As NBA executives, players and fans await the decision of free agent LeBron James, one name has been appearing quite often in connection with the four-time MVP.
James' agent, Rich Paul, has been working feverishly behind the scenes for years in preparation for this summer. Paul, a Cleveland native, is reportedly the one who is leading the Cavaliers to believe they have a chance to sign James, and according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "everyone's at the mercy of Paul's agenda now."
So, just who is Rich Paul?
A friend of James since his high school days, Paul's role in Team LeBron has evolved from helping to plan parties to running James' free agency. He is part of James' famously close inner circle and he has been working with James since he was drafted.
Perhaps the most amazing part of their relationship is that James and Paul met by chance some 12 years ago at the Akron-Canton Airport. James, then 17 years old and on his way to the 2002 Final Four in Atlanta, sported a Michael Vick jersey for the trip. At the airport he noticed a man wearing an authentic Warren Moon throwback jersey along with white Air Force 1's. James was impressed.
James asked the man where he got the jersey and Paul, then 21, replied that he sold throwback jerseys out of the trunk of his car. The two exchanged contact information, and soon Paul hooked James up with a Magic Johnson Lakers jersey and a Joe Namath Rams uniform.
"If I don't have on that jersey, we don't have a conversation," Paul told Chris Broussard for a 2012 feature in ESPN The Magazine.
James and Paul grew close and bonded over their many similarities. Broussard describes the relationship in his article:
Both had mothers who struggled with the perils of urban life while raising their sons. Both grew up in the 'hood but attended mostly white Catholic high schools to play basketball. Both recognized the importance of doing well in school. "We used to say, There's nothing cool about being a dummy," Paul recalls.
Over the years Paul's role has evolved from planning parties and events to helping guide James' marketing strategy to taking over as his agent. Paul has even acted alongside James in a State Farm commercial. Here he is pretending he doesn't like Kid 'n Play:
Paul, who never graduated from college, started Klutch Sports Group in 2012 and represents Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker and Tristan Thompson in addition to James.
Now, as James prepares to make a decision that will define the NBA for decades to come, Paul is right beside him. He's met with five teams already and will sit down with James and Pat Riley this week.