One of the big stories of the last week has been the NCAA’s introduction of, and later amendment to, a rule that puts restrictions on what agents can represent players coming out to test the draft waters while allowing those players to maintain eligibility to withdraw from the process and return to school.
The main sticking point was a requirement of a bachelors degree, which seemed to many to target Rich Paul, founder of Klutch Sports and LeBron’s agent who famously rose through the agenting ranks after becoming close with James when the two met in an airport when Paul was selling throwback jerseys. Paul penned an op-ed that pointed out the rule doesn’t really effect him, but just goes to restrict access for others that are trying to follow a non-traditional path like him to the agenting world.
The NCAA removed that specific requirement, amending it to follow the NBPA’s rule, which allows for those without a college degree to represent players provided they are certified agents and stay in good standing with the player’s association. That’s how it should’ve been from the start, but it sparked plenty of conversation about the agenting business. On Wednesday, Rachel Nichols of ESPN released an interview with NBA commissioner Adam Silver in which she asked about Paul and the NCAA rule, to which Silver praised Paul’s abilities as an agent and noted there should be the ability for exceptions to be made for those that don’t have degrees.
“I think Rich has more than demonstrated that he’s a professional negotiator and he’s a highly trained and competent agent,” Silver said. “I think the best way would be to say there are exceptions that can be made and he’s a perfect example of that.”
Nichols also pointed to how one of the NBA’s strengths is the availability of opportunity it provides to those that didn’t have advantages growing up, and how that can extend beyond players, which Silver expounded on.
“Incidentally, I didn’t even know all about Rich’s background until I read a feature on him in Sports Illustrated recently,” Silver said. “I knew a little bit about his background and how he met LeBron and their other group that work together, but it’s a classic sort of American rags to riches story, in essence. What he’s overcome in his life, difficult circumstances, and be the success he is today demonstrates that there are other paths to success. A traditional one is through college, but for the league — and I can’t speak for the NCAA — we want to ensure people from all walks of life can be successful in our system.”
It’s the statement you’d expect from Silver, and Nichols’ point is important. Part of the allure of the NBA and most sports leagues is that it provides a path to success for many that don’t come from privilege or wealth. That is, typically, associated with players, but there’s an opportunity for the NBA to extend those opportunities to off the court positions and help bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the business side, front offices, and coaching staffs.
We’re seeing more and more doors opened for people that previously didn’t get looked at, but it’s important for the league to continue to find ways to open up opportunities.