior has elevated him to a level of importance the NBA hates just because he has an impact on current players that the NBA establishment cannot prevent, or break apart. He is a formidable adversary who (mostly) does his work behind the scenes. Owners and other agents mocked him for not being able to get the Davis-Lakers deal done last January, but he has significant power in a league with billionaire owners. Underestimating him is a mistake.
He represents John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jordan Clarkson, Draymond Green, Montrezl Harrell, Jusuf Nurkic, Nerlens Noel, Tristan Thompson, and many others, along with LeBron James.
His 17-year relationship with LeBron that began because of Rich Paul hustle has thrived into a nearly billion-dollar enterprise. He paid his dues at CAA, bringing in new clients and negotiating deals, before starting Klutch Sports Group.
Back in the day, David Falk was hated but Falk was a lawyer, an insider who was an outsider who was an insider. Paul is a salesman who has made this career arc symptomatic of his aggressiveness, work ethic, and forward-thinking, not to mention business acumen.
His closest peer in the sports agent field (yes, the hated have company) is Scott Boras who advocates on behalf of major league baseball clients. Boras has all the big-time players and demands they are compensated at a rich rate. Same with Paul. He demands his players get what they deserve and he isn’t going to allow the Billionaire’s Boys Club or jealous agents to get in his way.