He has been described as the most powerful man in basketball, and if William Wesley can bring off the epic parlay of getting one friend (LeBron James) to play for another (John Calipari), he’ll deserve the title. Right about here, you might be asking, “Who’s William Wesley?” And therein hangs a tale.
William Wesley is known as Worldwide Wes. Everybody in basketball knows who he is, but nobody is quite sure what he does. He just shows up. He was famously photographed helping to break up the infamous brawl at the Palace involving Ron Artest. According to the New York Times, he stayed on the Queen Mary II along with the U.S. Olympic basketball team in Athens, Greece.
Of interest now: Worldwide Wes is buddies with the world’s best player, who’s about to become a free agent. He also has a close relationship of long standing with Calipari, who coaches Kentucky. When Calipari jumped from Memphis to UK, the question was how long it would take for WWW to surface around the Big Blue. The answer: Not long. When the Wildcats played Connecticut in Madison Square Garden last December, Worldwide Wes was seated in the front row near — though not alongside — school president Lee Todd.
And now the rumor is flying, via K.C. Johnson’s report in the Chicago Tribune, that Worldwide Wes is trying to pair LBJ and Cal and dump them in the lap of some lucky NBA club — like the Bulls, or the Clippers, or the Nets. Wes himself refused to comment when contacted by Rick Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal. (Wes almost never speaks on the record, which only adds to the aura of mystery he has created.)
The reason this (rumored) scheme has stirred such interest is that involves not just the biggest free agent in the history of free agency but one of college game’s brand-name programs. And it also spawns, not for the first time, a question about Wes: Is it right and proper for any one man, especially one of uncertain portfolio, to have fingers in so many pies?
The basics about Wes: He grew up in Cherry Hill, N.J., played high school basketball and worked at Pro Shoes, a local store frequented by ballplayers. He befriended Milt Wagner, who went to nearby Camden High and helped lead Louisville to the 1986 NCAA title. He would later become godfather to Milt’s son Dajuan, who would become Calipari’s first major signee at Memphis.
(A word here: Several outlets have sought to profile Worldwide Wes, who refuses to cooperate. The New York Times tried before the Final Four in 2008 — that was the year Calipari and Derrick Rose and Memphis blew the title against Kansas — without huge success. The best snapshot remains a 2007 piece written by Alex French in GQ. If you’ve read this far, you should definitely read French’s story.)
The belief has long been that Wes steers recruits to his pal Cal — first Wagner, then Rose, who was the 2009 NBA rookie of the year, then Tyreke Evans, who was the 2010 rookie of the year. (In French’s story, Calipari described Wes as “a goodwill ambassador.”) Teenagers are awed by Wes because he knows all the Shoe Co. All-Stars: LeBron, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson. Wes is a fixture at the LeBron James Skills Academy, a summer camp for the best high school players. It’s sponsored by Nike.
There have long been agents who wield seemingly disproportionate influence in basketball circles. (Think David Falk, or Arn Tellem.) But Wes technically isn’t an player’s agent. Sports Illustrated reported in March that he was close to finalizing an agreement to represent coaches for the Creative Artists Agency. Typically, Wes refused to comment.
Wes is a client of Leon Rose, the New Jersey-based attorney/agent who represents LeBron. (And A.I., and Carmelo, and Richard Hamilton, and Dajuan Wagner, who’s playing overseas.) And the power Wes apparently possesses remains nebulous. Is he a big deal because of who he knows or what he does? Who pays him? (He has long been a “mortgage broker” by trade.) And for what?
And now you’re asking: The local NBA club could use LeBron and needs a coach; why shouldn’t the Hawks open negotiations with Worldwide Wes? Answer: Because Rick Sund might as well fire himself if he does, because he’d have just enfranchised William Wesley as de facto GM. The Hawks have needs, sure, but they’re not that desperate. Not yet, anyway.