Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports is Disrupting the Agency World

The major NBA agencies are trying to paint Rich Paul and his agency, Klutch Sports, as the bad guy. Don’t be fooled.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) agency landscape is dominated by a select few agencies, namely Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Wasserman Group, and Excel Sports Management. In general, nearly a third of all professional players across every sport are represented by only five agencies. It’s not an easy world to break into or gain any ground if you’re a newcomer.

However, an agency established in 2012 by the name of Klutch Sports and its founder and CEO, Rich Paul, have been dominating the NBA headlines. Recently, Paul and client New Orleans’ Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis opted to make Davis’ trade request public, and Paul was alleged of coordinating leaks to sway trade leverage. Then, Paul and friend/client LeBron James watched college basketball powerhouses Duke and Virginia play in Charlottesville.

The headlines make sense when it comes to Paul’s handling of Davis’ trade request. You have a top-five player demanding a trade, being fined for doing so, and with the New Orleans Pelicans not completing a trade prior to the trade deadline, that saga continues.

However, in the case of Paul and James watching Duke and Virginia during the Lakers’ East Coast road trip, the headlines don’t add up. Klutch sports was just one of the many agencies and agents who were at that game. Yet, there was no peep made about other agencies—only Klutch Sports.

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As Rich Paul himself told Dave Mcmenamin of ESPN,

“It’s an issue when you see several media people shining a light on it as if it’s a negative thing. But when I was one of his [James’] homeboys, one of his ‘posse,’ and we went to see Steph Curry in Detroit [for a Davidson-Wisconsin NCAA Tournament game in 2008], nobody said anything. Nobody said nothing.”

There are agents and agencies trying to increase their exposure to top collegiate players at every single game. And those attempts go beyond just the games. Yet why’s it painted as a spectacle when only Klutch Sports does it? Answer: Klutch Sports and Rich Paul are a threat to the status quo and current agency hierarchy. The agency world is all about competition and “it’s just business” until there’s a viable threat that can actually take that business from established agencies. And people are especially uncomfortable when their livelihood is threatened.

That threat and discomfort motivates a predictable response in the form of an attack. In the agency business, public relations tactics are used to paint the threat as the bad guy. One of those tactics preys on a reality of human psychology: we conflate quantity of mentions with legitimacy of the message. In other words, the more you see a message, the more you’re like to believe it. “Oh, everyone’s saying it, so it must be true.” Same thing applies here with Klutch and the narrative other agencies are trying to create. Paint them in a certain light enough times and the public will buy it.

The reality is, when the establishment tries to label you as the bad guy, you know you’re doing something right. I see it all the time with medical providers who choose to work outside of the insurance network and get shunned by their in-network counterparts. It’s a survival defense mechanism.

Adding to that defensiveness are two key things: first, Rich Paul isn’t the typical, agency type. He’s young, black, and doesn’t have “business school pedigree.” His pedigree comes from an entrepreneurial spirit, with his first business selling hard-to-find, throwback jerseys. That’s actually how he met LeBron in the first place. Paul was at the Cantor-Akron airport wearing a Warren Moon jersey that caught LeBron’s eye. LeBron asked Paul where he got it and after learning about his business, they exchanged information and developed a close friendship.

Secondly, Rich Paul worked for CAA under the tutelage of Leon Rose, but then decided to branch out on his own in 2012, taking on LeBron as a client. So you have an individual from a very different background who cut his teeth at the major agency, and then decided to leave while taking the agency’s biggest client with him. It’s understandable that CAA would be bitter.

Adding to the level of threat is Paul’s background growing up in East Cleveland and understanding the commitment and effort it takes to make a path out. He has a unique perspective and relatability with NBA players and prospects that not many agents have. Further, this personal connection with his clients may underlie why Paul relentlessly champions their interests and wields player leverage like never before.

Paul’s unabashedly unafraid of supporting his clients in all their endeavors and dedicated to getting them what they want. We saw this recently with Paul trying to fulfill Anthony Davis’ trade request after treading water with the Pelicans for seven years and earning only one playoff berth. Those actions left many with bitter tastes in their mouths, but Paul served his client’s interests to the best of his ability. Rich Paul understands how to disrupt a status quo system because he himself broke through a societal and financial system that’s built to maintain status quo.

If you’re thinking that Paul’s success is attributed solely due to his friendship with LeBron, why aren’t more of LeBron’s many friends starting multi-million dollar companies in cutthroat industries? Additionally, nearly every successful person has had help along the way, particularly in the agency world.

It’s a world that’s filled with nepotism and making the comfortable even more comfortable. But when Rich Paul, whose own ingenuity and hustle connected him with LeBron James in the first place, uses his key connection to help build a new business, it’s an issue. Come on.

Here’s Rich Paul speaking on that point:

“Think about it from this perspective…on one end, you got a â€?posse.’ Or they’re â€?leeches.’ Years ago it was leeches or â€?hanger-ons.’ They’re OK when they can call you that, but they’re not OK when it’s a CEO, and you have the biggest superstar in the world supporting somebody that he trusts to do his business off the court and just who happens to be a friend.”

Personally, I study Paul’s approach and tactics because he’s been so effective in such a short time. In seven years, he has 17 clients and is approaching a billion dollars worth of NBA contracts with countless more negotiated in sponsorship deals. So called “luck” is the intersection between opportunity and preparation. No one sums that up better than Rich Paul.

There’s no denying what he’s building is a threat to the monopolistic agency world, and I don’t think he would have it any other way. Otherwise, he’d still have a cushy CAA agency position. He’s a young, black CEO who understands his leverage, the players’ leverage, and how to use both. He understands change takes disruption, and he’s relentlessly willing to disrupt. No one loves the status quo more than the status quo, and true discomfort comes when the comfortable can’t just label a movement as “fringe” anymore.

Dr. Rajpal Brar
Dr. Rajpal Brar
Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT, is a writer for Grandstand Central with a background in coaching, business, and strategy. He’s the founder of his own sports blog/resource TheInjuryInsight and also writes for SilverScreenandRoll, ThisIsAnfield, and TheDoctorWeighsIn. He’s the owner of 3CB Performance, a wellness and athletic development/performance clinic in West Los Angeles & Valencia, CA.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article man. Looking at the Darius Bazley story brought me here. Agents complaining about tactics is hilarious to me!!

  2. Great article! What have you learned in your own practice to disrupt the sports performance landscape like the Rich Paul does in the NBA landscape?

    • The biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you can offer something no one else can- in Rich Paul’s case that’s an unrelenting commitment to his clients desires and understanding player leverage and in my case, that’s offering an approach that takes many performance factors in account (muscular strength and conditioning, resilient mindset, the mind-body movement and mindfulness connection, and so on) - then you can disrupt the landscape. These spheres are full of status quo who follow a certain formula to and it works…but if you’re able to provide an alternative that no one else can, it can be a wake-up call that “hey, there is a better model”.

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