Zion Williamson is about to be rich beyond his wildest dreams.
The Duke star has spent his freshman season owning ESPN, rewriting the college basketball record books, and putting a lock on his status as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft come June. Williamson’s first NBA contract will make him wealthy — about $40 million over four years — but that pales in comparison to his potential earnings off the court.
Williamson will be the subject of a massive bidding war for his shoe deal, which some are estimating could be worth $100 million. He’ll be flooded with other endorsement opportunities from the moment he becomes a pro. There’s going to be an entire industry built around his brand.
Williamson doesn’t get to pick his first NBA team, but he does get to pick his agent. If you’ve been paying attention to Duke games lately, you’ve seen some famous faces in the crowd that may or may not be trying to get his attention.
Everyone wants a piece of the most famous 18-year-old athlete in America. These are the potential agents who are already making a public push to be seen by Williamson.
Klutch Sports is the infamous LeBron James-affiliated agency run by his close friend, Rich Paul. This is the agency behind the Anthony Davis trade demand that put the NBA on its head last month. It doesn’t take a detective to figure out they’re making a play to sign Williamson.
With the Lakers on an East Coast road trip right before the All-Star Break, James and teammate Rajon Rondo made an appearance at Duke’s game against Virginia in Charlottesville. Uncoincidentally, Paul was there, too.
James quickly got defensive when asked about his trip to see Williamson.
“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 James, now it’s a recruitment trip.
“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 has other ties to Duke, of course, winning two Olympic gold medals playing for head coach Mike Krzyzewski and also as the father of a son who has a standing scholarship offer from the Blue Devils. Still, it was hard to see James and Paul up close at a Duke game and not think of it as a way to get Williamson to notice them.
James was far more effusive when asked about Williamson at All-Star weekend in Charlotte. He said the comparisons between Williamson and himself were a good thing for the game and continued to heap praise upon the Duke freshman:
Lakers’ LeBron James with high praise for Duke’s Zion Williamson: “I think the comparison thing will never stop. It’s good for the game... I like everything about the kid... He’s humble... He keeps the main thing, the main thing, and that’s basketball.” pic.twitter.com/iicblqV02r— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 16, 2019
Again: none of this is to say James is recruiting Williamson. James isn’t even technically affiliated with Klutch Sports, other than as the agency’s marquee client. But people are taking notice and drawing their own conclusions.
Here’s what Virginia star Kyle Guy said after noticing James and Paul in the crowd at his game against Duke:
Kyle Guy, good quote. On LeBron catching UVA on Saturday but really showing up for Duke: “I’m sure most of those guys are going to sign with Klutch Sports’ agency anyways."— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) February 12, 2019
Don’t forget that Duke teammate Cameron Reddish was spotted at a coffee shop with James and Paul two summers ago as he was entering his senior year of high school. Maybe Guy is on to something.
Klutch has been on a tear lately. It signed Davis at the start of this NBA season to add to a roster that already includes Ben Simmons, John Wall, and Eric Bledsoe. Klutch is already cornering the market ahead of the 2019 draft, signing projected top-10 pick Darius Garland (who declared early after a season-ending injury at Vanderbilt) as well as Darius Bazley, the former Syracuse commit who opted to spend this season training for the draft instead.
Two weeks before James showed up to watch Wiliamson, another famous face was courtside to see him against Pitt. That would be none other than Jay Z.
Jay Z founded Roc Nation Sports in 2013, an agency that has represents clients in the NBA, NFL, MLB, European soccer, and boxing. Roc Nation’s roster includes Kevin Durant and Jeremy Lin, running backs Saquon Barkley and Todd Gurley, and Mets second baseman Robinson Canó.
Did Williamson notice Jay Z sitting courtside? Of course he did:
“That was like a dream come true,” Williamson said, per ESPN. “To me, he’s the GOAT.”
“When he walks in, with his squad, you look over and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s him,’” Williamson said.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel, a former Duke assistant, set up the appearance:
“His people reached out to me a few weeks ago, actually, about him wanting to come — about them wanting to come, people from Roc Nation,” said Pitt coach Jeff Capel, a former Duke assistant, per TribLIVE. “Our athletic department and our ticketing people did an amazing job accommodating that.”
Williamson is apparently a big fan of Jay Z’s music. This is back from Williamson’s high school days when he used to write a diary for USA Today:
OK, on the music side, y’all already know what it is with Drake and how often I listen him, but lately I’ve been going back and listening to more Jay Z.
I went back and listened to The Black Album and The Blueprint and just got reminded of how cold he is!
OK guys that concludes another blog for me; I want to thank everyone who took the time to read and I’ve gotta say again that y’all should go back and listen to Jay Z’s The Black Album because that man is too cold!
OK on the music side, you already know I’m still listening to Drake, J. Cole, Jay Z and Migos.
But I’ve really been listening to Jay Z a lot more than normal.
He just spits that truth. I can’t say it’s just one album either, I’m all over the place with what I’m listening to from him.
On Presidents Day, Williamson posted a Jay Z song to his Instagram stories:
If you really want to feel old: Williamson was only three years old when The Black Album was released.
While Lonzo Ball says “no one listens to Nas,” Williamson respects his elders in the rap game. We’ll see if that means anything when it’s time for him to sign an agent.
TMZ stuck a microphone in Floyd Mayweather’s face last week and he told them that he hopes to sign Williamson as the first NBA client of Mayweather Promotions. He did this in typical fashion:
Mayweather already runs Mayweather Promotions -- and reps a bunch of young boxing stars. But, Mayweather tells us he’s been working with NBA agent Alonzo Earle and he has serious interest in signing basketball players.
So, what’s the pitch? Mayweather says he can teach young superstars like Williamson to not only make a ton of money during their careers, but he’ll make sure they’re financially set in retirement too.
”If Zion signs with me, you got my word that he gonna have a comfortable life when he’s on the court and off the court ... if he did.”
To prove his point, Mayweather busted open a backpack filled with about $500,000 in cash.
A few days later, Mayweather showed up courtside at a Duke game:
One of the best athletes in the history of his sport also pictured Floyd Mayweather. pic.twitter.com/IeyoyqdZDf— DUKE HOOPS (@DevilsDukeBlue) February 16, 2019
Williamson took notice and his teammates took pictures with Mayweather:
“I think that’s just the Duke affect (sic),” Williamson said. “You’ve got to understand, Coach K is the greatest coach of all time. I mean, a lot of people want to just come and experience Cameron. So, I mean, we appreciate Floyd and all.”
This shouldn’t be taken seriously: Mayweather Promotions to this point only represents boxers, and its founder is an objectively vile human being. But this is just another example of how everyone wants a piece of Williamson.
Other contenders to sign Williamson
Every heavy hitter in the agency world will make a push for Williamson. Bill Duffy of BDA is expected to be a contender. The Wasserman group and CAA have signed superstars all over sports.
There hasn’t been a young athlete with as much star-power as Williamson in a long, long time. This race is just getting started.