LeBron James is blamed for everything from collapsing Cleveland's economy to ruining David Stern's grand pursuit of NFL-like, leaguewide parity. Now, with his friend and agent Rich Paul embroiled in an NCAA investigation involving Myck Kabongo, a sophomore point guard for the University of Texas, LeBron haters have upped the ante. They want to stop "The King" once and for all.
The NCAA is "looking into the possibility," according to Yahoo! Sports sleuths Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde, that "Paul played a role in Kabongo" choosing to travel to Cleveland to work out with famed professional trainer, Jerry Powell. At question is who paid for Kabongo's travel and expenses and whether or not Powell provided his services for free.
Paul and Powell vehemently deny any wrongdoing relative to Kabongo's traveling to Cleveland or to the Texas guard working out with Powell.
So, what's all the hubbub? Texas was informed of the investigation and the proper parties at the university have spoken with NCAA investigators. Paul and Powell have spoken with the NCAA. It is believed that Kabongo has spoken with the NCAA. However, Wojnarowski and Forde describe the NCAA's investigation as, "wide ranging." From their report, the case seems fairly cut-and-dry. The question is, did Kabongo receive improper benefits or not?
NCAA Bylaw 12.3 deals with agent interaction with a "student-athlete." NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199.6 drills down on “preferential treatment":
Preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation.
Sure, defining "improper benefits" can be a difficult task; but it seems there's something more afoot. Remember, LeBron is involved. Maybe this isn’t really all about Kabongo.
Paul learned the craft of being an agent through an apprenticeship at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). CAA reps a who's who in the entertainment and sports industries – household names like Will Smith, Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney. On the sports side, the agency is home to folks like Beckham, Djokovic, Ronaldo, Tebow, Melo, Romo (one-name recognition guys) and NCAA Men's Basketball Champion head coach John Calipari.
CAA agents Leon Rose and William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley also represented LeBron James. That was until Paul felt he learned enough at CAA to start his own sports agency business (September of this year), Klutch Sports Management, and took James with him.
The moment Paul left CAA to do his own agent-thing, his first move was to sign his good friend, LeBron James. Incidentally, LA Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, and San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph also left CAA for Klutch and Rich Paul.
Athletes, for myriad reasons, sever ties with management companies. The bonus for Bledsoe, Thompson, and Joseph is that Paul, along with two more of LeBron’s close friends – Maverick Carter and Randy Mims – own LRMR Marketing Company.
Thompson and Joseph are former Texas Longhorns. Paul absconded from CAA, the most powerful talent agency in the world, to begin his own sports management company. He "stole" LeBron "King" James from CAA, "stole" three young NBA players with star potential, two of whom played at the University of Texas, and now another Longhorn - Myck Kabongo – appears to be under the mysterious spell of a suddenly powerful – and newly-minted, independent – sports agent, Rich Paul.
So, follow me here: A workout for potential NBA players occurs in Cleveland, former home of LeBron James. We know Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert promised his team would win an NBA Championship before James' new team, the Miami Heat. We also know the result of that promise. We all know about the national backlash James received for "The Decision." We know that James, once one of the most popular athletes in sports, overnight, became one of sports' most despised athletes.
What is not spoken of as often, but was, and is, a continuing point of contention with fans, NBA team owners, and competing sports management agencies is that LeBron – and, thus, LRMR Marketing (LeBron, Rich, Maverick, Randy) are growing into an unapologetic, destiny/destination-controlling juggernaut. LeBron’s peers – as we’ve seen with NBA stars, in particular, essentially forcing trades to preferred locales – are taking notes and cues.
Sports management companies and their agents, though, have turned their angry eyes to a new threat - the new conglomerate that is LRMR Marketing and Klutch Sports Management. There’s power, influence and money to protect. Surely it’s not beyond reason to suspect that there are parties willing to spin, what appears to be, a minor NCAA investigation into something more ominous than it seems.
LeBron James came into the NBA with the stated purpose of winning multiple NBA Championships. James also stated that he wanted to become a billionaire. That James has surrounded himself with his closest friends that also share his vision, and are, with James, making that vision real, is no accident. That James, at every turn, has sought to control his own finances and fought to maintain control of his own image, is a Grand Canyon-breadth departure from other superstar professional athletes in America.
With the track record of LRMR and the foundation established by Klutch, James is poised to be, not only one of the most influential NBA players, but one of the most important figures in all of sports… and perhaps beyond sports. For now, Klutch is poised to make big moves with college players that have their eyes on the NBA.
This new investigation by the NCAA might have Kabongo and Paul as its primary figures, but it might have ramifications that impact professional sports for decades.
The thought of James and his friends’ insurgency into, through, and potentially beyond their scope of business, is enough for some of sport’s "powers that be" to recoil in fear. With continued success by James and crew, who knows which athlete or group of athletes will be next to seek to solely and responsibly control their futures? Believe me, because James and his pals are all young men, the hope in some quarters is to stymie their success now. It’s either that or forever watch the game change.