When LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003, he made the decision to forgo hiring experienced agents and business managers as any other player in his position would.
Instead, LeBron chose to entrust virtually all of his business dealings to three longtime friends, putting them in prominent positions of power and making them millions in the process.
But now, one member of his entourage is being sued by another NBA player for tens of millions of dollars.
Back in 2002, LeBron James was one of he most famous teenagers in America thanks to the fact that he was being touted as possibly the best high school basketball prospect of all-time.
That’s also the year that a chance meeting at the Akron-Canton Airport in Ohio with a guy who was selling sports jerseys out of the trunk of his car changed the trajectory of LeBron’s career and the sports business landscape.
That jersey salesman happened to be Rich Paul, who’s inventory was apparently so impressive that it caused LeBron to strike up a friendship with Paul and ultimately make him one of the three members of his entourage.
After he was drafted in 2003, LeBron hired Paul as his manager, but it wasn’t long before Paul had leveraged the pair’s friendship – and the fortune LeBron amassed – to become a full-fledged sports agent and launch his own agency, Klutch Sports Group.
Within a few years, Paul had wisely utilized the fact that he was LeBron’s agent to grow Klutch’s clientele to the point where the a large percentage of the company was acquired by United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the world’s largest talent agencies, making Paul the head of UTA’s sports division.
Now, Klutch represents over 165 athletes in the NBA and NFL, generated over $58 million in commissions in 2020, and ranks 13th on Forbes’ list of most valuable sports agencies with over $1.6 BILLION in contract value under management.
And for his part, Rich Paul is also ranked 9th on Forbes’ list of highest earning sports agents in 2020 thanks to the $46 million in commissions the 23 athletes Paul personally represents paid him last year.
But if one of Paul’s former clients has anything to say about it, Paul will be writing a check for all of that money – and then some.
In a lawsuit filed in Dallas earlier this week, Nerlens Noel, the former sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, alleges that Paul was negligent in advising him to turn down a $70 million contract extension with the Mavericks in the summer of 2017.
Breaking on @SportsAgentBlog: Nerlens Noel has sued NBA agent Rich Paul, claiming Paul is responsible for $58 million in lost earnings.https://t.co/mW5a9SdxQI
— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) August 24, 2021
According to the suit, Noel is seeking $58 million in lost earnings from Paul because Paul convinced Noel to fire his then-agent, Happy Walters, in 2017 in order to sign with Paul and Klutch Sports Group after Paul promised Noel that he was “a $100 million player.”
Of course, this alleged promise was despite the fact that Noel had largely been a bust up to that point in his career as numerous injuries had plagued his first few seasons in the NBA, leading him to average no more than 11 points and eight rebounds per game in a season.
Regardless, Noel followed Paul’s advice and turned down the $70 million offer from Dallas, choosing instead to sign a one-year, $4.1 million deal with the Mavericks in order to ultimately get the $100 million deal Paul had allegedly promised would be waiting for him in free agency the following summer, but never came.
The lawsuit also alleges that Noel was at the bottom of Paul’s list of high-level clientele – which includes LeBron, Anthony Davis, John Wall, Ben Simmons, and Draymond Green – which caused Paul to not make Noel a priority.
On top of that, the suit claims Paul “did little to no work” helping Noel attract offers from other teams and endorsement deals, and even ignored returning calls from the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, and LA Clippers regarding Noel’s availability.
Noel and Paul parted ways last December after the center signed a 1-year, $5 million contract with the Knicks, the largest single season sum Noel has made throughout his career.
In nine seasons in the NBA, Noel has made less than $30 million in career earnings, and just $13 million of that was made during the time he was being represented by Paul.
However, it is rather interesting to note that after Noel parted ways with Paul and signed with another agent, he was somehow able to secure a three-year, $32 million deal with the Knicks, despite averaging just five points and six rebounds per game for the team last season.
Obviously, Noel’s lack of high-level production didn’t stop him from getting a $70 million offer before Rich Paul was his agent, and it didn’t stop him from being offered $32 million after Rich Paul was his agent.
So clearly, Noel appears to have a rather legitimate gripe here.
But if there’s one thing we do know for sure, it’s that this has nothing to do with the fact that reports that summer suggested LeBron wanted to team up with Noel the next year in free agency.
There’s no way that LeBron was considering Noel as a potential role player on one of his super teams, or that he knew that if he was considering Noel for one of those spots that a large contract with Dallas wouldn’t exactly be salary cap friendly when LeBron and at least one or two other stars would all need max contracts while said role players take the minimum.
No chance there were any conversations between best friends and business partners LeBron James and Rich Paul about how much Noel was being offered and the ramifications that could have if LeBron wanted to play with him.
Nope, nothing to see here.
Sports with Balls will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.