If you follow the NBA or TMZ or both -- and, honestly, these days you should probably be following both -- you might have noticed a video last week of LeBron James exiting a coffee shop in Los Angeles and immediately being peppered about his future. If not, here's the video:
Turquoise shirt, backwards black hat, sunglasses, beard.
Undeniably, that's LeBron James.
I know you know that.
But what you might not know is that two more prominent figures exited Coral Tree Coffee right in front of James that day. Multiple industry sources confirmed to CBS Sports that, yes, that's James' agent, Klutch Sports Group founder Rich Paul, in the white hat, and Cameron Reddish, a consensus top-five high school prospect in the Class of 2018, in the gray and black hoodie. So it's reasonable to assume they had just had lunch together in Brentwood. Or, at least, they had a cup of coffee or tea or something.
Which is totally OK.
There is no NCAA rule prohibiting prospects from meeting with agents. It's allowed, as one NCAA source explained, "as long as the agent isn't providing a benefit to the prospect -- and the prospect hasn't agreed to be represented by the agent." So there is nothing necessarily improper happening in that TMZ video. But it does offer a glimpse into two things:
1: How James seems to play an active role with Klutch Sports Group.
2: How early elite basketball prospects are targeted by sports agents and agencies.
"I think [Paul] uses LeBron a lot [to help lure future clients]," a person familiar with the inner workings of how agencies pursue prospects told CBS Sports. And, to be sure, that opinion has existed in basketball circles for years -- although, it's only fair to note, this practice is hardly unique to Paul, James and Klutch Sports Group. Other NBA agents have other NBA players who operate similarly. It's just that James appears to be the biggest star with the most influence who is also comfortable being an active de facto recruiter.
And it's nothing new.
One source told CBS Sports he remembers seeing James at a club in Las Vegas many years back at a private table with, among others, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph -- who were, at the time, high school students at Findlay Prep in Nevada. "That was an eye-opener for me," the source said.
Thompson and Joseph are now represented by Klutch Sports Group.
Probably not a coincidence.
James' influence over prospects is also something rival agents used to complain about back when the LeBron James Skills Academy was held annually in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The four-time NBA MVP and three-time NBA champion would regularly host prospects at his 30,000-square foot mansion for bowling or movies or whatever. And though some recognized it as little more than an attempt to mentor young players, others assumed James' motives were also guided, at least in part, by future business possibilities.
To be clear, it's true James has no official role with, or stake in, Klutch Sports Group. But what's also true is that he and Paul have been close since before James graduated high school in 2003, and that . The of such. But that's never stopped eyebrows from raising.
Either way, this is a fact: Reddish, who is being recruited by Duke, Kentucky and others, is already a target. He's an 18-year-old from Philadelphia who was in California for the Nike Skills Academy that ran from Aug. 16-19. And, after the event ended, the 6-foot-7 forward remained in California and met with Paul and James, as the TMZ video proves. Again, that's technically within NCAA guidelines; the video is not a so-called smoking gun. But it does underline just how early agencies start recruiting five-star prospects. And if you've ever wondered how a one-and-done player can announce he's entering the NBA Draft on a Tuesday morning and then sign with an agent on that same Tuesday night, it's because the relationships between agents and heralded prospects typically date to when the prospects were 16 or 17 years old.
"And sometimes even earlier," one industry source insisted.
That's the Business of Basketball in 2017.
And here's why: There's a decent chance Reddish will play one more season of high school basketball and then one season of college basketball before becoming a top-five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. If so, he would likely sign a four-year contract worth more than $20 million only 22 months from now. Same goes for fellow Class of 2018 stars R.J. Barrett, Bol Bol and Zion Williamson.
In other words, their futures are lucrative and fairly predictable.
Consequently, it's easy to understand why Reddish is already being wooed by an agent; it would be weird if he weren't. And if Paul is indeed using King James to help, well, that's easy to understand too. And, more to the point, it's hardly surprising.