17 C
New York
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Sports agent Rich Paul takes big swings negotiating deals for athletes

Sports agent Rich Paul says he was “born a dice roller.”

Paul is the founder and CEO of Klutch Sports Group – an influential agency with nearly 200 athletes on its roster, including LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green. As a teenager, Paul said he was a hustler who often won big in Cleveland dice games. Today, he has negotiated more than $4 billion in deals for his clients.

Rolling the dice — literally

Paul’s improbable journey, the subject of his new memoir out Tuesday, began on the east side of Cleveland in the early 1980s, just as crack cocaine began to hit the streets. When he was about 4, Paul learned his mother, Minerva, was addicted to crack. Paul’s father, “Big Rich,” recognized his son’s intelligence and kept him close, though they lived apart.

“Big Rich” taught Paul to always think two steps ahead. He scraped together the money to send his son to a Catholic high school, but there was no avoiding the streets, and Paul said the lessons he learned there were crucial to his education.

“This was my Harvard, my Michigan. [It] was my Morehouse,” Paul said. “And the same things I learned on this corner, I take it to the boardroom. Because the one thing this teaches you that I don’t think you can learn from those institutions is people, characters. And on these streets, it’s no better way to learn character because they’re coming with everything.”

As a teenager, Paul was a regular at an open-air casino in the park, he said. He’d rake in up to $5,000 a day.

“You gain a resilience here,” he said. “We won [the] majority of the time, but you also had to learn how to lose.”

At 19, Paul’s father died from cancer, and Paul went all in on the streets, selling marijuana and crack cocaine.

“The absence of my dad allowed me to– to take that step, because I woulda never done that had he been around. I had too much respect for him,” Paul said. “And it’s not something that I would sit here and, and glorify.”

Paul said he considered himself a full-time hustler, but said his choices were born out of necessity.

“Jeff Bezos is a hustler. Think he’s not? Phil Knight was the ultimate hustler,” Paul said. “The difference is, they could go with their plan and their business idea and get someone to believe in them. It didn’t matter what idea I had. There’s no pathway to get there.”

Meeting LeBron James

Paul found his pathway through a stroke of luck. In 2001, Paul was at the Akron-Canton Airport wearing a Warren Moon throwback jersey, which caught the eye of another traveler – then high school hoops sensation LeBron James.

The jersey sparked conversation, but James and Paul soon forged a deeper bond.

“As we got to talking about sports, we started evolving and even talking more and more just about life, and about our upbringing, about our moms, and our communities and stuff of that nature. And it just kinda struck. It just struck a chord,” James said.

When James entered the NBA, he hired Paul as a right-hand man. Paul went on to work for James’ agent and watched, listened and learned. He struck out on his own four years later and launched Klutch Sports Group in 2012. James went with him.

Growing Klutch Sports Group

When he started his company, Paul said he was underestimated and unwanted by others in the industry.

“I didn’t look like the success in our industry, especially from a place of decision making,” Paul said. “And I wanted to disrupt the industry. I wanted to be impactful, but I wanted to come from a place of purpose.”

With Paul’s first negotiation as agent, for Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, Paul got his chance to prove the naysayers wrong. Paul said the Suns had first offered his client $28 million, but after holding out for a year, Klutch got Bledsoe a $70 million deal.

In the years since, Paul said he’s worked to give players leverage, and aims to craft deals that are not only high-value, but also give players flexibility. In 2018, New Orleans center Anthony Davis was tired of losing. He fired his agent and hired Paul, who flouted NBA rules by publicly demanding a trade, earning the wrath of fans and a $50,000 fine for Davis.

Davis wound up with a championship ring and a deal now worth $270 million playing for the L.A. Lakers. Paul landed on the cover of “Sports Illustrated,” which called him the most polarizing figure in the NBA.

“When it was someone that didn’t look like me, it was genius, it was why you get a power agent,” Paul said. “But when it’s me, I’m destroying the league? I mean, those things are absurd.”

Some of Paul’s biggest swings have been for his biggest client. Paul negotiated LeBron James’ jumps from Miami to Cleveland to Los Angeles, with deals that netted James $400 million, and set him up to win two of his four championships.

Today, Klutch has 70 employees with offices in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. Paul teamed up with Hollywood powerhouse agency UTA to expand his reach. Paul has his own New Balance signature shoe – a first for an agent. And his partner is more famous than he is: Paul has been in a relationship with Adele for two and a half years.

Paul said he often has to pinch himself.

“I had it worse than a lot of people but I evolved, I matured, I transitioned,” he said. “It feels earned, you know? It wasn’t given, for sure. It was earned, which is good. I like that.”

Related Articles

Latest Articles