Zion Williamson is the biggest name in college basketball and LeBron James is the biggest name in the NBA. When the two stars are associated in any way, news is sure to follow and that is what transpired on Saturday when James made a quick trip to Charlottesville, Virginia to see Williamson and his Duke teammates face off against the Virginia Cavaliers in an intriguing battle of a top-five teams.
There was an easy explanation for James and agent Rich Paul making the trip — the Lakers were in Philadelphia for a game the next night. But that didn’t stop the conspiracy theories from flying. Paul is a high-powered agent and his biggest client, James, being in the building as the hottest star at the college level took the floor sent many down the rabbit hole that the duo might be “recruiting” Williamson to Klutch Sports in some way.
James had a full recap of what makes Zion special, but he also took the time to address the idea that he was recruiting Zion by showing up in Virginia. James strongly pushed back on that notion this week in speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“A recruiting trip? I didn’t talk to anybody,” James told ESPN.
“They’re only saying that because it’s Rich. When Shaq came to see me play in high school, when A.I. came to see me play in high school, they weren’t saying it was a recruiting trip then. But because it’s Rich Paul and LeBron, now it’s a recruitment trip.
It comes as no surprise that James would be bothered by the insinuation, particularly on behalf of his long-time friend in Paul. The specifics are important here in that the duo did not speak to Williamson while making the trip and, as James notes, it is perfectly reasonable that someone with his love of the game might want to see an incredibly interesting college game just a stone’s throw from where his professional team was enjoying a day off.
Then, however, James brings up the fact that Paul is “a threat to everybody” and, again, it is easy to see why he might take exception.
“Now Rich is a threat to everybody, and they look at it and they want to keep trying to jab my agent and jab my friend. And what is he doing that’s wrong? They don’t say that about no other agent when other guys go see [players]. They don’t say that about no other agent, but my guy because he’s a threat.
“And he’s African-American, too. Throw that in there.”
James is correct in his note that most players and agents showing up at a Duke game wouldn’t draw even a mention, much less a headline, and while some of that has to do with the simple high-profile nature of James himself, it is worth noting the dichotomy between Paul and other, less notable agents.
From there, Paul also spoke with ESPN and, like James, he referenced the strange difference between the way things have been covered previously when compared to how they are approached now.
“All I care about is respect,” Paul said. “That’s all. We were just enjoying a basketball game. Didn’t talk to nobody. Didn’t do anything or nothing. But 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 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.”
The full comments from Paul and James are certainly worth noting as part of a wide-ranging discussion with ESPN but, in the big picture, they are absolutely correct in pointing out the hypocrisy. Much has been made about James’ association with Klutch and, despite an NBA investigation, it is often discussed that he has a unique influence in the league that partially stems from the agency. Still, James should be able to attend a top-flight college game without widespread accusations of “recruitment” and these comments are worth evaluating through that prism.