Rich Paul, the founder of Klutch Sports and the representative of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Portland Trail Blazers’ own Jusuf Nurkic, detailed his approach to player empowerment in a recent piece by Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker that examined his own rise to power within the league. To Paul, empowering his clients is a key priority.
“You are always going to have people that are not going to agree with something that you do, but at the end of the day they can’t stop you, and can’t stop your path, and can’t stop your journey. I am 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.”
However, as Chotiner notes, that player empowerment is “inextricably linked to race” in a league such as the NBA, where the players are predominantly Black. That empowerment, he notes, can have disadvantages for players as well.
But player empowerment has downsides. In a league of thirty teams, superstars cluster in New York and Los Angeles, as well as a few other big markets—Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco—making it more difficult for teams in other cities to compete. “Player empowerment is a catchall for the fact that the league has done a terrible job of empowering teams,” a current N.B.A. general manager told me. “The players have all of the leverage in every situation. I think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to professional sports on all levels.” Bomani Jones, a sports journalist with ESPN, framed the issue differently: “The N.B.A. has a problem, which is it’s got some bad real estate. They put a lot of teams in places that young Black men don’t necessarily want to live.”
While racism is everywhere, there are certainly markets within the league where it is more rampant than others.
Paul notes in the piece that he only represents one white player, Jusuf Nurkic, while discussing what it means to represent Black athletes.
During our conversations, Paul kept returning to how the Black community viewed his role. “We’re going from us feeling like, when you come in a room, if you see more Black people in the room, you’re in the wrong room. No, you’re in the right room. That mentality years ago, we have to change that,” he said.
Draymond Green, an all-star forward for the Golden State Warriors and a Klutch client, told me he agreed with Paul’s assessment: “There was always kind of this thought that, for African-American players, the best-fitting person to represent us wasn’t one of ours.”
At the same time, Paul said, “It’s very difficult for me to represent a white player.” I expressed surprise that this was the case.
“It just is. Look around. There’s very few,” he said. “I represent a player from Bosnia. But, again, he’s international. He looks at it different.”
Paul concludes by stating that white players don’t want a Black agent due to the racist history of the United States.
There is no doubt that agents like Rich Paul have helped contribute to the continued evolution of the league. Player empowerment allows for the league to lean into social justice initiatives driven by its players, and while there are certainly downsides, the balance is shifting.
You can read the entire piece here.