CLEVELAND — LeBron James announced his change of agents with a hashtag announcement on Twitter — #THETAKEOVER.
Which leads to two questions:
_ Is this Step One Before “The Decision” Part II?
_ Who exactly is Rich Paul, who becomes LeBron’s third NBA agent, replacing Leon Rose, who replaced Aaron Goodwin.
Early this morning, word began to spread that the reigning MVP, Finals MVP and Olympic gold medalist would be joining Klutch Sports, a newly formed agency by his childhood friend, Paul.
The face of the league, James has seen his popularity and likability fluctuate greatly over the last two years with his decision to leave Cleveland and join the Miami Heat. While his decision did lead to a title, many around James say that he never anticipated the level of vitriol directed at him and was noticeably shaken by being among the most despised players in the NBA when he took his talents to South Beach. (Our man Sheridan predicted it on his May 14, 2010, back when he was at ESPN.com).
For his part, Paul has largely been above the fray during James’ trials and tribulations over the past two years.
A friend of James since he was at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Paul is one of the R’s in LRMR, James’ management and marketing group.
While others around James opted to be reliant on him for income and opportunities, Paul chose a different path.
Paul came from humble beginnings at Cleveland Benedictine, where he was a standout basketball player and played AAU locally. Several years older than James, Paul often has been a big brother to The King, giving him the most honest and thoughtful advice in his circle.
It was Paul who urged James to not go through with “The Decision” out of concern for the damage James might do to his brand and reputation. When Maverick Carter staged a coup to consolidate power in James’ decision-making circle, Paul left to join CAA and make his own path. While a debate can be held about the relative challenges of recruiting and representing players with CAA and LeBron James behind you, it became clear that Paul had a knack for player representation.
While many agents prefer to be flashy, Paul plays it more low-key.
In an industry that prefers to keep people at arm’s length, Paul is one of the most inclusive people you will meet. It is not uncommon after Cavaliers games – where Paul is most frequently seen – for Paul to round up a group to join him for dinner afterward in Cleveland’s trendy warehouse district. Unlike many people in James’ circle that find it difficult to be punctual, Paul is the exception, arriving on time or early to most meetings and events and often in suits or business clothes as opposed to sweats.
On the night of “The Decision,” when most of James’ circle and handlers were busy with the production side and other image-related concerns, it was Paul who contacted the Cavaliers and owner Dan Gilbert to inform them that James would be leaving for the Heat.
Sources in Cleveland say that Paul always was and has been the most respected member of James’ circle, and that his conduct that night further endeared him to Gilbert and the Cavs. While Gilbert’s late night e-mail rant was vindictive, he never cut off Paul – and that was evidenced when the Cavs selected Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft over Jonas Valanciunas. Interestingly, Valanciunas is repped by Rose, while Thompson was repped by Paul.
During the 2012 draft, much speculation centered on the Cavs targeting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, another Paul client.
Since joining CAA, Paul has been its lead recruiter and a promising agent who has handled Thompson, Kidd-Gilchrist and Eric Bledsoe, among others. While most of the agents at CAA are older, it is Paul who has the uncanny ability to relate to college kids and steer them toward his agency.
Paul also is very tight with Chris Paul, a free agent next summer. Ask most NBA executives and their circles about Paul, and it is nearly unanimous with words of praise for him as a savvy businessman and heady agent who keeps positive relationships with everyone from owners to security personnel.
Another thing commonly said about Paul is how low of a profile he keeps. Paul often sits near center court but rarely is noticed and never makes obscene gestures or animated statements towards opposing teams or players, unlike other members of James’ circle.
While Paul’s new venture is just beginning, there is no doubt he is well on his way to building a successful stable. Moreover, with the summer of 2014 looming large for many NBA teams, – and considering James, with an ETO in 2014 and an opt-out in 2015, could headline an outstanding free agent class – Paul will be in great position to get a max long-term deal for his friend.
While James’ decision is two years old, Paul has urged many in Cleveland and around the NBA not to rule out a return to the Cavaliers for LeBron.
Paul, who lives in the Cleveland suburbs, has long said that a reunion can happen.
While many in Cleveland still resent the very idea of a return of The King to northeastern Ohio, it is not completely out of the question.
Especially now, after #THETAKEOVER.
Joe Kotoch is the editor of ProBasketballDraft.com and a frequent contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His Mock Draft on the day of the 2012 draft was more accurate than those of anyone in the mainstream media.