Lebron James is one of the two marquee players in basketball today: perhaps only Kobe Bryant is bigger, considering his longer tenure and multiple championships in the NBA. But without doubt, Lebron James is almost as big, and unlike Kobe, he plans to extend his influence in basketball to something bigger than championships: Lebron plans to involve himself heavily in the money that the game is really all about. Lebron has friends, and some say that his cohorts are among the most powerful men in sports.
Start by meeting World Wide Wes – a figure that’s in the limelight of basketball, yet someone who remains in the shadows in the minds of the fans. If you haven’t read this GQ article on William Wesley, you should get to know him – if you can, so elusive is he – in a great profile in GQ Magazine:
“At any given time, if you look at any sporting event, there’s a very good chance you’re going to see Wes,” says NBA analyst David Aldridge. Over the years, Wes has been spotted hugging Jerry Jones on the field after a Cowboys Super Bowl win, high-fiving University of Miami football players after a national championship win, and embracing Joe Dumars after the Pistons won the NBA Finals. He’s been spotted sitting next to Jay-Z at the NBA All-Star Game, with Nike czar Phil Knight at the Final Four, and trolling the sidelines of Team USA practices in Las Vegas and Japan. “People who really know Wes,” says superagent David Falk, Wes’s longtime friend, “know that he’s one of the two or three most powerful people in the sport.”
In his March 2005 ESPN “Page 2” column, the well-known basketball writer Scoop Jackson wrote, “I believe Phil Knight is the most powerful man in sports next to Wes Wesley.” Eight months after Jackson’s column, New Jersey-based basketball journalist Henry Abbott mounted an obsessive open-source investigation on his blog, TrueHoop, that brilliantly illustrated how, if you look closely at the various forces at work in basketball at every level of the sport—the AAU programs that funnel players to college programs, the agents looking to land players as early as NBA rules allow, the shoe companies, coaches, franchise owners, front-office executives, players—it eventually dawns on you that they have one thing in common: William Wesley.
Lebron as you probably already know has started a sports agency, LRMR Marketing. Working with James in the startup of this agency is – you guessed it – World Wide Wes. And of course, LRMR ties into John Calipari and ultimately, NC State’s basketball fortunes.
James has harbored hopes of controlling elements of basketball’s commerce and that’s the reason he’s spent more than a year pursuing the next big star, the University of Kentucky’s John Wall.
James befriended Wall at his All-American camp as a high school senior, traveled to campus to watch him play and even enlisted rapper Drake to woo Wall to LRMR, James’ fledgling marketing company.
Now, multiple NBA, agent and sneaker industry sources say Wall is close to partnering with the firm. As the projected No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, perhaps the most-hyped pro prospect since James himself, Wall will have his marketing and endorsements guided with the perks of a partnership with the globe’s biggest basketball star.
James’ childhood friend, Maverick Carter, is the CEO of LRMR and responsible for running his management company. Carter’s had a consistent presence with Wall’s AAU coach and surrogate, Brian Clifton, for months, and Clifton offered nothing to dispute the word of sources who say James and Wall are going into business together.
That’s Brian Clifton of the Clifton Brothers. The same Clifton who “advised” John Wall, the same one who’s described as
To some, brothers Brian and Dwon Clifton epitomize the seedy side of the game, where men befriend a potential prospect at a young age, take on the role of “adviser” during the recruiting process and then try to steer the player to a certain school – often for their own monetary benefit.
Statements like those are not uncommon about the Clifton brothers, men who seemingly operate in the hidden cesspool that is the dark world of real college recruiting. While the NCAA turns a blind eye in order to preserve its multi-billion dollar cash cow, some men, and some say the Cliftons, help farm out young incoming talent to college teams, for fun and profit. And now, they are apparently extending into the NBA.
So how does all of this affect NC State basketball? Plenty, if you put the pieces together logically.
Keep in mind that Sidney Lowe recruited John Wall for years — a local kid who was destined to be the first pick when he entered the NBA draft, a player in high school that could have been the starting point guard on any college team in the country – in his junior or senior year of high school. Wall liked Lowe, it was said, and for quite a long time, State improbably remained on the list of teams that Wall was considering.
Enter Lebron James, who befriended Wall during his time at Word of God, who in turn gave Wall glowing recommendations about his other friend, John Calipari. On the fringes was World Wide Wes, possibly pulling the strings for the whole deal. Brian Clifton, on the other hand, supposedly recommended to Wall that he NOT go to Kentucky — but it was Kentucky that would land Wall for his single year of college. Now Clifton is involved with LRMR, James’ fledgling sports agency, and the circle is complete despite the old stories of his recommendations against Calipari, Kentucky, Lebron James and, of course, World Wide Wes. Wearing Lebron’s new shoe, all the while:
Lebron James spent his off day Saturday afternoon sitting courtside at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY with his good buddy/advisor William Wesley, aka World Wide Wes, watching Lebron’s “friend,” John Wall and the Kentucky Wildcats crush the Vanderbilt Commodores 85-72.
Lebron was the “Y” in the celebratory “Kentucky” cheer on the floor in front of over 23,000 adoring fans. They adore Lebron all of a sudden because the man they now treat as a God, Calipari, says so. His Cats debuted the brand new Lebron shoe on Saturday, which they of course all loved. Lebron has also been seen plenty wearing Kentucky Basketball gear, completely out of nowhere this year.
Now, rumors are circling in a number of NBA cities that free agent Lebron James and John Calipari may be a package deal. One has to wonder if Wall will be far behind:
League sources said Sunday that noted NBA power broker William Wesley continues to work back channels to sell John Calipari and James as a package deal to franchises such as the Bulls, Nets and Clippers with coaching vacancies and salary cap room.
Another league source confirmed that an unknown Calipari connection contacted Bulls management over the weekend. This not only once again renders the coach’s vows to remain at Kentucky hollow, it underscores the juggling act general manager Gar Forman and senior vice president John Paxson must navigate as they tackle a coaching search while planning for free agency, which begins July 1.
For his part, Calipari swears via Twitter he’s returning to Kentucky:
“I want to address this with the Big Blue Nation one last time, I will be coaching at Kentucky next year,” he wrote. “Now let’s finish what we started!”
Increasingly, respectable sources are saying otherwise: that Cal is closer to going to the NBA than returning to Kentucky.
To which, Cal says (again via his Twitter account)
Nothing of significance is done alone!!. hear my audio tweet: 888-659-7863
Yet the rumors persist, and according to some, Calipari is hardly a man of integrity. Bob Knight said this year
“You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky [John Calipari], who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.”
Bob Knight may be many things – a man with a legendary bad temper, one whose idea of disipline ran afoul of his school but one thing that cannot be said about Knight is that he cheated in recruiting or in his players’ scholastics, or for that matter, that he is ever reticent to give an honest opinion.
If the package deal comes to pass, James may become the greatest player in the history of basketball, all without winning a college or – so far – NBA title. He may become bigger than the team owners, because with his friend’s help, James may “own” the sport by representing players, coaches, shoes and more, not the least of which are his own incredible skills. His influence has already affected a number of college teams, NC State included, and if he succeeds in selling his services and those of his friend John Calipari, he will affect the fortunes of the pro ranks equally as well. With a willing owner’s money, James and Calipari can count on their friend World Wide Wes to help them get the talent they need to assemble the players they want. That group will effectively be a corporation, not so much a team.
Taken holistically, this situation recalls a quote from Shakespeare:
“There’s something rotten in Denmark.” (Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 87–91)