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Friday, March 20, 2009
Allonzo Trier is in the Game, and So is Brandon Roy's Foundation


The New York Times Sunday Magazine won't come out until Sunday (or Saturday if you subscribe at home) but you can read the cover story right now online.

It's by Michael Sokolove, and it's about a young basketball player in Washington state called Allonzo Trier, who is ranked #1 in the country for his class.

You know the drill with the phenoms and the weird lives they lead.

They're like gorgeous young women. Everyone wants to help them, give them things, and invite them places. And honestly, it's because of their personality. Or whatever. (And you ask: If it's about personality, how about that normal-looking woman over there who has a way better personality? You inviting her to your beach house for the weekend?)

In the opening of the article -- which is a great read and covers far more than the one issue I'm digging into here -- Sokolove summarizes some of the weirdness surrounding this kid.

Trier has his own line of clothing emblazoned with his signature and personal motto: "When the lights come on, it's time to perform." His basketball socks, which also come gratis, are marked with either his nickname, Zo, or his area code, 206. He's expecting a shipment of Under Armour gear soon, thanks to Brandon Jennings, last year's top high-school point guard and now a highly paid pro in Italy. He is flown around the country by A.A.U. teams that want him to play for them in tournaments -- and by basketball promoters who use him to add luster to their events. A lawyer in Seattle arranged for Trier's private-school tuition and academic tutoring to be paid for by the charitable foundation of an N.B.A. player, and the lawyer also procured free dental care for Trier. 

The kicker, of course, is that Allonzo Trier is a sixth grader. These kinds of influences -- various businesses buying the allegiances of players -- are reaching younger and younger, in part because older players are already off the market. 

Now, when I first read that list of entities doing favors for young Allonzo, I nodded along. Some socks. Some shoes from another player. An AAU team with money. All fairly normal, if maybe a little disturbing, stuff. Until you get to that ... charitable foundation of an NBA player part.

Whoa, whoa, whoa ... what?

Here's what freaked me out: Remember the O.J. Mayo recruiting disaster? This is where people trying to get close to a young basketball star -- with an eye on eventually profiting from him -- allegedly used a bogus charity to funnel money to the player.

By coincidence, I have spent a fair amount of this week chasing down other such similar stories. The theory I am investigating an alleged new underground trend in recruiting. Agents, lawyers and the like endear themselves to young players by arranging for them to receive stuff of value through some third-party charity.

How can the NCAA, the IRS or anyone else get upset about a nice charity delivering needed services and support to a young person and his family?

So when I saw this, I couldn't help but wonder ... who is this lawyer in Seattle, who is this NBA player, and what is the story here anyway?

Later in the article, Sokolove answers the first two of those questions:

Rich Padden, the Seattle lawyer and investor who arranged for Trier's schooling, said he set about addressing his educational needs after hearing from Steve Goldstein and another coach in New York who had taken an interest in Trier's basketball and academic progress and had flown him in to play tournaments. Padden arranged for Trier's testing, private tutoring and tuition to be paid for by the charitable foundation established by Brandon Roy, a star with the Portland Trail Blazers. Padden served as a mentor to Roy in high school, as well as to another N.B.A. player from the Seattle area, Martell Webster. (Padden is also an investor in one of the major manufacturers of basketballs, so Trier, who goes through a lot of balls, has a reliable source for more.)

"Allonzo is the first beneficiary of the Brandon Roy Foundation, hopefully the first of hundreds or thousands," Padden said. "He fit our criteria. We would have supported him even if he were not a basketball player."

Okey dokey.

But wouldn't it be so much cleaner if the first recipient were the 100th best player in his class? Or someone who doesn't play basketball at all? Or someone who didn't have a decent shot at making lawyers, agents, sneaker companies and others lots of money one day? (By the way, Trier appears, to my inexpert eye, to be lacing on some Roy-model sneakers in the online article's main photo. UPDATE: Or not. They look like Jordans.)

Now, there's a bit of back story here.  Brandon Roy's older brother was, some say, a better player than Brandon, but had a learning disability that was diagnosed too late for him to qualify  academically for elite college basketball. His career faltered in junior college. Part of Roy's idea in starting a foundation was to help kids like that academically. Trier -- who has academic trouble -- fits the bill perfectly.

But of all kids for the foundation to help first ... Couldn't it have been anyone other than everyone's top pick to achieve stardom?

I'm going to assume this is nothing more than a kid in need of some special education getting a hand up from some colleagues in the world of elite basketball. A tip of the cap to everyone involved for that -- the education is happening no matter the motivation. (I have put out feelers to talk to some of the people involved, to get more of the story.)

Isn't it sad, though, that -- no matter what's really going on in this case -- basketball is so shady that we have to worry about motivation here?

Would it be nice if, as a precaution, everyone on Brandon Roy's business team (agents, lawyers, sneaker executives, foundation people etc.) promised never to do business with Trier, just to be extra safe?