Friday, Feb 10, 2006

Posted on Sun, Jun. 05, 2005

Mystery man behind scenes

Powerful and well-connected, Wesley has ties to Cavaliers

By Brian Windhorst
Beacon Journal sports writer

Call him ``Wes.''

That's what his many friends, a legion of A-list acquaintances and, even, his enemies call him. Most of them don't know his last name, which is apropos.

He is William Wesley by name, ``Wes'' by reputation.

He doesn't wear a uniform, doesn't have a desk in any basketball front office and never speaks to the media. Yet, depending on whom you talk to, he is either one of the most powerful and well-liked men in the NBA or everything that is wrong with the underbelly of pro sports.

The Beacon Journal interviewed 18 people who know Wesley, from players to agents to league executives to security personnel to officials from USA Basketball to members of the media. Very few were willing to be quoted by name, but nearly all had opinions, stories and rumors. All part of the Wesley legend.

What is known is that Wesley, 40, has become a close associate of Cavaliers star LeBron James and helped James decide to sever ties with former agent Aaron Goodwin last month.

Wesley is also close to Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown and has developed a relationship with Cavaliers owners Dan Gilbert and David Katzman. There are many in the NBA who believe that he helped get the two sides together months ago in ``back-channel'' talks that could lead to Brown becoming the Cavaliers' next president of operations.

Gilbert did not reply to an e-mail asking about his relationship with Wesley.

Wesley is perhaps one of the most well-connected people in all of sports, even though the masses are virtually oblivious to his existence and figuring out his place in the order of things is deeply complex.

Celebrating on the sidelines with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after a Super Bowl victory. The first to hug Pistons general manager Joe Dumars after the team won the world title last June. High-fiving Miami Hurricanes football players in the background as coach Larry Coker is being interviewed on the field moments after winning a national title.

Sitting with Warren Sapp courtside at a Heat-Cavaliers game in Miami. Sitting in Nike's courtside seats next to the Cavaliers bench at Gund Arena. Living on the Queen Mary 2, a cruise ship turned fortress in Athens, Greece, with the U.S. Olympic basketball team last August.

From Michael Jordan to Jay-Z, Wesley is friends with them all.

This and many, many more sightings have earned him another nickname... ``Worldwide Wes.''

``I was with Wes once in Chicago and President Clinton was there. He went out of his way to come over and say hello to Wes,'' said columnist and longtime basketball journalist Scoop Jackson, who is a lifelong friend of Wesley.

Jackson wrote recently that Wesley was the most powerful man in basketball along with Nike founder Phil Knight, another of Wesley's confidants.

``He knows everybody in and out of sports. It wouldn't surprise me if I went to South Africa and Nelson Mandela approached him to say hello,'' Jackson said. ``I think he's the most fascinating person I've ever met.''

Last week, the Detroit News published the first known profile of Wesley under the headline, ``Who is basketball mystery man Wes Wesley?'' In the story, the newspaper's investigative journalists were unable to verify who employs him. A month of research and interviews turned up some mortgages and a speeding ticket and a horde of connections but seemed to just scratch the surface of his background.

``In essence, he's omnipresent,'' said Fred Girard, who wrote the story for the News. ``He's powerful, but nobody knows why.''

Many who work in and around the NBA believe that Wesley uses his network to get people together.

In March, the securities firm Goldman Sachs received millions for its role in getting Gilbert and Gordon Gund together, a relationship that led to a $370 million business transaction as Gund sold the Cavaliers to Gilbert.

Multiple NBA executives and agents said Wesley often plays this role on a grassroots level, though many question his legitimacy.

``I'd call him `The Connector,' '' said one NBA executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ``He gets people talking, gets them where they need to be. He sort of works for everybody, but works for nobody.''

Three of Wesley's closest NBA friends are the Pistons' Richard Hamilton, the Cavaliers' Dajuan Wagner and the Philadelphia 76ers' Allen Iverson. Those three are also clients of Wesley's personal attorney, Leon Rose.

Wesley is Wagner's godfather and a longtime friend of his father, former NBA player Milt Wagner. According to the Detroit News, Hamilton refers to Wesley as his uncle.

At last summer's Olympics, Wesley remained close to Iverson, his presence being approved in high-security areas cleared by USA Basketball.

Friends of James said Wesley first met him at the age of 16 when he started attending James' football games at St. Vincent-St. Mary. He became close with Eddie Jackson, who is James' surrogate father and was often in the company of Lynn Merritt, a Nike executive who helped recruit James to sign a $90 million endorsement deal with the company in 2003.

Three people interviewed said Wesley has maintained an apartment across the hall from a James residence for the past two years in downtown Cleveland.

It all has led to intense rumors that Rose is trying to land James as a client now that he has parted ways with Goodwin.

Rose did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The Detroit News also linked Wesley to the recruitment of high-profile collegiate and prep players from the Detroit area and beyond.

``I don't know his goals, I don't know his roles,'' Scoop Jackson said. ``I know he knows people in high places, and that has made him powerful.''

Wesley has lived this role for many years behind the scenes. It is only now that members of the media are starting to write about him. Journalists from Sports Illustrated and ESPN are supposedly working on profiles.

But Wesley's reputation with many in the NBA is sterling. His ability to be a trustworthy associate, adviser and friend is evidenced by his wide network of athletes and celebrities that often resists getting close to outsiders. He is admired and emulated for some of the same reasons he is disliked.

``Lots of people look for shady stuff on him, but Wes is just Wes. There's not a player in the NBA that doesn't know him,'' Scoop Jackson said. ``I know people in neighborhoods that are well loved because they do so many things for so many people and bring them together. Wes just does that on a much bigger scale.''

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