TrueHoop: William Wesley

William Wesley, LeBron James and the "rift"

July, 9, 2010
Abbott By Henry Abbott
One of the more intriguing plots of this free agent season has been the much-reported rift between NBA powerbroker William Wesley and the most famous of his "nephews," LeBron James.

James' friend and business partner Maverick Carter talked about Wesley on the record to Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times a few days before free agency began.
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.”

After that, the accepted storyline in some media went even one step further, to conclude that Wesley was out -- as in out of James' inner circle. There was much talk of a rift.

It's the kind of story people like to believe about Wesley, but it was tough for me to believe. I know he has his critics, but I spent a lot of 2006 looking for some scorned player or person he was once close to. Somebody like that, I figured, would spill the beans. But wow is it ever hard to find players who fell out with the guy.

Meanwhile James and Carter -- they have blatantly held Wesley in the highest regard for a very long time. They have both stuck their necks out for him time and again. It was most bizarre to see Carter distancing himself from Wesley in this way. Wesley and agent Leon Rose have been closely linked for their entire adult lives and were integral to getting James to this point in free agency. James, Rose and Carter were going to kick Wesley out now?

Apparently not.

I got phone calls from Greenwich, Connecticut at the time of James' televised announcement on Thursday, from people saying Wesley was very much present and looking chummy with James.

And then consider this video footage of LeBron James and friends arriving in Miami on a private jet late that night. Here's more similar footage.

The bald guy in the dark suit, white shirt and no tie ... that's Wesley. There he is walking across the tarmac next to James and Carter, laughing and smiling. There he is greeting Heat executives. It's not the best video. Somebody who was there assures me not only that this was Wesley, but that a still photographer took a picture of Wesley and Carter smiling together. I'd like to see that.

But as Wesley is very apparently not out of the inner circle ... what gives? What was Carter talking about with that quote?

It's worth noting that Wesley told Jerry Stackhouse on the radio in mid-June about his role in James' decision, saying: "I haven’t sat down and talked to [LeBron]. 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.”

Wesley on June 15 and Carter two weeks' later are both remarkably on message: James makes his decision, not Wesley. Maybe that's the gospel truth. At the very least, it's a good way to stay out of getting blamed for James leaving the Cavaliers or not going to the Knicks, Nets, Bulls or whatever. Wherever James ended up people were liable to hate Wesley for that, if he were seen as driving the decision.

In any case, seeing Wesley step off the private jet with the man of the hour, things certainly appear to be the same as they ever were.

William Wesley in the spotlight

June, 22, 2010
Abbott By Henry Abbott
We had friends over for New Year's, the night of December 31, 2005.

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 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.

Pro Shoes
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.

John Calipari
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.

Leon Rose
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.

Anonymous NBA star on William Wesley

April, 8, 2010
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN The Magazine has a running column from an unnamed NBA star. Player X, they call him. In the latest version of the column, this player tells stories about William Wesley (Insider). This version of events is 100% in line with what all kinds of players will say about Wesley, usually off the record. But the basics are like this:
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.
Bill Simmons, on All-Star Weekend in Dallas:

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?

LeBron James' Big Announcement

January, 16, 2009

And a William Wesley sighting.

There has been a lot of hubbub about LeBron James having a big announcement, talking about following his first love, and photos of him in a Cleveland Browns' NFL uniform.

Today a blogger has more of the story.

Check out those photos.

They are screenshots from a longer version of a State Farm ad that appeared on 

In any case, it seems quite clear that the big announcement is really just part of an ad campaign. Creative, for sure.

And ... poignant.

Check out those still photos. 

In the second one, we see a fabricated scene. LeBron at a podium, addressing basketball fans. But it's not wholly fake. For one thing, at some point (presumably in the summer of 2010) LeBron James will hold a similar press conference, and will really announce what his future plans are.

And when he does, who will be present representing James' inner circle? I don't know, but the lineup here -- if I'm not mistaken, that's Randy Mims, Richard Paul, and William Wesley to James' left -- is a realistic bet. (Surely Maverick Carter and Leon Rose are in on that conversation, too.)

So, this ad is a funny fiction. But also, maybe, perhaps a little bit of a preview of something real.

David Falk Explains

May, 8, 2008

The other day, CNBC's Darren Rovell interviewed agent David Falk. I quoted Falk from Rovell's interview on TrueHoop. It went like this:

I wanted to meet a college player who I really enjoyed watching this year.

So I asked a friend of mine, who is a very powerful man in the game, to introduce me to him. And he said, "I'd like to help but I can't."

And when I asked why. He said, "You are three years and $500,000 short."

I didn't really waste any time wondering who that story might be about. How could you ever know? I printed it as Falk intended it: as a general comment on the sad state of recruiting in basketball.

But, let's not forget, TrueHoop is home to the big ol' William Wesley investigation. TrueHoop readers are tuned into Wesley. And when a lot of people read this, they started to email me, comment on TrueHoop, and blog about the idea that the "very powerful man" had been William Wesley.

What's more, people took that even a step further, and implied that Wesley had been not just Falk's friend, but even more than that the actual person who had done the paying.

I heard that, and called some agents and the like -- NBA insider types -- to ask them what they thought about these comments, emails, and blog posts. Turns out this quote has become something of a parlour game among that set. Everyone has their theories about who is involved here.

But all were surprised at some of the reactions in the blogosphere, and the comments. Some took it as possible, or even likely, that Wesley had in fact been the friend Falk had been referring to. But no one thought he would have been the been the guy to do the paying. It just didn't make sense to them, for a number of reasons. One said it wasn't Wesley's style. Another pointed out that it would have been unlikely for Falk -- who knows the world of basketball and Wesley well -- to seek recruiting help from a man who was competing for that same player.

Everyone pointed out that the players in this draft who have a shot at being worth that kind of money signed with agents not known to have any connections to Wesley.

I thought David Falk might be willing to clarify a little bit. We spoke yesterday, and this is what he told me:

William Wesley has been a friend of mine for 22 years, and I wish him nothing but the best. He has a great talent to make connections to people, and I consider him a friend.

In no way did I want to imply that William Wesley was the person who paid the player I was referring to. It doesn't matter who the player involved was, and it doesn't matter who the agent was. But I have had some phone calls from people saying they thought I was talking about William Wesley paying somebody, and I want to make clear that I wasn't.

I'm not a guy to comment on the identity of a certain player. It was intended as a state-of-the-union comment about this industry.

We live in an environment where if you're a top player, everyone in the food chain expects to be paid. I'm not angry about it. But I was asked about young people studying to become agents, and I can tell you this is why I'm not as enthusiastic for them.

I suggested to Falk that, right or not, the phrase "powerful man in the game" nowadays seems to carry the implication that it's one of a very small group, including William Wesley or Sonny Vaccaro. 

There are a lot of powerful people in basketball. Some of them I know, and they help me. The person that I talked to in this instance wanted to help me, I believe, because he likes me.

In all my years of doing this, I never met a player through Sonny Vaccaro. Sonny was dealing with Arn Tellem, and then Bill Duffy, and now apparently back to Arn again.

I want to make it crystal clear. The person I turned to for help -- he said to me that he would like to help me, but he couldn't, because the situation was that someone else had paid that player a large amount of money over three years.

I wanted to meet the player, and he said I can't do it -- it's done.

If a friend of mine had paid that person, I never would have put this idea out there.

I was talking about the young people at Syracuse University's David B. Falk Center for Sport Management. I was asked if I would help them become agents, and I think that if you have talent and integrity, this is probably not the kind of business you'd want to get into.

It's not competition based on merit. It's competition based on improper inducements. I think it's an abomination as it is. There are a number of ways to fix it, if people really wanted to.

My days as an activist are probably behind me.

Have you seen Crocodile Dundee 2? There's a part where an African-American guy comes up to Paul Hogan and pulls a switchblade on him. Hogan is from the outback, and asks, what's that? And the guy says that's a knife. Hogan says that's not a knife. THIS is a knife, and then he pulls out this huge machete.

Sometimes I think that I'd like to be like Crocodile Dundee. You want to cheat? Let's really cheat. You want to pay someone $500,000? Let's pay them $5 million and see what happens. You want to do that?

But ... can you get that money back? Of course not. You lose before you even start. If you pay people $500,000 to get to represent them at the draft -- the minute you have to pay them is the minute you can no longer advise them as an impartial agent.

I've never met a player so valuable that I'd pay him, and I hope that I never will.

William Wesley on the Air

April, 10, 2008

This afternoon, for the first time in nearly a decade, William Wesley will be on the air, talking on the record to the public.

Radio host Rick Bozich will be doing the interviewing, and writes on his Courier-Journal blog:

On Thursday, around 1:40, new Indiana University coach Tom Crean will join me. Later that day, I'm hoping to have former U of L stars Billy Thompson, Kenny Payne and Milt Wagner, along with their friend William Wesley, a guy that the New York Times called the most powerful man in basketball on Saturday. 

Those players won a national title over Duke together in 1986, and Bozich was there then and is still covering Louisville now.

Should be interesting. 

Wesley, a childhood friend of (Dajuan Wagner's father) Milt Wagner, was reportedly around that Louisville team for years. I'm hoping we might learn a little bit today about what his role was.

I used to blog about secretive basketball insider William Wesley nearly every day.

Any little tidbit of news, boom, it was on here, as part of my open source investigation.

Lately, though, I don't have much use for little scraps, here and there, of what the man does.

Oh, I'm as convinced as ever that he's a fascinating and extremely important part of basketball, professional sports, and more. I still want to figure out how best to explain the big picture of what the man does.

But it's no longer news to me that he's at this or that game etc. I'll spare you those kinds of details, you know? When there's something to talk about, we'll talk.

In the meantime, there are a lot of stories out there that make me think of William Wesley.

Here's the basic formula: any time I see mention of one of the players he is especially close to (the list is much longer, but certainly includes LeBron James, Richard Hamilton, Dajuan Wagner, Eddy Curry, DeSagana Diop, Allen Iverson, Tyreke Evans, and Derrick Rose) combined with a shoe company like Nike or Reebok; agent Leon Rose; someone who grew up in Camden, Cherry Hill, Chicago, or more recently Detroit or Cleveland; and/or the Memphis Tigers and John Calipari, then I tend to think "hmm."

Today there was kind of a trifecta: Derrick Rose -- who is from Chicago -- to go along with John Calipari, and Nike, all in one article. That, my friends, is a classic case of the kind of story that makes me say "hmm."

Oh, and if you kept reading, it mentioned William Wesley himself.

Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal talks about how Derrick Rose's brothers went to extraordinary lengths to keep all the recruiters, hustlers, street agents, and the like away from their brother Derrick. Wesley, however, was the the exception. Wesley has long been connected to Memphis, and roots for the team unabashedly. Calipari acknowledges, in Wolken's article, that Wesley had a role in telling the Roses about Memphis:

Because of the years Wesley spent in Chicago, he knew about Rose and ultimately became an advocate for Memphis in a recruiting battle that also included Illinois and Indiana. But Calipari said Wesley's influence in most matters -- and particularly in Rose's recruitment -- has been exaggerated to mythic proportions.

Because of Calipari's experience with Wagner and his running mate, Arthur Barclay, who was a success story for Memphis, he said it would only make sense for Wesley to recommend Memphis as a good place for Rose to play college basketball, especially if he wasn't going to play all four years.

"Derrick's not the one talking about being one-and-done," Calipari said. "But William Wesley could tell them, because of Dajuan Wagner, if I have a player who is ready to play in the NBA and has the opportunity to be a high draft pick, I'm going to tell them (to leave)."

That all makes sense, I mean, Memphis is a top program, on TV all the time. They needed a point guard. Their offense makes penetrating guards look good. They are ready to make Derrick Rose a huge star of college basketball. And Calipari did do the most difficult thing a college coach can do: let a player who could make your career waltz off to the NBA.

That explains why Derrick and his gatekeeper -- big brother Reggie Rose -- would put Memphis on the short list.

But let's back up for a second. Why would Reggie Rose let William Wesley into the rose family chamber of secrets, anyway?

Here's one guess about how Wesley got in good with the Rose family that didn't want to hear from anyone else in the recruiting game. Wesley probably didn't ask for anything. That's what everybody says his M.O. is. He's just a guy who knows Michael Jordan, LeBron James, half of the shoe industry, and everyone in college basketball, and he's willing to help people who have questions. So, no harm talking to that guy, right?

Wesley's harshest critics will imply that this is merely the latest instance in an age-old game of slick operators doing whatever it takes to get cozy with star athletes, only to profit from the association by directing the players to this or that shoe company, agent, or university in exchange for kickbacks, favors, the spotlight, or whatever. Wesley has also told people for some time that he makes money from arranging mortgages for his superstar associates.

Maybe one day we will have real evidence what line of work William Wesley is actually in.

People who believe Wesley's a runner must think Reggie Rose is crazy to have let Wesley into his inner circle. But consider this: people associated with Wesley have had a track record of not just one star player getting out of the grind, but several people around the player getting ahead, too.

For instance, a lot of NBA players have childhood friends hanging around, sharing in the players' wealth. (A la "Entourage".) But LeBron James is not just accompanied by his childhood friends. James is accompanied by his childhood friends who have worked for Nike, now run their own businesses, and/or work for the Cavaliers. That's another level of the game. That's an approach that can give more than just one person in the posse a future.

James and Rose both also followed in the footsteps of another Wesley confidant, Dajuan Wagner, in playing for AAU teams that were sponsored by Nike, but instead of being run by some coach selected by the shoe company was instead run by someone trusted by the star player. 

The trend is that it's not about buddies hanging around being useless as the stars struggle to deal with the challenges of a new high-profile life. Instead you have two or three people learning about running the business of a basketball star, running AAU teams, getting internships, learning the shoe business that will pay most of the early bills, and the like. 

If you're Reggie Rose, that's something you might want to learn about, and that's the kind of thing William Wesley can teach. (Que Gaskins, a veteran of marketing who knows Wesley and Allen Iverson well, told GQ's Alex French that Wesley is "a school without walls.")

Did Wesley give Reggie Rose some advice about how he can get ahead? Who knows. But, as Wolken writes, Rose has apparently already started getting ahead:

So Reggie Rose packed up his home and brought his family to Memphis, where he can continue to watch over his brother. He travels back to Chicago often because his work is based there.

"I've got an AAU foundation out of Chicago through Nike, and I'm a director, and I work with inner-city youth in Chicago," he said. "I'm employed by Nike through AAU basketball. Then I've got a nonprofit organization that helps out kids from the Englewood community."

Alex French called me last fall. A friend of his had showed him TrueHoop's William Wesley investigation, and French was intrigued. He pitched an article about Wesley to his editors at GQ, and they went for it.

He was wondering if he could pick my brain.

He did so in style, with a very nice dinner in Philadelphia (thank you, GQ). It was tough for me -- I was happy to have a compatriot on the trail of William Wesley, but out of respect for my sources who needed to remain anonymous I could only tell French so much. He ended up getting tons of information all on his own. I'm not sure I was even all that much help -- beyond what I had published on TrueHoop.

There's plenty of new information. See for yourself. As of a few minutes ago, French's whole article is available for free on I'd quote from it, but you should really go read the whole thing.

I just finished a conversation with Alex, which went as follows:

Have you tallied, in any meaningful way, how much time you spent on this story? How many interviews? How many miles traveled?
I haven't done an official tally. I will say that I started reporting the story in October and handed a first draft to my editor in late February. This was far and away the most demanding story that I've done. I think I did some where in the neighborhood of about 150 or 200 interviews. I made trips to Cleveland, Philly, Washington D.C., and Detroit. During that period I think I went to probably 25 or 30 NBA games to either interview players or try to find Wes.

That's a lot of heavy journalistic lifting. I'm going to ask you something I have wondered about myself: Why? What's the appeal of this story?
For me the why was simple. Wes is fascinating. During the early stages of the reporting, I wasn't quite sure about what to make of this guy. But as the time went by and I gained a better understanding of who Wes is and how he functions, the story became about something different entirely -- and that's how the world works. Wes is one of those rare people who make the world work.

That's an amazing thing to say. Please explain.
Well, Wes is what's known as a connector. Meaning that if you were to take apart all of the various mechanisms that constitute the NBA -- the players, the front office executives, the shoe companies, the agents, the marketing executives -- the one dot that all of those other dots connect to is Wes. He has the ability to shorten the chain between any of those two dots.

Let me heap you with praise. You did two things that I found nearly impossible to do with this story: you provided a big dose of lucidity through the morass of information, and you managed to get a lot of people, like Reggie Miller, David Falk, Luther Campbell, and John Calipari to speak on the record about William Wesley. That's no small feat.
David Falk was probably the best interview I've ever done. Fascinating, brilliant guy. He gave me two and a half hours. That interview is at the SFX office in DC. It was the last stop on a very long, two-week trip. I locked my keys in the car prior to the interview and went in cold -- all of my materials, except for my tape recorder were locked in the car.

Whoa. That's a sweaty moment.
But the Falk interview was really the turning point in the reporting for me. He provided me with an understanding of the NBA, the system, he called it, and the role that Wes plays with in that system.

What was his agenda, do you think? Why would a guy like David Falk want to help a GQ reporter writing about Wes? Seems like almost everyone else in his position is anxious not to say too much.
Good question. I'm not sure that David had an agenda. Yes, he's getting back in the agent business, so to have his name in a magazine like GQ is good for him. But to be honest, I'm not sure that David had a real clear idea of what the interview was going to be about. There was some confusion at the beginning of our time together about the subject of the interview. He thought the story was about what happens to powerful people after they give up that power. Or something like that. It was a confusing moment. But once he figured out it was about Wes, he was happy to talk.

I know that if your experience is anything like my experience, you probably heard a lot more about Wes than you can get on the record with any journalistic professionalism. How much of what you feel you know about William Wesley is in this story?
A fraction. But at a certain point I decided that my story wasn't about trying to prove that Wes was dirty. You can never prove any of that.

No, indeed. And it seemed like, I imagine for the sake of clarity and word count, you had to decide to leave it a mystery how he supports himself.
He's a mortgage broker, Henry. You know that.

My mortgage broker is a pretty serious professional. But he does not have a private plane at his disposal.
Well, during the process of reporting I did turn up some interesting public records. Wes's special lady had concierge and consulting businesses registered under her name. Which is strange, because she's a school teacher.

Wow. That's something. Can you tell from the records if those businesses are active?
We've known that Wes played the consulting and concierge angle for quite some time. Back in 2001 Wes told GQ's Max Potter all about his business. I don't have the records handy at the moment.

Do you think Wesley is bothered by the work you and I have done?
I don't know. I will say that Wes seemed less than pleased with my efforts during the reporting process. I chose to report this story in something of an unorthodox style -- I interviewed all of the people surrounding Wes first and went to him last. That seemed to have upset him.

Here's my take: he needs people to have confidence in him -- that he will keep secrets. So he can't be seen to be courting the media, and looking to get his name out there.
I agree.

But at the same time, having a bunch of media types saying that he's all-powerful ... that doesn't hurt his ability to be influential. And to impress people.
I think he takes pleasure in being a mystery. It adds to his mystique. He's powerful because people think he's powerful.

So, it's kind of perfect for him: He's in the article wagging his finger at you, saying he's not a story and you had better get it right -- but then he's still the star of the feature story.
That was kind of a scary moment. The finger wagging. The next day I showed up on his door step.

How did that go?
I had made arrangements with Fred Girard, a really great journalist from Detroit who had filed a story on Wes a few years back, to drive out to Wes's place. The intention had been to just drive past the place, but Fred wanted to go in. When Wes answered the door and saw Fred and me there, he looked profoundly confused. Eventually he let us in. We were there for about 45 minutes. Most of the conversation was off the record. Wes handled it really well.

How so?
He could have sla
mmed the door in my face. He didn't. He let us in. I asked him questions and he answered them -- for the most part.

Must kind of tear you up, on some level, not to get to write about that. It's the big moment your story was hoping for, and it really happened, and it's nowhere to be found in the article.
I think my editors at GQ, Joel Lovell and Andy Ward, really did an amazing job with the piece. Those two guys are the best editors in magazine publishing. We came to an agreement that the story was more interesting with less of me in it.

Impossible! I want the Alex French show! What's next for this story, do you think? It seems like it's going to be interesting for a long time.
Yeah. I really hope somebody -- whether it's you or Real Sports, or somebody else -- keeps going with this. It is an interesting story. And I hope that somebody has the opportunity to step back and take a long view of basketball -- the AAU system, the agents, the shoe companies -- and really dissect how Wes fits into the big picture.

Indeed. There is a lot of interesting stuff yet to figure out. And it does tell us a hell of a lot about basketball. That's where I feel your article is important. My work is really all focused on what it means for basketball. Yours makes clear that this is just a story with universal intrigue and implications.
You make it sound like a spy movie.

I guess I think of it more like a political movie.
Yeah. It really is. I imagine there are a million people working in Washington who function in the same way that Wes does.