Rich Paul emptied the clip on, well, everything to S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated. He addressed some of his perception in the league and outside of it, how he’s handled this Anthony Davis situation, Jennifer Lopez and more in a wide-ranging covers story that’s worth reading in its entirety.
For the intents and purposes of this article, though, let’s start with what he said about how he gets treated compared to some other agents around the league. The conversation around him is not quite the same, according to Paul, who also outlined why he’d be trying to help steer Davis to the Lakers whether LeBron James was there or not:
“Did you say that to David Falk? Would you say that to Arn Tellem?” Paul says of two agents who juggled vast stables of clients without charges of conflict of interest. “You’re only saying that because you feel like, ‘Well, Rich wouldn’t be in this position without LeBron,’ right? My thing is: Take LeBron off the Lakers. Are the Lakers not a great destination for an arguably top-two player that went to Kentucky and won a national championship, signed with Nike? For a team that’s had centers from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq?
“So now, when you add LeBron, that’s what? The cherry on top. LeBron’s 34 years old. Anthony Davis is 26. So when LeBron’s done playing, the Anthony Davis trade is still rolling. What better place to do it than L.A.? If it was L.A.—I never said ‘L.A.’ But there’s no negative to that. Who gives a s--- what you’re talking about, about me trying to help LeBron out? No, I’m not. I’m trying to help Anthony Davis. Now, if helping Anthony Davis helps LeBron in the long run? So be it. But my goal is Anthony Davis.”
He veers off to speak of the Knicks as an equally alluring destination for AD. “The only difference is, they don’t have as many championships as the Lakers,” Paul says. “They got a tradition. It’s a big market—not that it’s only big markets. They have cap space, flexibility, they’re able to absorb more than one star. What’s wrong with that?”
(Quick tangent: Comparing the Lakers to the Knicks like this isn’t exactly making the point you want, Rich, but do you.)
What’s complicated about Paul compared to the other power brokers he listed is his background. Some around the league probably feel that he cut in line by way of LeBron, which is mostly true. But people only seem to point out minorities cutting in line when it’s been happening among white males for, well, ever.
Combine that with his straightforward, bordering on brutally honest nature and of course he ruffles feathers.
Here’s the thing, though: It’s fair to wonder if that’s why his client list has continued to grow even while those he’s negotiating against are taken aback by his approach. By this point, most NBA players know what they’re getting into with Paul. Maybe that’s the draw. For an athlete who might be frustrated by their current situation and see few ways out of it, Paul’s willingness to raise hell might be exactly what said player might be looking for.
I’m not saying this is definitely the case. I’m mostly trying to connect some of the blowback Paul has faced to how his presence in the league has grown nonetheless, and this seems to be one possible explanation.
As to the points Paul made about the Lakers for Davis specifically, they seem to make a lot of sense. Davis has toiled for all his career to this point in a small market that has had a tough time drawing fans to the arena and mostly failed come postseason time (though it would be disingenuous to completely waive off Davis’ own role in some of those shortcomings).
Now, things have improved of late in New Orleans, but I wouldn’t personally blame Davis for saying it was too little, too late. Of course he felt like the second fiddle to the New Orleans Saints while for a chunk of his career they literally shared a medical staff and the top Saints executive, Mickey Loomis, was overseeing the basketball team as well.
For Davis, the Lakers — despite all their recent flaws — still represent one of the world’s largest markets, one of professional sports’ most identifiable brands, a history of catering to superstars in ways other teams have fallen short and, oh by the way, they currently employ that LeBron guy, whose game is perfectly tailored to optimize Davis’, as well as having the chance to recruit another star to join them in free agency. But other than that, it’s hard to pin down why it is he’d prefer a move to the Lakers.
So, if you’re Davis, and you simply want out (and specifically to the Lakers), Paul seems to make sense as the kind of agent who can make that happen. Paul makes an, um, interesting analogy to what the Lakers represent to some players around the league:
Whatever team Davis plays for next season will be able to offer him more money to stay than any of his other suitors. And though reports have Pelicans owner Gayle Benson loath to do the Lakers any favors, and though many believe L.A. lacks the deftness to pry Davis away, the spin that he would be ill-served playing in purple-and-gold won’t let Paul alone.
“See, everybody wants to fabricate the facts when it’s me,” Paul says. “That’s just like saying, ‘No, A-Rod, don’t marry J-Lo. Are you out of your f---in’ mind, man?’ This is Jennifer Lopez! I mean, who would you rather me marry? The Lakers are Jennifer Lopez. You don’t want me to date Jennifer Lopez? Give me a reason I shouldn’t date J-Lo!”
Look, I’m not privy to enough information to either confirm nor deny Paul’s allegations of fabricated information about him or the way he handles his business. If he feels that way, then maybe it should be looked into, but I’m sure those on the other side of the negotiating table might feel similarly in the other way. So who knows.
What I can say is that if Paul feels like he’s treated differently because of his background, then it’s worth diving a little deeper into why that might be. This isn’t to say anyone who isn’t comfortable with his tactics are raving racists — that would be an altogether useless bit of oversimplification that even Paul himself says in the article he wouldn’t make. I just think it’s worth discussing some of what he’s getting at.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this all turns out. Eventually, Davis is going to be traded. Maybe it’ll be to the Lakers. Maybe Benson will see to it that he is sent anywhere but the Lakers. But regardless of how this specific instance of Paul flexing his muscle goes, he’s a fascinating case study on many levels, and provides us at least one avenue to at least ask some important cultural questions.