Though the only people protected are the millionaire coaches and programs.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons, John Wall and Draymond Green. Those are just five of the twenty NBA athletes represented by Rich Paul, arguably the most powerful agent in sports and head of Klutch Sports Group; which he founded.
Yes, Paul is one of Lebron James’ closest friends and James was Paul’s first client. But Klutch is much more than James. Whether you like how it was handled or not, Paul managed to get Anthony Davis traded exactly where he wanted. Other teams besides the Lakers were interested, but Paul made it clear. If you trade for us, we will honor the contract and play it out. But we will enter free agency in 2020, so don’t be mad at me, if you give up all your young talent. We told you, we were leaving. That’s a bold and audacious move from an agent only seven years in the game. But everything about innovation and changing the status quo is bold and audacious.
Take away James and every other all star on his client roster and Paul has $70M plus in guaranteed salary this season for players like Eric Bledsoe, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson and Darius Garland. Whether you have a college degree or not, you do understand basic math right? That’s a lot of money in salary for players who the casual NBA fan probably has never heard of.
Paul gets his clients paid. He understands leverage and knows how to use it. There has never been in times past, or are now, or will be in the future any course that teaches you how to maximize leverage and identify inefficiencies that only your skillset can solve. Take a look through your alma mater’s college course catalog and point me to the course on that. I’ll wait…
Sure, there are business classes on contract negotiations etc but Paul neither needed or saw any value in that. He is a born entrepreneur, understands leverage, learned the ropes of being an NBA agent and with the best basketball player in the world as his first client he found his own lane.
Why does any of this matter?
Earlier this week, CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein reported that the NCAA has officially added criteria for agents who wish to represent student athletes testing the waters for the NBA Draft. Among the added criteria agents must possess: a bachelor’s degree, be certified with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) for a minimum of three years, take an in-person exam at the NCAA offices in Indianapolis, and show seven years of address history.
The one that jumps out of course is having to possess a college degree. To a lesser extent 7 years of address history also sounds and smells like something…but we digress. What does a college degree prove in the case of someone wanting to be an NBA agent? Does a college degree give you clairvoyance in analyzing the NBA draft landscape? Does it give you the foundation for understanding the draft lottery slots? Surely, a college degree means you are an ethical businessperson, right? It doesn’t.
Paul, as you know, has managed to start Klutch and sign twenty athletes to contracts totaling over $200M for this upcoming season, all without having a college degree and while being Black.. Some might say that’s an incredible feat of entrepreneurship. But others, like the NCAA, see it differently.
The NCAA is a cartel in the business of creating wealth for itself and its member institutions (colleges and universities) off the backs of unpaid labor. Mostly Black and Brown labor as football and basketball are the only revenue generating sports, and the athletes that participate are, by and large, Black and Brown.
With the NBA’s one and done rule going away, the NCAA is poised to lose top-end prep talent (read: free labor that translates to money) that will go straight to the league. Couple that with college players being allowed to test the NBA draft waters and head back to school if their draft stock isn’t too favorable and the NCAA saw a problem on the horizon and corrected it the only way they know how. More rules and regulations under the guise of “protecting the student athlete”, when in actuality they are rooted in the same plantation mentality that began collegiate athletics.
All this rule does is limit the type of “non traditional” visionaries like Paul who see an opportunity to build and create a business (read: wealth).
Critics of the additional criteria cite this as “The Rich Paul Rule.” Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and multiple time all-star Chris Paul tweeted the following:
Ex-NBA player Matt Barnes, sees the racial element and tweeted:
LeBron himself took to Twitter and offered up the following:
To be fair, this isn’t about Rich Paul, as much as it is about the next Rich Paul. The NCAA is trying like crazy to restrict access. A common ploy by those in power looking to remain in control and keep certain people out.
The so-called added criteria is the NCAA’s slave owner mentality rearing its hood cloaked head yet again. They want to control individuals who are not workers and not entitled to pay, per their bylaws. To what end? To ensure that their mainly white male, highly compensated coaches can maintain control of players.
The NCAA is full of it, this isn’t about protecting vulnerable athletes from predatory agents or any other spin they’ll put out over the coming days and weeks. Collegiate hockey and baseball players can get drafted by professional franchises and if they don’t like where they get drafted, they can keep their eligibility and play collegiately. Swimmers and other Olympic athletes can earn money for winning medals and still come back to school and be an “amateur”. Anyone want to guess the difference between those sports and basketball?
Again, this rule won’t impact Paul. He runs Klutch and represents some of the best players in the world. He will always be able to land top flight prep ballers. But Paul serves as a beacon of hope for another young man or woman who doesn’t see college as the path for them. But they have the business acumen, chops, and drive to succeed. However, they won’t be afforded that opportunity because they don’t possess a degree that in all likelihood won’t help in the pursuit of said dreams.
America loves to champion the industrious entrepreneur, the man or woman who “makes it” despite the odds. Certain leaders implore certain segments of the country to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. If you keep creating arbitrary impediments, how can people “make it”? It’s hard for someone to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” when they don’t even have boots and when they get them, the straps are taken away.
Wait. You can hear them now. The new criteria was adopted by recommendation of The Commission, and that group includes: Condoleezza Rice, Grant Hill, David Robinson, and John Thompson. They voted to get rid of the “one and done”. How can the additional criteria be seen as anything other than “protecting the student athlete”? That’s our organization’s history.
New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb in a piece this week on American White Supremacy and the tragedy in El Paso described history like this:
History, we’re told, repeats itself. But this phrasing has always troubled me, as if we are beholden to an inanimate application designed to produce similar situations again and again. A more precise assessment is that people respond in familiar ways to the same dynamics across time. There is no law mandating that our futures bear some familial resemblance to the worst of our present. Humans may learn from history. But we’ll invariably find ourselves locked in conflict with dangerous men intoxicated with their own sense of mission, and drunkenly believing that the only problem with the past is that we ever departed from it at all.
Will the record-breaking, history-making, Black swim star be the face of the 2020 Olympics?
“Strange faces” in familiar places. That’s the feeling many people have when watching athletes of color dominate sports that are viewed as white. Think Olympic sports like golf, gymnastics, swimming and tennis.
There are of course reasons for these feelings. Three of the four are often called “country club” sports. That descriptor brings all types of baggage and connotations. Country clubs since their inception have social and economic barriers designed to keep certain people out, often framed as exclusivity. But we’ll focus specifically on the economics for the purpose of this endeavor.
Golf, swimming and tennis are highly specialized individual sports that require access to facilities (costly) and the highest level of private or group coaching, also very costly. The other - gymnastics - also has a reputation for being quite expensive. On the conservative side the monthly fees for a competitive gymnast can range from $500-$700.
Economics have long been a barrier for athletes of color to enter into these highly specialized sports. According to a report from the Aspen Institute, kids from low-income families participate in youth sports at almost half the rate of affluent families. Shocking, right?...
If we define a household income of $100,000 as affluent - though that math seems hard, particularly if you live in certain parts of the country - we are already limiting the population set.
Look at any data set for household income in the United States and the reality is white households making $100,000 in annual income exceed those of Black households. Both in numbers and percentage.
It’s difficult to find funds for these costly sports when the majority of your income goes to basic necessities like food and shelter. So by and large throughout history they have been dominated mainly by white athletes. Though, when given the chance, even with low overall participation numbers in comparison, Black athletes can come out on top.
That is part of the baggage that comes with these specific sports and notions of identity and belonging. For some, when the star Olympic athletes in historically white sports stop looking like those from yesteryear it can conflict with their ideals of nationalism and pride in one’s country. How does the mainstream reconcile those feelings and beliefs that a sport belongs to “them,” with the reality of Black excellence?
The 2019 FINA Swimming World Championships concluded earlier this week, and Simone Manuel became the first American to sweep the 50 and 100 meter sprint freestyle events. You may remember Manuel as one of the breakout stars of the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She stunned the swimming world by winning gold in the 100 meter freestyle and following it up with a silver in the 50 meter freestyle.
Since 2016, Manuel has finished no worse than third in the two sprint freestyle events at any major national or international competition. Considering the depth of talent in the sprint freestyle events, that’s a serious accomplishment.
While she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as the “Black swimmer,” she understands what she means and represents to so many girls and young women that look like her. In a piece in The Undefeated, Manuel said:
“Sometimes I feel like I’m alone on an island. Reporters ask me questions that other swimmers, white swimmers, are never asked. They want me to talk about social justice issues, Colin Kaepernick, athlete protests. I want to contribute to the conversation and lead, but I’m not the voice of Black America. And when people single me out like that, they’re reducing me to a label — 'the black swimmer' — when I know I am so much more.”
Indeed, that is her gift and curse, as it is with so many athletes of color that participate and excel in sports “we are not supposed to be good at.” Whether she knows it or not, and I suspect she does, she is “The Black Swimmer.” That’s not all she is, but it’s a part of her.
Just like tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Manuel’s excellence means more and is a beacon of hope for countless others because of the various social and economic barriers still in place for people of color in 2019.
It would be a welcomed day when a Black athlete or any other athlete of color or a female athlete or an LGBTQ athlete can be celebrated and discussed free from prejudices. But this is America. A country built on the abhorrent economic system of slavery. It permeates everything that is and will ever be birthed from this nation. So, that’s a pipe dream.
The numbers don’t lie, in swimming and the other country club sports mentioned, white people make up the majority of the athletes; for that matter, coaches, officials, administrators and executives too (a story for a different day). In an era where we tout diversity and the need for inclusion, what better way than to promote a Black athlete who happens to be one of the best and brightest as your sport’s face?
As she continues to train and prepare for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Manuel should be promoted as one of the faces, if not THE face, of USA Swimming. Yes, there is still Katie Ledecky and who knows what bright young star will emerge between now and the 2020 Olympic Trials. But the same Olympic machine that made household names out of Missy Franklin, Ledecky, Katie Hoff and many more should be working to make Manuel a household name.
Maybe it’s because the mainstream is still not comfortable with seeing Black faces in predominantly white spaces. But, as we know, if Manuel continues to win and rack up accolades, those in control will have to make room for her willingly or otherwise. Just as they have for the Williams sisters, Biles and the many other Black athletes that dominate sports “we shouldn’t.”
As we look at Manuel and what she’s accomplished in swimming and juxtapose it with North Carolina A&T State University’s decision to disband its women’s swim team this year, the only all-Black swim team in NCAA Division I, the Aggies motto, “Black Girls Do Swim,” rings out loud and true. Yes we can. Yes we do.
We have just about a year until opening ceremonies in Tokyo. While the Olympic machine begins to rev up its sizable and influential engines to sell you the next great American star, be mindful he or she could be Black and could participate in a sport you didn’t think Black people participated in.
Manuel doesn’t want to be a label, but in that Undefeated piece, she offered up the following words of wisdom, that all Black people know in their hearts, minds and spirits to be true:
“People don’t always like 'different' — and it often scares them the most when it’s wrapped in excellence.”