LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons, John Wall and Draymond Green. Those are just five of the 20 NBA athletes represented by Rich Paul, arguably the most powerful agent in sports and head of Klutch Sports Group, which he founded.
Yes, Paul is one of LeBron James’ closest friends and James was Paul’s first client. But Klutch is much more than James. Whether you like how it was handled or not, Paul managed to get Anthony Davis traded exactly where he wanted. Other teams besides the Lakers were interested, but Paul made it clear: "If you trade for him, he will honor the contract and play it out, but he will enter free agency in 2020, so don’t be mad at me if you give up all your young talent. I told you we were leaving." That’s a bold and audacious move from an agent only seven years in the game. But everything about innovation and changing the status quo is bold and audacious.
Take away James and every other all-star on his client roster and Paul has $70 million-plus in guaranteed salary this season for players like Eric Bledsoe, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson and Darius Garland. Whether you have a college degree or not, you do understand basic math, right? That’s a lot of money in salary for players whom the casual NBA fan probably has never heard of.
Paul gets his clients paid. He understands leverage and knows how to use it. There has never been, in times past, or now, or in the future, any course that teaches you how to maximize leverage and identify inefficiencies that only your skill set can solve. Take a look through your alma mater’s college course catalog and point me to the course on that. I’ll wait…
Sure, there are business classes on contract negotiations, etc., but Paul neither needed nor saw any value in that. He is a born entrepreneur, understands leverage, learned the ropes of being an NBA agent and, with the best basketball player in the world as his first client, he found his own lane.
Why does any of this matter?
Earlier this week, CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein reported that the NCAA has officially added criteria for agents who wish to represent student athletes testing the waters for the NBA draft. Among the added criteria agents must possess: a bachelor’s degree, be certified with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) for a minimum of three years, take an in-person exam at the NCAA offices in Indianapolis and show seven years of address history.
The one that jumps out of course is having to possess a college degree. To a lesser extent seven years of address history also sounds and smells like something… but we digress. What does a college degree prove in the case of someone wanting to be an NBA agent? Does a college degree give you clairvoyance in analyzing the NBA draft landscape? Does it give you the foundation for understanding the draft lottery slots? Surely, a college degree means you are an ethical businessperson, right? It doesn’t.
Paul, as you know, has managed to start Klutch and sign 20 athletes to contracts totaling over $200 million for this upcoming season, all without having a college degree and while being Black. Some might say that’s an incredible feat of entrepreneurship. But others, like the NCAA, see it differently.
The NCAA is a cartel in the business of creating wealth for itself and its member institutions (colleges and universities) off the backs of unpaid labor; mostly Black and Brown labor, as football and basketball are the only revenue-generating sports, and the athletes that participate are, by and large, Black and Brown.
With the NBA’s one-and-done rule going away, the NCAA is poised to lose top-end prep talent (read: free labor that translates to money) that will go straight to the league. Couple that with college players being allowed to test the NBA draft waters and head back to school if their draft stock isn’t too favorable and the NCAA saw a problem on the horizon and corrected it the only way they know how: more rules and regulations under the guise of “protecting the student athlete,” when in actuality they are rooted in the same plantation mentality that began collegiate athletics.
All this rule does is limit the type of “non-traditional” visionaries like Paul, who see an opportunity to build and create a business (read: wealth).
Critics of the additional criteria cite this as “The Rich Paul Rule.” Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and multiple-time all-star Chris Paul tweeted the following:
Ex-NBA player Matt Barnes sees the racial element and tweeted:
LeBron himself took to Twitter and offered up the following:
To be fair, this isn’t about Rich Paul, as much as it is about the next Rich Paul. The NCAA is trying like crazy to restrict access, a common ploy by those in power looking to remain in control and keep certain people out.
The so-called added criteria is the NCAA’s slave-owner mentality rearing its hood-cloaked head yet again. They want to control individuals who are not workers and not entitled to pay, per their bylaws. To what end? To ensure that their mainly white male, highly compensated coaches can maintain control of players.
The NCAA is full of it, this isn’t about protecting vulnerable athletes from predatory agents or any other spin they’ll put out over the coming days and weeks. Collegiate hockey and baseball players can get drafted by professional franchises and if they don’t like where they get drafted, they can keep their eligibility and play collegiately. Swimmers and other Olympic athletes can earn money for winning medals and still come back to school and be an “amateur.” Anyone want to guess the difference between those sports and basketball?
Again, this rule won’t impact Paul. He runs Klutch and represents some of the best players in the world. He will always be able to land top-flight prep ballers. But Paul serves as a beacon of hope for other young men and women who don’t see college as the path for themselves but they have the business acumen, chops and drive to succeed. However, they won’t be afforded that opportunity because they don’t possess a degree that, in all likelihood, won’t help in the pursuit of said dreams.
America loves to champion the industrious entrepreneur, the man or woman who “makes it” despite the odds. Certain leaders implore certain segments of the country to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” If you keep creating arbitrary impediments, how can people “make it”? It’s hard for someone to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” when they don’t even have boots, and when they get them, the straps are taken away.
Wait. You can hear them now. The new criteria was adopted by recommendation of The Commission, and that group includes: Condoleezza Rice, Grant Hill, David Robinson and John Thompson. They voted to get rid of the “one and done.” How can the additional criteria be seen as anything other than “protecting the student athlete”? That’s our organization’s history.
New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb, in a piece this week on American White Supremacy and the tragedy in El Paso, described history like this:
History, we’re told, repeats itself. But this phrasing has always troubled me, as if we are beholden to an inanimate application designed to produce similar situations again and again. A more precise assessment is that people respond in familiar ways to the same dynamics across time. There is no law mandating that our futures bear some familial resemblance to the worst of our present. Humans may learn from history. But we’ll invariably find ourselves locked in conflict with dangerous men intoxicated with their own sense of mission, and drunkenly believing that the only problem with the past is that we ever departed from it at all.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)