September 13, 2012
By Joe Kotoch
Late into the night word began to spread that reigning MVP, Finals MVP, and Gold Medalist LeBron James had terminated his agent Leon Rose of CAA and would be joining Klutch Sports, a newly formed agency by Rich Paul. James, the face of the league, has seen his popularity and likeability 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 that was directed at him and was noticeably shaken being among the most despised players in the NBA when he arrived to South Beach.
For his part, Paul has largely been above the fray. A friend of James since he was at St. Vincent-St. Mary's 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. 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 made about the challenges of recruiting and representing players with CAA and LeBron James behind you it became clear that Paul had a knack for player representation.
On the night of the decision when most of James' circle and handlers were busy with the production side and other image related concerns due to 'The Decision' it was Paul, who contacted the Cleveland Cavaliers and owner Dan Gilbert to inform them that James would be leaving for the Heat. Sources in Cleveland say that Paul always 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 email rant made many promises he never cut off Paul and that was evidenced when the Cavs selected Tristan Thompson, 4th overall, in the 2011 NBA Draft over Jonas Valanciunas. Ironically, Valanciunas is repped by Leon Rose while Thompson was repped by Paul.
Since joining CAA, Paul has been their lead recruiter and a promising agent, who has handled Thompson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Eric Bledsoe, among others. Paul also is very tight with Chris Paul, a 2014 free agent. Ask most NBA executives and their circles about Paul and it is nearly unanimous in praising Paul as a savvy businessman and heady agent, who keeps positive relationships with owners to security personnel. Another thing that is commonly said about Paul is how low of a profile he keeps. Often times Paul 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 venture. Moreover, with the summer of 2014 looming large for many NBA teams, considering James is likely to 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 Cleveland for LeBron. While many in Cleveland still resent Cleveland a return of the King to northeastern Ohio would likely repair much of the damage. Many skeptics, including myself, have doubted that James would return in 2014 this recent developed goes a long way toward making that happen.