Over a decade ago, LeBron James caused a seismic shift in the NBA landscape for years to come and did so in a nutshell.
“I’m going to bring my talents to South Beach,” he said, ushering in what is now the era of player empowerment.
A current NBA general manager called it “the worst thing that has ever happened to professional sport at any level” in an interview with The New Yorker This year.
This prospect, however, ignores the overwhelmingly positive impact of the move, which has given black NBA players a bigger voice in the league.
James described the televised press conference announcing his move from Cleveland to Miami as a pivotal moment in the player empowerment movement.
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“I’m happy that I was able to fall on the sword for the rest of these athletes, men and women, to be able to feel empowered,” he said. The New Yorker.
While James may have been the public face of the movement, behind the scenes there was another man at the heart of it – the same key figure who now holds the key to the Ben Simmons business saga.
Since meeting James in 2002 at Akron-Canton Airport, Rich Paul has established himself as one of the most powerful men in the league.
At the time, Paul was only 21 years old.
He is now the head of Klutch Sports Group and has built an empire, negotiating nearly $ 2 billion (A $ 2.7 billion) in transactions for his clients.
James is the biggest name in a long list of players managed by Klutch, including Anthony Davis, Trae Young and Simmons.
The 25-year-old wants to leave Philadelphia and the Sixers don’t see a future with Simmons either – but neither side has come to an agreement.
Neither seems to have any influence in this situation, but in Paul, Simmons has the most powerful agent in the sport.
This explains why the same Simmons who missed a wide open dunk against the Atlanta Hawks feels confident enough not to show up to training camp.
Take Simmons who allegedly requested that he be traded to one of the three Californian teams, it is “not a coincidence” because The ring Rob Mahoney explained.
“The influence is real,” he said on “The Ringer NBA Show”.
“We’re talking about Ben Simmons wanting to go to all three California teams. It’s no coincidence that the Lakers have huge ties to Klutch, Eric Bledsoe now a Clipper, you have Draymond, I think Moses Moody is represented by Klutch in the Warriors.
“These are teams with established relationships with this agency.”
With Paul by his side, Simmons can hold the Sixers hostage until he gets what he wants.
“He is absolutely relentless in getting his players what they want, and he will use any means at his disposal to do so,” said an NBA general manager. The New Yorker from Paul.
This includes using current client Tyrese Maxey as a pawn in his game of chess with the Sixers, according to NBA reporter Jason Dumas.
Dumas claimed Paul wanted Maxey to leave Philadelphia and that the 20-year-old would be removed from community events to clarify his point.
He then made it clear in a follow-up tweet that Paul did not want Maxey to leave Philadelphia, further clouding the situation with claims elsewhere that it was a threat and nothing more.
What he reiterated, however, was the need for the Sixers to be cautious with Paul or risk damaging their relationship with him and, by extension, future players they could pursue in free agency.
For now, the Sixers are remaining patient and not backing down on their offer for a James Harden-style package in exchange for Simmons.
It’s the right approach, but one that might not end in a quick resolution if Paul’s story is something to do.
Take Davis’ business saga in 2019, when the current Los Angeles Lakers star and Paul went public with their demands in the hopes that he would be transferred before the February deadline.
Broadcasting their dirty laundry in public put immediate pressure on New Orleans, but the Pelicans, like the Sixers, refused to accept any low offer despite their weak influence.
In the end, they waited until June, when the saga ended and the Pelicans landed one of the biggest commercial packages in NBA history.
Paul is revolutionizing the game and that means his failures are just as scrutinized as his successes are celebrated.
“It’s an agency that we talk about, for better or for worse, people talk about what Klutch does in a way that people weren’t talking about Happy Walters or Dan Fegan,” Mahoney said on ‘ The Ringer NBA Show ‘.
“It’s a different level of visibility.
The 39-year-old has a reputation for getting results but it doesn’t always work, as it does with Nerlens Noel.
He made one of the worst financial decisions in recent NBA history when he turned down a $ 70 million (AU $ 95 million) contract offer from the Dallas Mavericks in 2017.
A thumb injury gave Noel little hope of proving himself in free agency and he ended up returning to Dallas on a one-year contract at $ 4.1million (AU $ 5.6million) .
Now he’s suing Paul for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and negligence.
Paul’s scrutiny also has as much to do with factors beyond his control.
“The burden Rich faces is for people to question his legitimacy,” ESPN journalist Brian Windhorst said The New Yorker.
“They want to delegitimize him because of his race, because of his lack of education.”
The NCAA even created a new rule prohibiting agents from representing college athletes unless they have a college degree.
It came after Paul helped client Darius Bazley land an internship at New Balance, seeing him choose not to attend Syracuse and prepare himself for the NBA Draft.
“It’s not something you go to school for” ESPN Bomani Jones said The New Yorker.
“It’s the kind of thing you just picked up along the way, and it [Paul] has this determination and this fundamental and innate understanding of leverage.
While Paul has been celebrated for his role in empowering black NBA athletes, Sixers legend Charles Barkley believes Klutch Sports has gone too far.
“You know how this band works,” Barkley said on ‘The Mike Missanelli Show’.
“They try to trade their players where they want. They do it however they want.
“Anthony Davis – they had better Boston offers for Anthony Davis, and I think maybe even New York, and they’re like, ‘No, he’s going to go to LA and play with LeBron. He won’t play.
“They only intimidate the league. At some point, a team or the league must stand up to [him and say], ‘Wait a minute. I paid your guy. You can’t intimidate me into trading and bringing in garbage. So I hope someone in the Sixers organization got some stones.
Paul is just doing his job while Simmons follows his lead.
As The Philadelphia Investigator Mike Sielski once said: “Ben Simmons doesn’t play or work for the 76ers first and foremost … Simmons is a member of Klutch Sports’ starting five, and his real coach / GM is Rich Paul. “.
It’s a reality the Sixers are quickly starting to come to terms with, and a power struggle that is far from over.