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Saturday, April 5, 2008
The New York Times on William Wesley


The New York Times' Pete Thamel is the latest to join the club of those journalists who have taken a crack at trying to explain the mercurial William Wesley.

On the big question -- what is William Wesley's job? -- Thamel leaves the conversation where TrueHoop, GQ, the Akron Beacon-Journal, the Detroit News, and several others have left it. (Along the lines of: I can't say for sure, but it has something to do with a lot of really really big names in sports. It may or may not involve sneaker companies, college programs, agents, mortgages, and other stuff.)

What Thamel's article does have, however, that's excellent and new, is a first-hand account of Wesley getting himself first-time access to influential sports figures.

Here's the key story:

Wesley attended Brandywine College, now known as Widener, for a year.

He was better known in the area for his job at a local shoe store, Pro Shoes, where he sold the hottest sneakers to local athletes. He mingled with coaches, college players and professional athletes.

"It wasn't just a sneaker store," said Billy Thompson, who starred at Camden High and the University of Louisville, and later played in the N.B.A. "It was the sneaker store."

As the local stars he met through high school and Pro Shoes went off to college, he would visit them. Two incubators of Wesley's connections were the University of Miami football program and the Louisville basketball program.

Wesley met Jimmy Johnson, Miami's coach at the time, when Johnson traveled to Pennsauken to recruit Greg Mark and Jason Hicks.

Johnson said Wesley tipped him off about Mark, who was the only white player on the floor during a basketball game. Mark played the game of his life, and Johnson said Wesley offered him help in recruiting Mark in exchange for some sideline passes. When Wesley would visit Miami, Johnson said, he brought Nike gear for the players.

"He is such a good person," Johnson said. "He is extremely friendly, and you can trust him right away."

There is a big void of information surrounding William Wesley, and that void gets filled with assumptions. So many people have told me that they know Wesley is making money from this or that sinister or exploitative mechanism.

They can never prove it though, or even provide the slightest direct evidence, and almost everybody who speaks ill of him is competing with him in some way.

What this story shows, however, is something about Wesley that squares with what I have heard again and again.

In the example above, Jimmy Johnson was short of time and wanted an insider's perspective on football recruits. The players want cool gear and someone who knows what they're going through. Wesley offers both in exchange for access that's easy for Johnson and the players to give.

First of all, notice that one thing Wesley is not asking for, in this instance and a zillion others, is money. This distinguishes him from the vast majority of hangers on in sports, and makes him way more welcome with the rich and famous.

Wesley makes it his business to figure out what you want, and to help you get it. Doing that again and again and again, for countless people, is a rich source of good karma, good friends, and goodwill. (Can those things later help you get riches, advancement, or whatever else you want? You betcha. It's a great playbook. Is that what Wesley does? Who knows.)