TrueHoop: Who is William Wesley?
In the late '90s, when it became clear that Dajuan Wagner -- Milt's son and Wesley's godson -- would be a top prospect, Wesley was determined that history not repeat itself. He was living in Chicago then, and Calipari, after a little more than two disappointing seasons with the Nets, had landed in Philadelphia as Brown's assistant with the 76ers. "When I was sitting there, watching a Sixers game, and I saw Coach Cal, I said, I'm going to see if he's going to get back into [college] coaching," Wesley says. "I approached Cal. We talked about Kevin Walls."
At Brown's urging Calipari took the Memphis job when it opened up in 2000. But the school's limitations were many—Calipari still talks about the train tracks running through campus—and he realized that landing Wagner, then the nation's top junior, would entail a package deal. Dajuan was extraordinarily close with his best friend and housemate, forward Arthur Barclay, and, says Wesley, "where Arthur Barclay went to school, Dajuan was going to school." Meanwhile, Milt Wagner was looking to get into coaching. Calipari signed Barclay and hired Milt as his coordinator of basketball operations. The following year Dajuan enrolled at Memphis for his one college season.
Calipari endured much criticism for the moves, but Wesley didn't care. He was more interested in what happened next. Calipari pressed Milt Wagner to finish his degree at Memphis, kept him on staff for four years after Dajuan left for the NBA and has made sure he has had work, first as an assistant at UTEP and now at Auburn. Barclay, meanwhile, had an underwhelming career at Memphis but graduated in 2005 with a degree in urban studies. To Wesley, with his mouth at many a talented player's ear, this was everything. It meant Cal takes care of his own.
"Love is an action," Wesley says. "You've got to show it. That's what Cal's done for his players, his coaches, and he continues to do it. If you call me and you have a son and you say, 'Who would you recommend?' I'm going to say there's one coach I trust impeccably."
Everybody went to Las Vegas to do their NBA networking last week, but little did they know the real action was in Helsinki! How'd that process unfold?
I met with [team president] Larry Miller on Tuesday in Las Vegas. And then I met with Nate [McMillan]. Larry wanted me to connect in person with Mr. Allen on his yacht in Helsinki.
What's he doing in Helsinki?
Just vacation. Going around Europe.
So on Wednesday I flew from Vegas to Toronto to Helsinki, and with the time change I got there Thursday evening. I went straight to the yacht, and I met there for more than three hours with Mr. Allen. Just the two of us. He asked me a lot of questions.
Later that night at the hotel Larry called me and offered me the job.
So you've been working away since you started law school in the mid-90s, with the goal of getting this kind of job, years interning ... and when you finally get one, you're all alone in a strange city? How'd you celebrate?
I had a quiet dinner. I went to a great seafood restaurant.
Paul Allen says you are "part of the new generation of NBA executives." What does that mean to you?
I look at things a little bit differently. There are all these different elements. From my background, I have these mathematical, engineering and legal aspects ... On top of that, I'm a big data collector. It's a thought process, not just stats. I apply data and analysis to a lot of what we do.
Can you give me an example?
Sure. If we pick somebody with, say, the 52nd pick, the agent is going to come at us with all kinds of data about the range of contracts for that pick. How much was guaranteed, what dates things were guaranteed, what conditional income there was and all of that. For instance, a contract might have no money guaranteed on signing, then $100,000 is guaranteed as of August 1, and $350,000 on October 1 if the player is still with the team. With second-rounders, there's a lot of negotiating to do.
I studied every single second-round contract since 2003. The salaries, the full, partial or conditional income guarantees, whether it's one, two, three or four years, whether there's a team option or not. I have all of that in a spreadsheet. My thought is that before we enter into any negotiations we want to know everything that there is to know.
That's just one example. When I'm talking about being analytical, I'm not just talking about stats. I'm talking about a way of thinking, and it's a little bit of everything.
You had a job at Boeing as an engineer. But then you went through a lot of years -- law school, interning and all that -- to get this NBA career going. What drove you?
Sports was always my passion. Growing up I played everything, basketball, tennis and baseball. Sports was my passion. I liked being an engineer at Boeing, but not for the rest of my life. So I did some research, and I found that lots of the higher-ups in sports had gone to law school, so I did too.
So, is this a rivalry cooking between the Blazers and the Thunder?
The Thunder are a well-coached, up-and-coming team, and the Blazers are a well-coached, up-and-coming team. Both teams have good guys. And they're in the same division. So it probably is a rivalry in the making.
Not to mention, those two teams will be forever bonded by the 2007 lottery.
Now I feel I have a unique perspective on that [Greg] Oden and [Kevin] Durant draft. There were two number one picks in that draft. I'm sure the people who were in Portland at the time saw it the same way.
I'll tell you this: Greg was playing really well before he got injured and I'm glad to have him on this team.
Besides Coach McMillan, you know or have worked with a lot of people in the Blazer organization before, correct?
Cheri Hansen in media relations, strength and conditioning coach Bob Medina, Nate McMillan ... and I have seen Chad Buchanan and Mike Born on the road plenty. ... A lot of quality people in this building.
If you're from Seattle, does going to Portland count as a homecoming?
I have lived on the West Coast, the East Coast, Oklahoma City, I do feel like I'm coming home to the Northwest. There's no prettier place in the U.S. than the Pacific Northwest. There's natural beauty, great people.
I have written a lot about William Wesley, who now works representing NBA executives at CAA. You're represented by CAA. How'd you choose them?
I'm represented by CAA. Terry Prince is the guy doing my contract. I've known [CAA agent] Leon Rose for a long time, Wes is with CAA. But Terry Prince is my agent at CAA, and it just felt right to go with them.
You've hardly talked to the media at all in the past. Why?
Our philosophy in Oklahoma City was that we would speak with one voice to the media.
Is it going to be the same way for your staff in Portland?
I have to sit down with the people here and talk over the pros and cons.
- Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets are pressing Carmelo Anthony for a long-term commitment, because if he declines a three-year, $65 million contract extension now on the table, the team must consider trading its leading scorer. Trade Melo? Would the Nuggets really part ways with a 26-year-old forward in the prime of his NBA career? Denver might not have any choice. With an eye on how megastars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have held the league's competitive balance in their fickle hands and turned this summer's free-agency period into a three-ring circus, the Nuggets seem determined not to let Anthony do the same in Denver. While their offer of a hefty contract extension proves the Nuggets hope Anthony will remain the face of the franchise for years to come, the team is prepared to trade Melo rather than let him walk as a free agent next summer, according to a source familiar with the negotiations."
- Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "One day before the deadline, Paul Pierce has triggered his early termination option and is set to join the prized class of unrestricted free agents Thursday. The move shouldn't come as too much of a shock ... not yet, anyway. It could be in the best interest of both Pierce and the Celtics for him to navigate this channel. Pierce walks away from a guaranteed $21.5 million this season, but sets himself up to make as much as $96 million over the next four seasons. Especially with an uncertain labor situation looming, Pierce's move could allow him to lock in a deal worth an average of $24 million per season that would take him toward the twilight of his NBA career (he'd be on the backside of 36 when such a four-year deal expired). If Pierce ultimately re-signs with Boston, this move might also free up a bit of cap space for the cash-strapped Celtics. It should be noted, however, that the savings would appear to be minimal and Pierce's price tag in the final years of any deal would be prohibitive, particularly if the salary cap doesn't rise accordingly in the new CBA. Only time will tell how this all plays out. Pierce will give the Celtics first crack and there's potential to essentially guarantee he ends his career in Boston. But Pierce now also boasts the option to run for the hills if he doesn't like how the 2010-11 team is constructed."
- Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: "When LeBron James starts listening to pitches on Thursday from the teams trying to lure him away from the Cleveland Cavaliers, one person who is not expected to be present is William Wesley, a prominent, behind-the-scenes adviser to various athletes and a longtime acquaintance of James. ... Maverick Carter, James’s longtime business manager, said Tuesday that Wesley would not play a role in James’s deliberations and would not be present as various teams visit his client in Ohio. 'All the Wes rumors are untrue and he will not be at the meetings,' Carter said. 'Wes has nothing to do with where he goes.' James, Carter and James’s agent, Leon Rose, are scheduled to be at the meetings, which are expected to begin shortly after the free-agency period officially starts at 12:01 a.m. Thursday."
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "The Cavaliers are reportedly telling teams they have no intention of being part of a sign-and-trade with LeBron James. That could be the biggest mistake they make during the James sweepstakes. This scenario came to light in the last week, ESPN.com reported, when Dallas approached the Cavs about trying to get involved in the sweepstakes with a sign-and-trade. That's when the Mavericks were informed that they would be out of luck. The Mavs are over the salary cap and have no available cap space. Supposedly, the reason the Cavs don't want to execute a sign-and-trade is they don't want to be remembered as the front-office executives or owners who traded James. If he leaves and signs elsewhere, won't they be saddled with that albatross anyway? If the Cavs are unable to sign James in free agency, which starts Thursday, observers think it's imperative they execute a sign-and-trade. Why wouldn't they want to get players, draft picks or a hefty trade exception in return? Out of spite? Because they are pouting? Are they drawing a line in the sand? It's almost ridiculous to think they wouldn't want to do what's best for the franchise. Fellow executives will laugh at them behind their backs."
- Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: "This chance of ours that mesmerizes and thrills and sets the imagination alight still requires the biggest little disclaimer in the language: if. You have to start with that because this whole massive gambit of Pat Riley's still teeters on that word and will until the moment this stupefying possibility turns from surreal to real. LeBron James and Chris Bosh, both of them, together with Dwyane Wade? Turning every Heat game into an event? Making Miami the new epicenter of the NBA for years? Catholics have flocked to confession for thoughts involving far less greed and gluttony than that. I would dare say that making this triumvirate happen, and all it implied in future gold, might be the most seismic episode in local sports since the Dolphins' perfect season and consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1972-73."
- Howard Beck of The New York Times: "The battle for New York’s basketball heart will begin not on the hot asphalt of Manhattan or on a bustling Brooklyn street corner, but in a quiet quadrant of northeast Ohio. At 12:01 a.m. Thursday, a small regiment of Nets officials, led by their swaggering new owner, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, will march into a meeting room with LeBron James. Later in the day, the Knicks will send in a brigade led by the team president Donnie Walsh and Coach Mike D’Antoni. Pitches will be made. Plans will be outlined. Everyone will smile a lot. The scene will be repeated several times in the days to come, with only the location and the faces changing, team officials crisscrossing the map to court Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson. Whichever team scores the biggest names in July will gain a huge advantage in the larger battle to come. In two years, the Knicks and the Nets will become true intracity rivals when the Nets move into the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. 'I think that all of us are trying for the same group of players,' Walsh said. 'Yeah, I look at them as competitors in this adventure.' "
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "While the Wizards are focused on the future, several teams have been positioning for this summer, imagining scenarios in which they can pair up two or possibly three elite players. The New York Knicks have the most money to spend at $34.5 million, with New Jersey ($30 million), Chicago ($29.9 million) and Miami ($27.5 million) all hoping to establish dream teams. 'It could be remarkable,' said an NBA executive from a team that is expected to meet with James in the next few days, speaking on condition of anonymity because he could not talk about players still under contract with other teams. 'Teams could see the possibility of who was going to be out there. That was it, more than anything else.' 'This is about balance of power,' said agent David Falk, who represented most of the top stars, including Jordan, in 1996. 'If LeBron doesn't stay in Cleveland and goes to Chicago with Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh, Chicago becomes a powerhouse. If LeBron and Bosh both decide to go to Miami -- which I think is going to happen -- Miami becomes a powerhouse.' "
- Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Now the moment is upon the Bulls, and if they want LeBron James, they have to appeal to his imagination, to his creativity, to the magic in that poof of talcum powder he tosses before every game. And that means selling him on something nobody else can offer: Derrick Rose. The Bulls' point guard is 21, has ridiculous skills, appears to be extremely humble and wants to win. It's impossible to speak for the people around Rose or to address how he might change over the years, but at this point in his life, he's an unassuming kid who wants to win and watch movies. That's it. Put him together with James and fellow free agent Chris Bosh, who apparently has decided to be Ed McMahon to LeBron's Johnny Carson, and you'd have a hugely talented and hungry core that also would include the indefatigable Joakim Noah. If James and Bosh joined Rose here, something fresh and unique would be created, something a tad less calculated-looking. James joining Dwyane Wade in Miami would look more like the merger of AOL and Time Warner than two basketball players becoming teammates. At the risk of sounding parochial, doesn't the James-Wade-Bosh combination sound like an NBA All-Star team that wins 152-131? Haven't we seen this before? And wouldn't it carry the risk of becoming uninteresting and ultimately unfulfilling?"
- Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "The young superstar is expected to agree to a contract extension with the Thunder soon and the team is likely to give Kevin Durant the maximum in both years and dollars. The exact value of his deal won't be known until next summer when the salary cap is set, but the current projections indicate Durant won't be hurting for spare change. His five-year deal is expected to be around $84.85 million. Talk about sticker shock. But you know what the Thunder should do? They should pay up and do it with a smile on their faces. Durant is worth the price. He's proven to be a perfect franchise player. He has delivered on the court. Last season, he not only led the league in scoring but also guided the Thunder to the playoffs. He is continuing to improve, bettering his defense and diversifying his game. Even though he is already a superstar, Durant is still working to get better. That's no small thing. Neither is the maturity Durant has shown off the court."
- Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns need a general manager. Charles Barkley is available. Don't laugh. It's a wonderful time to renew old vows. 'I don't think it's a good job right now,' Barkley said. 'But I would listen to the Suns because I love Phoenix. I would listen to Robert (Sarver) out of respect for working in Phoenix. But I'll be honest: I would not re-sign Amar'e Stoudemire.' That'll get the owner's attention. 'I wouldn't do it for three reasons," Barkley said. 'One, his knees; two, his eyes; and three, he wants a maximum deal. Now, he's a terrific player. Don't get me wrong. But at this stage of his career he's never been the best player on his team. That's not a max player.' "
As midnight approached, I had a little anxiety: I needed a good resolution. I wasn't about to announce, half-drunk, some promise I'd never keep, like running a marathon or whatever. I wanted to think of something I'd actually do.
I was in the kitchen when it struck me. William Wesley. Find out that guy's deal.
TrueHoop was a little more than six months old. I had been writing freelance about the NBA for seven years. I had heard about Wesley a dozen or so times, and he had been written about -- Brian Windhorst in the Akron Beacon-Journal, John Canzano in the Oregonian, Fred Girard in the Detroit News and Scoop Jackson on ESPN.com had all touched on him. But nobody really told us what the guy did. Shame on us, as journalists, right? It's our job to explain things that matter in this sport. So that became my resolution, as I announced on TrueHoop a couple of days later.
Things quickly got pretty crazy. I learned so much so fast about basketball. Wesley seemed to be involved in everything, with every player, with every coach, with every agent ... it was wild.
Four-and-a-half years later, everything I learned then matters more than ever. Thanks to his influence over LeBron James; his emerging public profile as a representative to coaches; and his positioning at the eye of the perfect storm that sees the agency he now works for, C.A.A., representing James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, coach John Calipari and others, Wesley has gone from being a curio among insiders to a full-fledged NBA celebrity, complete with his own mythology, reputation and influence. He's even on SportsCenter.
Launching the investigation
Immediately after I announced I was looking into Wesley, I was flooded with facts and people leading, or in some cases misleading me, through the central theories of Wesley -- that he worked for Nike, for Leon Rose, for a mortgage company or for somebody else. I got calls from executives. I got calls from prison. I got calls from Japan, Germany and Brazil. I got public records.
The basic trend was clear: There was a small knot of people -- mostly agents who felt Wesley had cost them NBA clients, as well as rivals of Calipari's college programs -- who had sensational tales of what a bad man he was. But then there was just a never-ending cavalcade of players, AAU coaches, sneaker executives, celebrities, trainers and others who swore by the guy, and particularly praised him for doing them all kinds of favors without ever asking for anything.
A huge frustration: You know who would speak about Wesley on the record? Just about nobody. As the investigation rolled along on TrueHoop, behind the scenes I was collecting a mountain of insight that I couldn't publish.
While I have a regret or two about how I covered things, I did my best to muddle through it all in as fair a manner as possible. William Wesley became a defining aspect of TrueHoop. Wesley was the main topic on the blog at the time ESPN started noticing.
GQ's Alex French called, wanting to pick my brain for a Wesley feature. We met at a high-end Philadelphia restaurant. They had a seven-course chef's menu. They mentioned that a special variety of white truffles -- the mushrooms, not the dessert -- could be added to any dish for an extra charge. Alex said we wanted truffles on every dish, and wine pairing with each course. (Magazine expense accounts don't work like that anymore.) Seven glasses of wine is a lot. Alex took notes as I rambled, did a ton of reporting, and eventually cranked out a great Wesley article.
I had reached out to Wesley himself various ways, but Alex gave me yet another phone number to try, and about a year after the investigation had begun that paid off, as Wesley called back.
That first conversation was intense. Wesley said he had often considered showing up in my office unannounced, to confront me about this or that. He was incensed about one or two things, but I explained and in some cases he conceded I was right, in others he explained how he thought I had been spun by this or that source.
Mainly, however, he thanked me. He has told me several times through the years that he knows I could have sensationalized the story to drive more traffic, but I stuck to the facts, and he admired that.
That opened a channel to Wesley that remains open, although always (except once) off-the-record.
I don't know if we really trusted each other at all in 2007. But through the years, I have had countless opportunities to get a better sense of Wesley -- through things he has told me, and things people all over basketball have told me -- and the picture that develops is consistent.
The basic goal of the investigation was to find out what he did for a living. While I feel I have enough information about Wesley to theoretically write a book or two, I still don't really have an ironclad sense of all that he does for a living, although I can sketch out a lot of his life story and influences.
When the basketball sneaker industry was in its infancy, one of the most important retail outlets in the world was Cherry Hill, New Jersey's Pro Shoes. That tiny store across from the Cherry Hill mall, in suburban Philadelphia, moved enough sneakers to catch the attention of executives at Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Converse, who were still in the early stages of creating a new industry. It also became the "it" place for elite athletes of the day to get the latest in cutting edge shoes. Wesley was the employee who built those relationships. He'd get one superstar to sign a pair of shoes and leave them for another. He advised people on the shoes that were coming next. Everyone from Herman Edwards to Maurice Cheeks came through. Although he's known as "Worldwide" Wes back then it was "Fresh" Wes, because he'd put a fresh pair of sneakers on your feet.
One of the customers in that store was local high school hoops star Milt Wagner, who left New Jersey in 1982 to play five years at Louisville. A lot of Wesley's most important early connections came through his exposure to that team, which made it to the Final Four three times. Wesley was in Louisville, and around players like Wagner, Kenny Payne and Pervis Ellison constantly. Wagner's NBA career was also instrumental in helping Wesley establish connections with NBA players, including Michael Jordan.
Another key early connection came through a local football player named Greg Mark. Wesley connected Mark and then-Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, as Pete Thamel tells nicely in The New York Times, and built strong ties to Johnson which persisted when Johnson went to the Cowboys. As much as we like to talk about Wesley's role in the NBA, he's also a force in the NFL, as well as in entertainment where he has been closely associated with artists like Jay-Z and 2 Live Crew.
When Rick Mahorn and some business partners opened Mahorn's nightclub in New Jersey in 1989 they hired Wesley as a doorman. On the club's first night, Wesley invited all of his athlete friends to stop by. Those celebrity guests did wonders for the club. Wesley was quickly promoted. Mahorn's ran into various kinds of trouble (one of the last nights of the club is documented on YouTube -- it's a little PG-13 -- and ends with brawling patrons) and closed a few years later.
In 1993, some of the same investors who had been impressed by Wesley's connections in New Jersey made Wesley an offer to become a partner in a new club in Chicago, the Riviera. Wesley agreed, moved to Chicago, and lured a who's who of Chicago stars -- Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman chief among them -- to the club. The Riviera was a raging success through much of the Bulls' heyday, until the neighbors -- it was in a residential neighborhood, and parking was an issue -- finally caused enough trouble to make it not worth continuing.
Wesley didn't leave the nightlife entirely, though, often playing a role as a promoter of various athlete-related club events, including one interesting night involving Dennis Rodman.
Wesley has long told people he sells mortgages. When I started digging into the story that almost seemed too convenient, like some kind of cover story. But based on insight from multiple people with first-hand knowledge, that's true. (Jerry Stackhouse, for one, said on SIRIUS XM the other day that when he first moved to Philadelphia, Wesley helped him buy his first house.)
There's a story about how, nearly 20 years ago, Wesley was with an NBA player who was on his way to lunch with his mortgage broker in Chicago. This was, of course, the person with whom this player had made one of the most important financial transactions of his life. When they got to Houlihan's, the player didn't know what the broker looked like.
He had never met him before, which amazed Wesley. Some time before, Wesley had been approached by New Jersey-based Greentree Mortgage about selling mortgages to players, and had discarded the thought. But when he realized that NBA players were doing huge deals with total strangers, he sensed an opportunity for himself -- someone who had close relationships with lots of players already. Not long after that he started working with Greentree.
Wesley first became important to Nike back when he was "Fresh Wes" selling as many early-generation Nike shoes as anyone. It's not clear he has ever stopped. Wesley makes appearances at Nike events, like LeBron James' Skills Academy. He seems to know almost everybody at Nike. A lot of the NBA players he is closest to -- LeBron James, Chris Paul, Rip Hamilton and the like -- wear Nike. Nike sponsors Team USA, to which Wesley has had extraordinary access. Does Wesley still work for Nike? The company's denials have been legalistic and vague. But Wesley's evident associations with Nike -- even wearing his own personalize Nikes in public from time to time -- persist, even though neither Nike nor Wesley say have ongoing business ties.
Wesley is undeniably close to Kentucky coach John Calipari. Not only do a lot of players close to Wesley end up playing for Coach Cal -- Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Tyreke Evans and the like -- but Wes is unabashed in rooting for Cal's teams, once the Memphis Tigers and now the Kentucky Wildcats.
Calipari has often been painted as one of the more corrupt figures in basketball, with Wesley as Exhibit A that he is surrounded by shadowy figures. Wesley's version of events is predictably different. When Wesley was managing the career of Milt Wagner's son Dajuan Wagner -- with whom Wesley is extremely close -- he sought out Calipari (whom he first met when the coach was in New Jersey recruiting Kevin Walls, in the 1980s) to coach Wagner because he thought Calipari was one of the only college coaches who would be honest in preparing Wagner for the NBA, and telling him when he was ready to go.
A common complaint about college coaches is that they lean hard on their best players to stay in school, even when it's not in the players' best interests. Think about the lengths college coaches go to in recruiting the best high-schoolers. Those players aren't nearly as helpful in raising a coach's profile as NBA-ready, NCAA-tested stars. It's hard to let those players go, and as a result, when players ask their coaches if they're ready for the NBA, it is distressingly common for them to be told "no."
Calipari's approach here is reflected in the funny line DeMarcus Cousins has been using again and again. "Coach Cal said that if I want to do what's best for him, and to put food on his family's table, I should stay in school," says the Kenntucky big man. "But if I want to do what's best for my family, I have to go to the NBA." Cousins -- arguably the best player in college basketball -- is leaving school at his college coach's insistence, even though he says he'd love to be returning to college. That's a rare instance of a college coach working against his own best interests, and at the heart of Wesley's long-term regard for Calipari.
Rival agents love to tell you that William Wesley's real game is recruiting clients like Allen Iverson and LeBron James for NBA player agent Leon Rose. Rose and Wesley have known each other essentially their entire lives, and while Rose is respected as an agent, nobody thinks he has the stature among NBA players to recruit his current client list all by himself.
What's more, a few years ago when Eddy Curry was having agent trouble and signed up with Rose, I asked Curry if Wesley had advised him on the switch, and he said yes.
There is plenty to the relationship between Rose and Wesley.
However, there's also clearly far more to Wesley than being a runner for his buddy Rose. At last count, Rose had 17 clients, a dozen or so of whom (for instance Chris Douglas-Roberts is from Detroit, where Wesley lives, and played for Calipari at Memphis) have deep ties to Wesley. But Wesley is also a confidant to all kinds of elite players who have other agents. Chris Paul is represented by Octagon. Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose -- Calipari's last two high-profile NBA players -- are both represented by Wasserman Media Group. Wesley couldn't have been closer to this year's Kentucky players, and yet John Wall selected Dan Fegan and DeMarcus Cousins signed up with John Greig.
Representing coaches at C.A.A.
A few years ago, Creative Artist's Agency bought Leon Rose's agency, bringing clients like LeBron James into their sphere. Then they made a separate deal with agent Henry Thomas, whose clients include Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who happen to join James at the very top of this summer's free agent list. And earlier this month, Wesley signed the paperwork to work for C.A.A. himself, representing coaches and executives. His clients include John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau and others.
While nobody knows with any certainty in exactly which way the NBA will be reshaped this summer, they do know that C.A.A. will play a central role, and that at C.A.A. Wesley's is a voice that can not be ignored.
Wesley says his own role in free agency is overblown, that he's spending far more time worrying about coaching, and that he'll be advising free agents this summer only to the extent that they ask for his thoughts.
Wesley has been able to begin a transformation into a more public figure. His old way of doing things -- quietly -- was always going to end this summer, because of his central role in the Summer of LeBron. Casual sports fans were due to learn Wesley's name now anyway.
Meanwhile, he has long been helping coaches like Calipari and Larry Brown get jobs. This job as a coach's representative gives him a way to make some money from putting teams together with coaches, which he has been doing anyway. It also gives him a way to take some first steps out of the shadows. He has started talking on the record. He is essentially inviting the media to come and investigate him further, and they are obliging. Once he has passed muster, he will have opened new opportunities for himself.
With the power and connections he has amassed, Wesley would be a logical choice for all kinds of high profile sports jobs. (The main tasks of running Team USA, for instance, are recruiting people like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to play, and keeping corporate sponsors like Nike happy. Who would be better at that?) This summer begins the process of legitimizing his name in the eyes of the public.
Being a coach's representative is a baby step in that direction. Representing coaches -- unlike representing players -- leaves Wesley entirely unconstrained by the NBA Players' Association or the NCAA from having contact with basketball players -- whether they're in high school, college or the NBA. And that's crucial.
At the core of Wesley's power is the reality that elite professional athletes trust him. Most of them will say nothing on the record about him at all, out of respect for his desire to be behind-the-scenes, but those who do speak will, in my experience, generally say something along the lines of what Jerryd Bayless told me the day before he was drafted: "Wes has been a mentor to me. Helped me out. I have asked him questions about on the court stuff. Whatever I need. He has helped me. Never anything negative. I'll always respect and love him for that."
Or consider what LeBron James told GQ about Wesley: “He’s a great guy. I met him a few years back. He’s been a great role model to me. I can only say good things about him. ... What’s said, what goes on with, you know, our family, stays with our family. But as far as him being a good person—he’s always been good to me. He’s never asked me for anything. He’s always been trustworthy to me, and I respect him for that.”
Young athletes are faced with dizzying numbers of decisions for which they are often unprepared. This agent or that one? This shoe deal or that one? This trainer or that one? Almost anyone they ask has skin in the game, and can't advise honestly. College coaches tend to want all their players to go to one particular agent or sneaker company. When young basketball stars even go to a nightclub with friends, they have to worry that the friends may be getting a kickback from the club owner for bringing them there.
As athletes describe it, Wesley does not play those games. As players describe it, they tend to seek him out, not the other way around. For all of his critics and rivals, I have found it impossible to find an athlete who says Wesley abandoned him, ripped him off or misled him in some way. Professional athletes have a hard time trusting people. They hold almost all the power in sports, but are often unsophisticated in wielding it. There's a cavalcade of slimy people -- from agents and college coaches to financial advisers and jewelry salespeople -- who are intent on fattening their own pockets by tricking players into bad decisions.
Players have their guards up against that.
That means that when teams, agents, charities -- even Team USA -- want superstar athletes to show up somewhere, to work with a certain trainer, to lose some weight (think about Eddy Curry last summer), to do anything ... they often have a hard time getting players to buy in. They can come off like just another person trying to exploit players one way or another. It's hard to know who to trust. But "Uncle Wes" -- with his big deep voice, his street smarts, his wealth of stories about his time with Michael Jordan in Chicago, his ability to make fun things happen and his unstoppable Rolodex -- he's an easy person to want to believe.
And there's something of a race story here, too. A lot of the traditional powerbrokers in basketball -- agents, executives, administrators and coaches and the like -- have been white. Fairly or not, a lot of young black players have felt exploited by that system -- you wouldn't believe the stories about agents ripping off their own players, for instance. Wesley navigates the scene in a different kind of skin, as a walking antidote to the idea that making it big means entrusting your career to the older, mostly white establishment. Instead, he's telling players to take charge of their own affairs. It's no accident that LeBron James has started his own business, with friends, to market himself. They may have mangled things at times -- James reeled in a lot more endorsement deals when Aaron Goodwin was doing the work -- but the ethic at work is that the player should be at the top of the business pyramid, not an agent or anybody else.
In the end, that's Wesley's message. Take care of your own business, on and off the court. Get your degree. Run your affairs. Show up to practice. Make a lot of money. Players want those things, and that's why they trust him. And that trust is why this summer the world is catching on to the idea that he may be the most important man in sports.
Stackhouse: “You have to admit you know everybody and it’s under the impression that you have a good idea what’s going on and a lot of people wanna know. Someone that you’re really close with is LeBron. I mean, talk to me about what he’s going through right now and kinda what he’s thinking.”
Wesley: “He’s going through the process that was afforded to him. He’s going to touch each base of the process of free agency, I believe. I haven’t sat down and talked to him. I don’t wanna sit down with him and talk to him about it unless, you know, if he brings something to me or asks a question or something along those lines I’ll address it. But this is his decision for him and his family to make.”
Lekas: “Wes, do you think it matters to him if Tom Izzo ends up being the coach in Cleveland? Is that something that would be high on his priority list?”
Wesley: “He’s a basketball player so, you know, whoever the coach is wherever he should go he’s going to, you know, be willing to be coached and directed in the right manner. He’s a basketball player.”
Stackhouse: “So you’re basically saying you don’t think that it’s a turnoff for him if they sign Izzo?”
Wesley: “No, I mean whoever is the coach in place at that time he’s gonna roll with him. It’s part of his decision process, I’m sure.”
Lekas: “Has he wanted to be involved, do you know, as far as getting consulted about who the team is looking at for a head coach? Does he want to be involved in that part of the process?”
Wesley: “No. I just shared with you I haven’t even conversated with him about this process because this is his family and that’s their process. So, you know, I haven’t talked to him about that.”
- Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "Looking back on it all now, Kobe Bryant said: 'We learned a great deal in that series.' It ended with a 39-point loss in Boston in Game 6 ... and the Lakers' team bus being pelted by debris and rocked off its wheels by delirious Celtics fans. The Lakers had no choice then but to swallow their pride. They finally get to fight back now, which is convenient when fight was lacking in them as recently as Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in Phoenix. The Lakers know how fired up they are about Boston, which is why they gaze upon the present on the doorstep and are no longer concerned about being perishable or fragile. They just need to be careful with how much they care -- and channel all that energy into execution."
- Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "One of my Herald colleagues said Dwight Howard was looking for me Friday night after the Celtics eliminated his Orlando Magic from the NBA playoffs, 96-84. I was in the winners’ locker room. He wasn’t there. Thursday, when the NBA Finals begin in Los Angeles, I’ll be looking for him. He won’t be there, either. Both circumstances are because the Celtics did against his team the same things they did against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They played harder longer and they played more consistently intelligent basketball than the younger, faster, more highly regarded teams the wise guys in Las Vegas said were supposed to beat them."
- Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Paul Pierce played at Inglewood High School, just minutes from the Forum, and his career for the Sentinels was stellar, earning him a scholarship to the University of Kansas. While his numbers were impressive and the Sentinels won a division title during his tenure, Pierce left Inglewood as one of the handful of standout players from the area. Leaving Kansas fifth at the school in scoring in just three seasons added to Pierce’s résumé, but his reputation has grown exponentially as his NBA accomplishments have multiplied, and being on the verge of a second NBA Finals appearance against his hometown Lakers has added to his legend. There have been some great players from the Los Angeles area, including Marques Johnson, Gail Goodrich, Byron Scott, Reggie Theus, and Paul Westphal, and Pierce has joined that group. He is on the verge of the 20,000-point mark. An eight-time All-Star and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, he could be poised to join the Mount Rushmore of Celtic greats. That arguably makes him the best player ever to emerge from the Los Angeles area."
- Mike Wise of The Washington Post: "It's easy to appreciate both for their talents and their triumphs this time of year. It's harder to acknowledge the truth and just say it: If Kobe Bryant wins his fifth title in the next two weeks and wins two more championships before he retires to give him seven rings, he has to be given the nod as the greatest individual talent ever to play in the NBA. As hard as that might be to hear for Michael Jordan and his legions, that's not heresy anymore."
- Randy Hollis of the Deseret News: "All of you who are sick and tired of seeing the Celtics and/or the Lakers in the NBA Finals seemingly every stinking year, raise your hand. Yeah, me too. Boston, which beat the Lakers for the title two years ago, has taken home the NBA's top prize 17 times. Yes, that's right, the boys from Beantown have won a whopping 17 championships -- the most by any team in league history. In the league's marquee matchup, the Celtics and Lakers have met in the Finals 11 times in all. And, thanks primarily to those powerhouse Bill Russell-led teams of the 1960s, the Celtics own a commanding 9-2 championship showdown advantage over the Lakers. With Friday night's victory over Orlando, the Celtics earned the right to shoot for an 18th NBA title when this year's Finals get under way Thursday. It's no wonder that, with all they've accomplished, often beating the odds, there's this fierce feeling called 'Celtic Pride.' And, somewhat sadly, Jazz fans can only marvel at the way those guys in green repeatedly find a way to get things done in the postseason, a place where Utah's hopes continually end in frustration."
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "The NBA conference finals had a familiar feel. Don't they always? Three of the four teams -- the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and Orlando -- had been there at least once in the past two years. Phoenix made it for the third time in six years. Truth is, the entire NBA playoffs usually have a familiar feel, which explains why those signs read: 'Beat L.A.' as opposed to, say, 'Beat Memphis.' Since 1990-91, 77 percent of playoff teams made it back the next year. Just four new teams made it this year, and three lost in the first round. The Indiana Pacers used to be in the perennial playoff group but now are dealing with the dark reality of NBA have-nots, specifically: Once the engine goes, it takes years to rebuild. The Pacers have missed the past four playoffs, but that's hardly unique, and in some cities, they'd just be getting started. Since 1990-91, 23 teams have had playoff droughts at least that long. Eight missed at least eight consecutive years. Dallas missed the playoffs 10 consecutive years before Dirk Nowitzki changed their fate. When the Pacers will return to prominence is anybody's guess. Only Boston has won the NBA championship after missing the playoffs the previous season. Its trick? The Celtics traded for two future Hall of Famers to go with All-Star Paul Pierce."
- Mike Colias and David Sterrett of Chicago Business: "Bob McDermott has seen the LeBron James effect firsthand: Crowds at Beer Bistro, his West Loop restaurant, more than doubled on the four occasions the NBA phenom played at the United Center last season. 'The Bulls landing LeBron would be a huge boon for business,' Mr. McDermott says. He's not the only one seeing dollar signs as the Bulls pursue Mr. James, arguably the most-coveted free agent in sports history. Broadcast execs are giddy over the prospect of ratings and ad sales leaping back to Michael Jordan-era levels. Apparel shops, ticket brokers and bar and restaurant owners say the 25-year-old megastar would spark a frenzy of spending by local high-rollers and out-of-town professionals. Tourism officials gush over the exposure Chicago would get from near-constant national telecasts. The LeBron effect could add up to as much as $2.7 billion if he plays here for six years, estimates University of Illinois at Chicago economist John Skorburg. The catch: He'd have to take the Bulls on deep, annual playoff runs, sprinkling in at least a few NBA championships along the way."
- John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Once upon a time, David Falk was a powerhouse agent in the NBA and his impressive client roster included Michael Jordan. These days, Falk has a much lower profile, but he got some rare media attention recently by commenting on the impending free agency of LeBron James. 'He should not play in Chicago; he will always compete with Michael Jordan,' Falk told SI.com. 'He should not play in L.A.; he will always compete with Kobe Bryant. LeBron needs his own identity. The worst place in the world for LeBron to go is Chicago. If he doesn't win six championships, he is a failure. If he doesn't win the MVP five times, he is a failure. Every night he walks into the building he will walk past the statue of Michael Jordan. LeBron is too big. He should not have to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan.' There are so many things wrong with that statement, I don't know where to begin. For starters, the players enter the United Center from the West side of the building and the Jordan statue in on the East side. Unless he makes a special trip, James never will see the Jordan statue. That's a minor issue, though. The major problem with Falk's comment is that he appears to assume there can only be one great player per franchise."
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: "William Wesley's influence is either strong or on the periphery, depending upon whom you talk with. After the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers from the playoffs in Boston 17 days ago, Wesley, Carter and Rose huddled with James alone in the visitor’s locker room for about 30 minutes, until midnight, before James finally marched toward his press conference. His advisers were all there as he talked about his 'team executing a game plan this summer.' A Knicks official said the club has tried to ascertain how much effect Wesley will have in July -- but still are unclear about how much influence he wields. 'Wes is the best insider in knowing people. Wes has an affinity for people and they just like him,' longtime Adidas sneaker king Sonny Vaccaro said. 'He can do anything, but what he has to do with this decision is unclear because of LeBron’s Akron friends.' Steve Kauffman, a longtime player agent and now a prominent representative of coaches and general managers, unintentionally gave Wesley his start. Kauffman was the agent in the 1980s for Sixers’ Kenny Payne, a cousin of Wesley’s. When the Sixers’ Rick Mahorn opened up a nightclub in Cherry Hill, N.J., called 'Bump and Thump,' Kauffman got the 17-year-old Wesley a job as doorman. 'That’s where he met Michael [Jordan] and a lot of players,' Kauffman said. 'Back then, they flew commercial, stayed overnight and the club became a hangout after Sixers games. Wes took it from there. I accidently got him started.' "
- Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News: "Dear LeBron. Or King James. Whatever you prefer: I'm writing to pick up where Mark Cuban left off recently, before David Stern fined him $100,000 for saying publicly he'd like to employ you. Like you didn't know that already. I mean, who doesn't want you? It's like fining kids for mailing their Santa letters early. You've got no problem with Santa, right? If so, me, too. Anyway, all the hubbub gave the NBA a little pizzazz that it wasn't providing with its postseason. We were all getting a little bored. You, too? Sure seemed like it in that last series. Not that I mean it in a bad way. Heavens, no. Had to be Mike Brown's fault, right? That's why the Cavs fired him. Probably for the best if he can't win it all with the greatest player in the game. Here in Dallas, we were all ready to roast Rick Carlisle just because he wouldn't play Roddy Beaubois, the skinny French kid. If you come here and the Mavs don't win it all, we could blame it on Carlisle and you wouldn't have to own up. Probably write it into your contract. Or his. Whichever. ..."
- Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Perhaps more than any other league, the NBA is a player's league in which superstars carry more weight in the locker room and even in coaching decisions. But as we saw during the end of the Nuggets' season, a strong-willed coach is vital to a team's success. The Nuggets were 42-21 with George Karl, but finished 53-29 while he battled cancer and then bowed out to an undermanned Utah team in the playoffs' first round. During an 82-game season, the coach has to play the roles of boss and babysitter, as well as sage and psychiatrist. A coach brought in by a player loses his credibility, his credentials notwithstanding. It appears that the owners are willing to take this risk. Getting LeBron is a franchise- changing, multimillions-making acquisition. But they feel they can always get another coach. That said, just ask Michael, Shaq and Kobe the importance of coaching (then again, that's why the Phil Jackson- to-LeBron's-team rumor is such a juicy story line)."
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "As we’ve said many times in this space, Amare Stoudemire is not a max player but nonetheless likely will be paid like one. A team such as the Knicks has to pay someone, and if Bosh is off the table to New York, Amare likely gets max money there, if only because New York then can claim an upgrade over David Lee. But with the Heat, it is different. It already has Michael Beasley. It certainly has the inside track on Haslem, if it chooses. And it has a prospective addition in Boozer who clearly would undercut Stoudemire to land in a preferred destination. The Heat, unlike other potential suitors, therefore has leverage when it comes to Stoudemire. Fact is, the Suns and Knicks, and possibly Nets, need him more than the Heat. So, no, the offer from the Heat should reach the max in terms of neither dollars nor years. If Amare truly wants to land in South Florida, he can show it during negotiations. Otherwise, the Heat has other chips it can play, chips that might provide better investments in terms of rebounds, post play and defense."
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "They still plan to take the best player available regardless of position during the June 24 draft. They still plan to re-sign Rudy Gay and Ronnie Brewer during the free-agent period. They still plan to negotiate with Zach Randolph regarding a contract extension. They still are lecturing Randolph on being more careful about the company he keeps. The Grizzlies are in the same mode of operation they employed a week ago before Randolph produced his latest double-double: mentions in two separate police reports in less than 24 hours. Randolph was implicated in an Indianapolis drug investigation and Los Angeles-area strip club fight but the All-Star forward has avoided charges and arrest in both cases. Yes, the Grizzlies are frustrated in the wake of this public relations hit. But to the question of whether Randolph's latest controversy will re-shape the Grizzlies' draft and/or free-agent strategy, the answer is no."
- Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: "With the Pistons hoping to transition from a lottery team back to playoff contender, the question arises as to which holdover from the 2004 championship team is more important -- Tayshaun Prince or Richard Hamilton? Hamilton? Since the team has too many players at small forward and shooting guard, Prince or Hamilton is the most likely to go so the team can move forward. ... 'Tayshaun is more versatile and he's younger,' said Bill Duffy, Prince's agent. 'He's the perfect complementary player, and I don't think there's any question that Rip is the kind of player who is in need of the ball. He's a great scorer, but obviously not as versatile as Tayshaun. Tayshaun can blend better with the new players that they have and the younger crew.' Prince turned 30 in February; Hamilton turned 32 the same month. Both are coming off injuries; Prince missed his first significant time as a pro with a back issue while Hamilton suffered an ankle injury the first game of the season and was never the same. Duffy is obviously biased, but Prince does provide more versatility -- he can play point guard and shooting guard in a pinch. Also, Prince is still a better-than-average defender and an above average decision-maker with the ball, while Hamilton is still a prolific scorer and a great mid-range jump shooter."
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "Granted, no two sales of NBA teams are alike. No three sales, if you take into consideration the New Orleans Hornets’ current ownership situation, which has been fluid only since early April. Yet the nearly yearlong sale dramas that surrounded the New Jersey Nets and Charlotte Bobcats could serve as a template, of sorts, for Hornets fans to follow while the process of ownership transferal from George Shinn to Gary Chouest and his still-to-be-determined minority partners heads toward the final details of a sale. Last week’s revelation that Chouest, who reportedly has an agreement in principle with long-time majority Hornets owner Shinn, is seeking to put together a cadre of minority investors is one explanation why the pace of the expected sale of the team is dragging. Yet aside from that, a transaction that will no doubt top out in the hundreds of millions of dollars isn’t as simple as a department store credit card purchase. 'You’re talking about a major investment and doing it right,' Hornets President Hugh Weber said. 'And this was the same type of process we did when Gary bought in in a minority share (in 2007). That was a little bit less complicated. But I think it’s important that everybody feel confident in how it’s going.' "
CLEVELAND - Her name was Melody, her taxi was actually a nice black SUV, and she provided a fine ride from the Hyatt to the airport today, the morning after what could go down as one of the worst nights in this snake-bitten city's professional sports history.
She told me about her son, who recently left the Navy and became a semi-pro football player before blowing out his knee three months ago. The mother in her said she was secretly happy that her boy wouldn't be colliding with 300-pound monsters anymore.
Melody also described herself as an amateur psychologist, and she said she believes LeBron James is going to sign with the New York Knicks next season because of the facial tics she noticed every time LeBron talked about free agency before he went on a self-imposed moratorium on the subject.
Like many Cavs fans, she was fatalistic about the Cavs chances of surviving this series and retaining the local kid from Akron. Heck, even their owner sounded like a dead man walking after the 32-point loss.
Cleveland fans are that way, Cavs beat writer extraordinaire Brian Windhorst once told me, because they don't merely expect the worst is going to happen, they know it is going to happen. The Browns didn't just threaten to leave, they left. Sure the Indians made it to Game 7 of the World Series, but they LOST, dammit, to the Marlins.
As I noted in the column I wrote last night, the lasting mental vision I'll have of what may have been LeBron's last home game as a member of the Cavs were the pink-soled shoes he was wearing when he walked to his car.
And since so much has been made of James' fondness for wearing a New York Yankees cap, it cannot go unmentioned that if we're going to look for a clue to his future from his departure footwear, there's only one place in the NBA where they've ever worn pink.
Henry Abbott has weighed in with his thoughts on the Cleveland fans' behavior last night, and he nailed it.
Having been there myself and seen and heard it, it was surreal, almost beyond comprehension. I can't help but remembering how I wandered down to courtside with 2 minutes left and gazed up at 18,000 empty seats. LeBron was looking up at them, too, chewing his fingernails.
I wish I knew whether John Calipari, Leon Rose and Charles Oakley, who all sat within four seats of each other on the baseline, and William Wesley, whose seat was in Jack Nicholson territory, stayed until the bitter end. Instead, I got close enough to the Cavs locker room to watch James pull his jersey off as soon as he was the first Cavs player through the exit tunnel.
"We'll always have hope with the Browns," Melody said as she drove through the cold rain, factory smoke bellowing from a smokestack in the distance, further clouding the already low, grey sky.
She neglected to tell me, and I wish I had asked her, whether she's planning to watch Game 6. But I think I'm safe in saying that in her mind, that game is already lost. And James is, too.
"It's an awesome city. Great restaurants, great shopping," said James, who spent three summers in Chicago while in high school working out at Michael Jordan's facility. "I have nothing bad [to say] about Chicago, and I'm not saying that because of what he said about Cleveland. I'm dead serious. We all love Chicago."
Without prompting, James then added that he has vacationed in Chicago a few times. As reporters laughed at the irony, James chuckled, but insisted he was serious.
A footnote to that story: James' three summers in Chicago are no small thing. They came when he was in high school, starting when he was a sophomore.
Do you remember being a high-school sophomore? That's young! Would you have left home to live and train in another city? Many kids that age get stressed out about sleep-away camp, for crying out loud.
It was bold and audacious, no matter how good he may have been at hoops. It was a leap of faith.
Who could have engendered the young player's trust to orchestrate such a thing?
That, my friends -- according to the word of those who were there at the time -- was the work of William Wesley. It's not news James and Wesley have known each other that long, but the reality of those summers is telling about the depth of the connection between Wesley and James.
You can't fire Wes. He doesn't work for you. He's like that dude from Pulp Fiction who gets called in to clean up sticky situations. Sometimes it's a young guy who is great on the court but sucks at life. Wes will straighten his ass out. He'll say, "You're coming with me, young fella." Then he'll lay it out on the table like, "Dude, you're screwin' up." He'll look at his entourage and say, "This person stays, but these clowns gotta go." Sometimes it's a coach who calls him for help, or a teammate or an agent. But he gets through to guys because he never asks for anything. And it doesn't hurt that he remembers the name of everyone he's ever met. ...
Because he has the ear of every player, coach, GM and sneaker company, a lot of people around basketball like to hate on Wes. Agents worry that he's going to steal their clients and steer them to one of his favorite agents. They think he's a glorified runner, a dude who agents send around to befriend players, get them into clubs and eventually get them to sign a contract. It's a shady business. But Wes is not one of those guys. Wes isn't running for anyone. I'm sure he's got his ways to make money, but he's interested only in setting up deals and making sure the people around you are looking out for you. When I got to the NBA he asked me if my agent was taking care of me. I told him about my contract, and Wes said it was cool, that my agent did a good job. He just wanted to know that I was taken care of.
We're standing with a young player who wants the night to keep going. The young player pushes to find another bar even though the odds are against it. Uncle Wes makes a face. He's squashing this right now.
"Nothing good can happen at this point," Wes explains simply. "You can't chase the night. When the night is over, the night is over. That's just the way it is. You just gotta wake up tomorrow and hope for a better day."
Uncle Wes had spoken. I am not exaggerating by saying it's a strangely profound moment. Within 15 seconds, our group splinters in three directions to look for cabs. I find one with my friend Connor. We climb in. We look at each other.
"I will never be able to properly explain that story to anyone," Connor said.
Agreed. You can't chase the night. It was like hearing a human fortune cookie.
Ray Amanti/NBAE via Getty Images
William Wesley, to those who have lost patience with Eddy Curry: "At the end of the day, we have to remember that these are still young kids, and they're our kids. We're responsible to lead them down the right road."
Eddy Curry has already been much discussed as a key to the Knicks' future.
Against the Nets on Saturday, in his fifth game since the 2007-2008 season, he didn't blow anybody away. He still got great post position -- he's among the best in the NBA at that. He had some looks. But time and again he couldn't catch the pass, his teammates couldn't get it to him, or his shots went awry.
At one point his teammates raced ahead and drew a foul. Curry, at a slow walk, trailed the play so severely he barely arrived in time to line up for the free throw.
He looked ... "Like he hadn't played for two years?" quipped coach Mike D'Antoni after the game. But he said it with a smile, and right now the relationship between the Knicks and Curry is a happy one.
"We're still learning each other," confirmed Curry. "I've only practiced with them maybe five times. In a sense, I'm like a new player here. And at the same time we're still trying to win games. I'm not trying to disrupt them. I'm adjusting to it. But I think it's only a matter of time before I'm able to dominate this game."
"The team will improve on getting him the ball where he needs it," adds D'Antoni, "and he'll improve with his footwork and feel more comfortable. We'll both have days like this and it'll be a while. But he's giving us something that we need and lifting up our spirits."
Consider that last point. Curry -- the poster child of the big, bad contracts that Isiah Thomas doled out in condemning the Knicks to long-term mediocrity -- is an inspration. The player who has endured just about everything anyone could imagine, and could well have soured on life, is flashing smiles.
On the court through his career he has been out of shape, out of sync, and sometimes a laughingstock. Off the court, the stories have been nightmarish, with murders in his family, lawsuits, and accusations. No one will ever accuse Curry of having had a smooth ride, and as much as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett may be the poster children for players coming straight from high school to NBA success, Curry -- despite big earnings -- has been a cautionary tale.
And yet, he has reached a point where he's a ray of light in the locker room of the franchise that has been called the most valuable in the NBA.
"Kind of like a new person coming around," says Curry of the mood since he returned to the team. "Everybody's just kind of revitalized. I love the energy in the locker room and on the court."
On Sunday, he'll play in Madison Square Garden for the first time since March 2008, when Thomas was still coach.
"Definitely fun to play my first game in the Garden since I don't know when,'" he says. "I was scared that it wouldn't happen here. ... Definitely looking forward to it. Hopefully they'll accept me. But they don't have a choice. I'll be there!"
Scheduled to be showing support for Curry in the face of Garden critics on Sunday -- and sitting courtside at the Izod Center on Saturday -- was Eddy Curry's "uncle" and noted NBA insider William Wesley. As a trusted advisor of a long list of players, including Curry, LeBron James, and Allen Iverson, Wesley has the potential to be a major figure as Donnie Walsh works to bring the Knicks back to respectability.
Wesley has already been a central figure in Curry's recent weight loss and rejuvenation.
Wesley very seldom talks to reporters on the record, but made an exception, speaking from his courtside seat at halftime of the Knicks' win at New Jersey:
Seeing Eddy Curry out there obviously means a lot for the Knicks. But also for you. Why?
Because of his personal struggle to get back to where he once was. There's a lot of people that doubt that he can get back to his form. He's trying. He's trying. This is just another step. The bar is being raised in each game.
Do you like his chances?
I like his chances.
These two teams we're watching, they're both banking on getting much better through free agency. If you could give them advice on how to succeed in attracting a premium free agent this summer, what would you say?
I'm not going to answer that question, because I think it's a set-up question. I'm here to talk about Eddy Curry, and to support Eddy Curry.
Tell me about your summer with Eddy Curry. What did you actually do?
We did two-a-days. He worked out. He ate right. Chris Douglas-Roberts came in and supported him -- Chris is from Detroit, so he came in and supported him. There's a lot of guys that wanted to come in to support Eddy through this process. J.R. Smith came in and spent some time with him. It was really great to see people coming and rallying around Eddy's family. A lot of people just wanted him to be in the right situation.
The stories about Eddy's situation have been terrible. There have been murders. There have been weird accusations. Just about everything bad you can imagine ... Very serious stuff. As someone who knows him better, it must kind of kill you to see Eddy Curry be the butt of jokes.
Yeah, but I've seen that my whole life with these young kids. Some of them get held to different standards. But at the end of the day, we have to remember that these are still young kids, and they're our kids. We're responsible to lead them down the right road. So if they hit a bump in the road, we should help them.
What do you say to people who make fun of him?
You're wasting your breath to talk to them. They're called haters. Their thought process isn't going to alter. You spend too much energy trying to convince them.
Is the perfect scenario for him to be a long-term Knick? Or would it be better for him to get a fresh start?
No, with Eddy, I think the best place for him is to be a New York Knick. People have to remember, the Knicks took a chance on Eddy when nobody else did. He hasn't forgotten that. Donnie Walsh has bent over backwards for Eddy to be successful. Knowing Eddy, Eddy's not going to take that lightly. He understands the commitment from Donnie Walsh and the New York Knicks organization.
So, Eddy's playing 11 minutes in Indiana, Donnie Walsh said in the papers, played a role in the Knicks' decision not to sign Allen Iverson.
I don't know anything about that.
Donnie talked to the media yesterday, and said basically that there were enough good signs from the young Knicks that they didn't want to alter the structure of the team. And he specifically mentioned Eddy's performance as part of that.
I don't know.
Sounds like the kind of thing you're talking about, though, with a big Knick commitment to Eddy Curry.
I guess! I don't know. I wasn't privy to the information.
Eddy spent the summer with your trainer and with you, and then he came to training camp and was immediately injured and the Knicks didn't seem to think he was in shape.
I don't want to comment on that. But I'll say that he had to start somewhere. And he started it in Detroit, Michigan.
And you're happy with where he is now?
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Eddy Curry has lost so much weight he's almost unrecognizable. (He's the one in the headband.)
By Henry Abbott
He has only played 11 minutes, but as Chris Sheridan just explained, slimmed-down Knick big man Eddy Curry is already playing a pivotal role in the Knicks' thought process about Allen Iverson.
Curry could also play a pivotal role in helping to unravel a couple of NBA mysteries.
The first mystery is obvious. When will the misery end for Knick fans? The team David Stern, and a zillion other people, grew up loving, has lost all sparkle. The Knicks are a miserable team hoping to use the city of New York and Cablevision's deep pockets (anything but the roster) to lure a top free agent this summer. However, if Eddy Curry can prove he's a desirable NBA player, the Knicks' whole situation changes dramatically -- either because they'll have another quality player at a key position, or because they'll be able to trade his hefty contract and bring in more talent.
The other mystery is William Wesley. What does he do? I spent ages poking around that issue. Curry's recent life is a bit of an answer. Curry has had every problem a person could have. Murder in the family. Accusations of misconduct. Financial problems. A career in shambles. Health problems. Weight problems.
Enter William Wesley. The story has been told many places, but the basics are in Alan Hahn's training camp report from Newsday:
William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley was in attendance yesterday, marking the second straight year the well-connected attache to many NBA stars (including LeBron James) has been present at Knicks camp. Wesley has an interest in Curry's progress, of course. He is the one who set Curry up with strength coach Tommy Weatherspoon and basketball trainer Jerry Powell to work with Curry this summer. For most of June, Curry stayed at Wesley's home outside of Detroit.
What does Wesley do? He's integral to a lot of things, arranging mortgages, arranging trades, arranging jobs for coaches and a whole lot more. But he's also, clearly, something of a camp counselor for people like Curry, and the Knicks have placed a ton of trust in him.
Everything changes if Wesley's work pays off. He'll be hailed as a genius. The Knicks will swell with pride.
If it doesn't ... then the joylessness you have seen on the court so far is what the Knicks will be.
As Hahn points out, Wesley is also famously close with LeBron James (and, complicating things somewhat, Allen Iverson). If the Knicks and Wesley can have success together in resurrecting the career of Eddy Curry, the good vibes that come along with that couldn't hurt the free agent conversation next summer.
In the meantime, Donnie Walsh and William Wesley will be watching Curry closely, knowing they both have a lot at stake.
- The trouble in Houston would seem to be that Chuck Hayes is starting for Yao Ming. But Daryl Morey points out that the hidden issue is not that Hayes will be on the floor with the starters ... but that it's not yet clear who will play Hayes' old minutes off the bench.
- Mark Madsen on taking a D-League coaching job: "I just signed a one year contract to be an assistant coach with the Utah Flash, located in Orem Utah ... and I'm excited to start coaching! One week ago I went to a Timberwolves game and it was surreal to be up in the stands watching my old teammates and friends, Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Gomes, Cardinal and the entire crew! I had the chance to go to NBA training camp and a firm offer in Greece, but the NBA opportunity was a long shot to make the team, and as much as I would love to go to Greece, the timing wasn't quite right. I thought to myself: 'Well, i can wait, stay in shape, and hope for a great NBA opportunity with a team where a big guy gets hurt, or I can jump on this opportunity.' Ultimately it was an easy decision because I've always thought that I would like to coach, and you never really know when NBA playing opportunities come. I also just kind of thought it would be too boring to workout on my own while waiting for the right NBA opportunity which might come and might not."
- Rapper Irv Gotti's son on spending a chunk of his summer at William Wesley's beach house with the likes of Knick Eddy Curry and high-school phenom Michael Gilchrist.
- Fantastic intuitive visual look at the NBA schedule -- lets you see, at a glance, who's spending lots of time on the road or at home.
- There's a chance Blake Griffin could miss opening night with an injury.
- The NBA this season: Extremely top heavy.
- Ricky Rubio meets his old DKV Joventut team, and destroys them. He even scores at the rim in traffic a few times. But mainly: If you're a big man with good hands, you want to play with Ricky Rubio.
- An off-season report card for the Nets.
- David Berri on the Hawks: "Hope is not a plan."
- Nobody is big enough to guard Greg Oden, even though he's only an OK offensive player. Does that mean the Blazers should give him the ball a lot, while ignoring the options that made the NBA's most efficient offense last season?
- Vince Carter wants to coach one day.
- PG-13 for language: Kevin Durant's brother, tweeting on Oklahoma City. UPDATE: Asked to explain, he backtracks. (Also PG-13.)
- Brian Robinson of Save Our Sonics says the mood has shifted in the struggle to get an NBA team in Seattle. "There is a rapidly increasing vibe of “Done deal, just sit back and wait until the announcement." Worth noting the NBA's Board of Governors met recently -- if there was a meaningful plan to get a team in Seattle, that group would have to sign off.
- It says here that Tracy McGrady, once discussed as an MVP candidate, will never be an All-Star again.
- ShamSports on the Thunder's treasure trove of cap room: "Why would the Thunder not use this massive potential asset? Why would they turn down the opportunity to be one of the few buyers in such a seller's market? Why weren't they in there soliciting players like David Lee, Paul Millsap and Ben Gordon, using this prime opportunity to add one more significant piece to an already impressive young core? Did they whiff on an opportunity? Were they mismanaged? ... I don't think so."
- On aging: It is now fairly easy to count up the players left in the NBA who were born in the 1970s.
- UPDATE: Stephon Marbury threatens to buy Twitter for the purposes of banning some Tweeters he doesn't like. For what it's worth, Twitter was recently valued at $1 billion.
- Olympiakos is coming to Ohio to play the Cavaliers, and there will soon be a judge's ruling to determine whether or not they'll have to leave behind some little things like ... their team plane ... to satisfy former player Chris Morris' agent, whom the Greek Club stiffed ages ago. In case you don't remember Chris Morris, here's Michael Jordan dunking over him, blowing the minds of Morris' own New Jersey teammates.
- When the Kings' staff loaded video onto YouTube of their new coach's first post-game news conference, I'm sure they were hoping to keep online fans pumped up and informed. I'm sure they were not hoping that the first comment would be (from jcr24): "Oh God. We're going to suck all year."
- If you practice really hard, and pursue your dreams ... maybe one day you can have your birthday party at midnight, in the cramped galley of an airplane, before sitting out the big game with a sore achilles.
- Wow, I guess LeBron James has some serious mojo in Cleveland. He calls Braylon Edwards childish, and BLAMO -- the wide receiver is instantly traded to the Jets. James also plays his first game with Shaquille O'Neal, and ends up 15 points in 15 minutes, while taking just seven shots. And here he is on Entourage (PG-13 for language).
- 37th pick in the draft, playing in his first pre-season game. DeJuan Blair was lucky to even get 22 minutes for a veteran team like the San Antonio Spurs. But how about 16 points and 19 rebounds?
- Now we can all have photographs of ourselves dunking.
- Eddy Curry spent the summer on the William Wesley weight-loss plan, and it worked: Curry is said to have lost 40 pounds. But the Knicks are shelving him anyway, saying he may be lighter, but is not game-ready, and pulls a muscle every time he steps on the floor.
- David Stern, overseas, says the NBA has been stealthily hiring.
- Bulls rookie James Johnson hits a game-winner. Joakim Noah will never be beat in the race to congratulate a teammate.
- David Lee turned down a chance to be a Blazer, because he was worried about playing time in a world of LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden.
- Positive signs for Wizard fans.
The three most important faces inside the gym at Skidmore College today were -- in order of importance -- William Wesley, Danilo Gallinari and Eddy Curry.
The Knicks need all three if Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni hope to crack the 41-win barrier sometime before 2020.
Wesley, know as "World Wide Wes" is one of the movers and shakers in NBA circles. He has a close relationship with Donnie Walsh, who asked Wesley to oversee Curry's off-season workout program. More importantly, Wesley is also an advisor/confidant/friend of LeBron James.
It's an interesting little opera that will play out.
Of course Wesley -- as that rarest of assets, someone who is in LeBron James' ear -- will be the man of the hour all season.
Wesley's very close to Eddy Curry, and you'd have to think that any team hoping to land James would be wise to treat Curry with respect.
But does that mean Wesley would steer James to the Knicks?
Wesley is close to so many people in the NBA ... it's hard to know what his involvement with Curry means about James' future. For example: Wesley is also close to Jay-Z who is a part-owner in the Nets. And I have even heard that he's close to Dan Gilbert, who owns the Cavaliers -- after all, they're both in the mortgage business.