Just six days before the deadline, Rich Paul, LeBron James’ agent, notified the Miami Heat that James will exercise his early termination option and become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Paul played a big part in LeBron’s move back to Cleveland, along with almost all of his other decisions.
James eventually decided to leave the the Miami Heat. The four-time NBA MVP opted out of the remaining two years of his contract that had him making $20 million next season and close to $42.7 million for the remainder of the contract.
Here’s what you need to know about his agent:
1. He Met LeBron Because of the Jersey He Was Wearing
King James came into the spotlight when he was just a junior in high school. At the age of 17, he met Paul, who became his best friend and most trusted business associate.
While on the way to the 2002 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, James was rocking a replica Michael Vick Falcons jersey to get in the spirit. Paul, who was 21 at the time, happened to be in the same gate as James, donning an authentic Warren Moon jersey. James decided to ask Paul where he got the jersey, and Paul responded that he was selling them out of the trunk of his car.
James bought and authentic Joe Namath Rams jersey and the duo have been attached at the hip ever since.
Both men grew up in rough situations in Ohio. Paul, from Cleveland, and James, from Akron, were both raised by single mothers who struggled to put food on the table, but were able to attend mostly white Catholic high schools in order to pursue basketball. James and Paul also had the same mindset toward school.
Paul told ESPN their motto during school:
We used to say, There’s nothing cool about being a dummy.”
So naturally, as soon as James was drafted, he deposited money into Paul’s account as his first two weeks pay, courtesy of King James Inc.
James said of Paul:
I just felt like Rich was someone I wanted to grow with. He’d always kept it real with me, and I wanted him to be down with my team.”
2. Paul Started Klutch Sports Group
Paul is known to be a trail blazer in the agency business. He is one of the few agents to leave a “superagency” and succeed at running his own agency.
Paul has managed to attain representation of a few of the best players in sports along with James.
According to DraftExpress.com, the future known guaranteed salary for Paul clients is just shy of $70 million, in addition to a little more than $6 million in non-guaranteed money.
3. He is a Major Threat to Every ‘Superagency’
Agents live in a constant state of paranoia as they wonder about future lottery picks and clients leaving to join other agencies.
Paul is considered a pioneer after leaving Leon Rose and Creative Artists Agency in order to start his own company. Other agents had made similar moves in the past, but none brought along clients with anything near James’ profile.
Luchey later said:
The fact that the largest icon in the sport today has an agent from a boutique firm kills every myth these large agencies have been standing on. There’s trembling throughout the industry, and that’s why some people are taking shots at Rich.”
4. Paul Didn’t Graduate From College
Although Paul took college courses at both Cleveland State and Akron, he doesn’t have a college degree. According to the NBA Players’ union, more than 10 agents representing players did not receive a college degree by the time they were certified. But other agents have criticized Paul for his lack of a degree.
According to ESPN, critics have said:
He didn’t graduate from college, so how’d he get certified?”
How’s he going to walk into a Fortune 500 sports-brand company and negotiate a deal? You can’t give a dentist a scalpel and say, Go do heart surgery.”
But Paul is no dummy.
A longtime GM who previously did business with Paul told ESPN:
There are very few agents who are truly sophisticated school-taught lawyers who understand everything about contract law. There’s no specific training to be an agent. Most of the smart ones are more marketing guys than anything else. Is Rich sophisticated enough? Well, he’s sophisticated enough that he has LeBron.”
Paul has developed a reputation for quickly building close relationships. His former mentor, Leon Rose saw Paul’s potential when he was sent to recruit for Rose’s agency and predicted that he would leave the agency and start his own.
Paul was heavily involved in relations at Rose’s firm and said:
I had great teaching. Working with Nike and at CAA, that’s the equivalent of going to Michigan Law School and to MIT.”
5. He Helped to Persuade Lebron to Go Back to Cleveland
Before Lebron signed with the Cavs, multiple teams met in person with his agent while Lebron was attending the World Cup. As a Cleveland native, Paul told sources of RealGM Basketball that his goal is to get Lebron to sign with Cleveland and has been telling the Cavs to invest heavily in recruiting Lebron. His reasoning worked.
Robert Sarver, owner of the Suns, met with Paul in order to try and convince Paul of Lebron’s opportunities in Phoenix by telling Paul of his intentions to sign Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh as well.