May 24, 2010, 12:17 PM EDT
The rumors are LeBron James and John Calipari are being packaged as a pair. Packaged by William Wesley, a man usually just described as an NBA power broker. Wesley works for CAA and is very tight with both men. But you can bet that wherever LeBron James lands, whoever his coach will be, when James is at the podium for the press conference, William Wesley will be in the room, hanging out on the side. And Wesley will have influenced the decision.
It’s left a lot of people with one simple question: Who is William Wesley.
Except, that is not a simple question. It is a mix of myth and reality, and it is a question nobody has any real answer for. Henry Abbott at TrueHoop has done an ongoing investigation over a number of years. Alex French’s piece for GQ in 2007 may be the best single story on the man. And yet you are left feeling all of what has been written is just the part of the iceberg above the water that you can see. That 90 percent of it is hidden from view.
In the NBA, talent is the ultimate commodity. Teams need it to win. Shoe companies need it to sell shoes. Agents need it to get the big contracts (and more clients). If someone has the ear of talented players, if someone has their trust, that person has a lot of power.
William Wesley has a lot of trust. Probably more than anyone around the league. That makes him one of the ultimate power brokers.
Wesley is like the Zelig of the NBA, he is everywhere, influencing everything. He was holding back Ron Artest at the Malice in the Palace. Wesley is tight with Michael Jordan — he was the one who introduced LeBron to MJ, all part of the effort to recruit him to Nike. (Wesley also helped guide James to his agent, Leon Rose.) At any given time Wesley will be sitting next to Jay-Z at a Nets game (the two are tight) or hugging Jerry Jones after a Cowboys victory (the two are tight). The man gets friendly hellos from David Stern. He has access to Team USA basketball practices. He helped guide the last two coaching searches for Cleveland.
It was now ESPN analyst Jalen Rose who nicknamed him World Wide Wes — a play on the Internet’s www prefixes and its ability to find and connect you to anything.
Yet until he signed with CAA earlier this year, he had no formal ties. Wesley was the ultimate free agent.
What Wesley does, apparently better than anyone around, is form relationships. He knows everyone. Everywhere. The GQ piece tells the story of Wes getting Jay-Z on the phone for a young Leandro Barbosa in seconds. He can get Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, just about anybody on the phone instantly. He befriends players at the AAU level — the traveling club teams for top high school players — and helps guide their careers.
It works because people trust him. He calls the players he works with his family, and he treats them like the father that everyone wishes they had. There are the perks — he can hook them up with anything. A guy who can make custom suits. The right dentist. A hair stylist. Whatever you need, Wesley knows the right person. Not just can look up, but knows them.
His advice is trusted because it is seen as wise and fair, looking out for the best interest of the player and not just telling him what he wants to hear.
ESPN’s “Sports Guy” columnist Bill Simmons tells the story of a bunch of people out with a young player late one night on All-Star weekend. It’s late but the player wants to keep going, to find some after hours spots, and it is Wesley who stops it. “You can’t chase the night. When the night is over, the night is over. That’s just the way it is,” Wesley says. The crew breaks up and goes home almost instantly. Members of a player’s posse, his high school buddies still clinging on, would have pushed on into that night. Wesley got the player to do the right thing. It’s just an example, he doesn’t offer advice just in his own interest, but in the interest of the players.
Players trust him because of that and because Wesley never asks them for anything. Ever. Not a dinner, not a pair of shoes, not tickets. Nothing. He is there to help. He guides. But he has those connections. If a player wants to talk to people at Nike, Wes can make that happen for him. If there is a deal to be made, the agent or the company may give Wes a piece of the action for steering the player to them. It’s a small price to pay for the connection. Like bringing LeBron to Nike. Or Rose.
The problem in telling the William Wesley story is separating the man from the myth, the truth from the legend. In NBA circles he is a legend. Yet nobody can easily explain what he does or how he does it. Which is part of his mystique, his attraction, his power. By accounts from people I have spoken with, Wesley is a nice guy, a good guy. People like him, they trust him. They often listen to him.
And in the NBA, that is real power.
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