Few events in recent history have had a profound effect on a fan base in the way that "The Decision" affected the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers faithful. When LeBron decided to take his talents to South Beach, leaving behind a franchise and a city that he grew up in and helped turn into a contender in the Association, he slapped the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio in the face on the way out. He was booed resoundingly when the Heat showed up in town, and the Buckeye state vowed to never associate themselves with the evil that was LeBron and his entourage ever again.
One of the long standing criticisms of King James has been the way in which he has managed his inner circle and his personal image. It is said that “The Decision” was the work of his handler Maverick Carter, and despite the amount of vitriol that was thrown in his direction, LeBron has stuck by his closest friends and tried to weather the storm of criticism that came his way.
The first big decision that LeBron Inc. made was not in fact his choice to head down to Miami, but rather the 2005 move away from agent Aaron Goodwin and towards Leon Rose and LRMR. Despite the fact that Goodwin helped to negotiate $135 million in endorsements for LBJ, he was replaced by his inner circle of friends along with super-agent Rose. This was a controversial move to say the least, as many believed that he had too many voices in his ear and was being pulled in multiple directions by people who did not have his best interests in mind.
So when LeBron left Cleveland, it was assumed that the blue collar city would never have to hear from these kids again, and they would be able to start fresh with the first and fourth overall selections in the recent draft. With the first pick they took Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, who by most accounts is a well spoken, Chris Paul-type player. But then with the fourth pick they sent some shockwaves through the industry when they picked Texas freshman Tristan Thompson. The shock was not due to the player himself, as the Toronto native is a high energy power forward with the ability to run the floor and finish well in transition. The reason for the surprise was due to the representation that Thompson came along with. Put it this way, Tristan refers to LeBron as a “big brother”.
Tristan is repped by Leon Rose, but with Rose managing the likes of Carmelo, Chris Paul and LeBron, it is expected that Rich Paul will handle the day-to-day operations with Thompson. Paul is one of the R's of LRMR, or the four horsemen, the "marketing" agency that is made up of LeBron and his inner circle. He managed to get himself a gig with Rose at CAA, and got on as the main rep for fellow Canadian Cory Joseph, who was taken late in the first round by the Spurs. He also reps Eric Bledsoe and Jonny Flynn, so this is clearly more than a foray into athlete representation for Paul. But the way that he went about landing the Canadian kids makes for an interesting narrative. So one of the pieces of the Cavs rebuilding franchise is represented by the same people that ripped the city's heart in pieces. How does this happen?
After the draft Thompson was asked about whether there was any animosity between Paul and the Cavaliers, and he responded that it did not appear to be an issue and everyone was acting professional about the situation. Paul was in Cleveland for Tristan's introduction to the team for the first time since LeBron left town. He was quoted as saying that he hopes to be able to keep business and personal matters separate. But when the athlete he is repping is already calling one of his closest friends a brother, it appears that any separation is unlikely. So how did this web of relations come together in the first place? Well there is some serious power brokering going on behind the scenes.
The name Worldwide Wes was featured frequently last summer during the free agency frenzy. He is a shadowy figure who has arguably the most influence of anyone in the league. Despite just recently being hired in an official capacity at super agency CAA, Wes has been making deals happen between college players, shoe companies and NBA squads for years. He is said to have significant influence with LeBron and the boys, and clearly had a hand getting Rich Paul his gig with the agency.
But there is one more piece that is involved here. How did a couple of kids from the Toronto area end up being represented by a young agent like Paul? Well both Joseph and Thompson played for the Grassroots Canada AAU team that is coached and managed by one of the most influential men in Canadian basketball, Ro Russell. He is the often criticized as acting in his own best interest when peddling Canadian high schoolers to American prep schools and colleges, but he produces results. Guard Myck Kabongo, another Grassroots product who is also heading to Texas this year, is slated to be a lottery pick in the 2012 draft.
Ro is the coach of Christian Faith Centre Academy in North Carolina during the year, but his influence is mainly on display during the summer when he does the summer AAU circuit with Grassroots. This is likely where the relationship between Ro, Tristan and Cory was established with Wes and the boys of CAA and LRMR. Tristan was thought to be a lottery pick, but few people saw him going as high as fourth to the Cavs, and with his representation coming via the very men that work LeBron, it caught more than a few people by surprise.
It is obviously much too early to start predicting the way that events will transpire during Tristan's career, but you can be sure that Cavs fans will not be happy if they see Mav Carter and the boys sitting courtside. If Cleveland does not start winning games, and if other teams come calling when Thompson's rookie contract is up, do not be surprised if he heads for a bigger market. There are simply too many powerful people at work behind the scenes to say without a doubt that the Canadian big man will spend the next decade in Ohio.
From LeBron to Mav Carter to Rich Paul. Then from Leon Rose to Worldwise Wes to Ro Russell. Cleveland is back in bed with the same power structure that ripped their prodigal son away from them. Tristan Thompson was going to have some serious pressure on him regardless of who he chose as an agent and what city he ended up in. But now that he chose the agent he did, or rather was pushed towards the agent that he was, and he has ended up in Cleveland, it will be interesting to see how his career plays out.
Whatever happens, Cleveland is in for a ride.
Photo courtesy of daylife.com, AP photo