Meet Rich Paul, The Man Who Orchestrated LeBron's Return To Cleveland

LeBron James is returning to Cleveland in one of the most dramatic free agency moves in NBA history.

It’s a smart move all around. The Cavs are now the betting favourites to win the 2015 NBA Championship, with James surrounded by a core of young talent. The Sports Illustrated essay that LeBron used to announce the move is a love letter to northeast Ohio, and it should all but erase the stain of 2010’s “The Decision.” In addition, the structure of the deal — two years, $US42.1 million — is a stroke of genius from a financial point of view.

But little is known about the man who orchestrated the return, LeBron’s 33-year-old agent Rich Paul.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Paul had been pushing for LeBron’s return to Cleveland for years, calling it “something of a mission.” After James opted out of the final year of his contract with Miami, Paul encouraged the Cavs to “offer no restraint in the recruitment of James.” Cleveland responded by immediately making a trade to clear enough cap space to sign LeBron.

While LeBron was on a trip with his family during the early stages of free agency, it was Paul who held meetings with a handful of NBA suitors.

Just moments before James made his announcement public, Paul was the one who called Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to tell him, “Dan, congratulations. LeBron’s coming home,” Wojnarowski reports.

Paul is also from northeast Ohio. He met James at an airport, of all places, before most people had ever heard the name LeBron James.

Chris Broussard told the whole story in his ESPN The Magazine profile on Paul back in 2012.

James was 17 and Paul was 21 when they met. LeBron on his way to Atlanta to watch the NCAA Final Four when he spotted a man, Paul, wearing a powder blue Warren Moon Houston Oilers throwback jersey.

From Broussard:

“Tiny and thin but with swag twice his size, the then-21-year-old Paul strolled toward the gate in his authentic Warren Moon, complemented by white Air Force 1’s with the red sole and red swoosh. James and his friends did double takes. Finally James approached the little man and asked where he got his jersey. Turns out Paul, a Cleveland native, sold them from the trunk of his car.”

They have been friends ever since.

After James was drafted, he signed Paul to King James Inc., not knowing what position Paul would serve, only that he wanted to grow with him.

Paul eventually helped form LRMR, James’ management and marketing group, along with LeBron’s childhood friends Maverick Carter and Randy Mims (the acronym LRMR stands for LeBron, Rich, Maverick, and Randy). Despite not attending college, Paul landed a job with Leon Rose and Creative Artists Agency (CAA) when James switched agents and signed with CAA in 2009.

Then, in 2012, Paul left CAA to start Klutch Sports Group, signing James as his first client. Klutch Sports now represents several other NBA players, including Eric Bledsoe and James’ new teammate, Tristan Thompson.

In four short years, LeBron James has gone from hero, to villain, to hero again. People are singing James’s praises for his homecoming, but they really ought to be singing Paul’s, too, because without him, LeBron’s talents would probably be somewhere other than Cleveland.

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