AKRON, Ohio — Rich Paul believed in the Cleveland Cavaliers, and apparently, LeBron James did, too.
Paul is James’ Cleveland-based agent, a man with a reputation for being a stand-up guy, a man known for bringing sides together when the fit feels right.
Paul and James are more than agent and client. They’re friends, guys who have kept their sanity and managed to grow into respectful adults in the superstar-driven world of pro sports. And when it comes to superstars, there remain none bigger than James — who announced his decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to the Cavs via a first-person account posted to Sports Illustrated’s website.
It may not have happened without Paul, sources close to James’ decision told FOX Sports Ohio.
Paul met with several teams, including the Cavs, last week in Cleveland. James was not there. He had opted out of his contract with the Heat in late June and wanted time with family. He wanted Paul to handle the rest.
LeBron James and representative Rich Paul, shown in 2010, are long-time friends.
So the Cavs made their presentation, and Paul was impressed, sources said. He liked the Cavs’ young roster, with talents such as Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson, another Paul client.
The Cavs pitched the idea that, yes, they were better with LeBron. But without him, they would be pretty good, too. They would be an exciting team with loads of potential under new coach David Blatt and his top assistant, Tyronn Lue. About that, the Cavs were extremely confident.
But that wasn’t all.
If LeBron didn’t want to play next to only young dudes, no problem. The Cavs made it clear, sources said, they had the flexibility, future draft picks and other assets to bring in veteran help. Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love, said to be available, was among the names mentioned as a possibility, sources said.
The Cavs also talked about Ray Allen and Mike Miller — James’ teammates with the Heat, veteran shooters who the Cavs are said to be currently pursuing in free agency.
Again, all of it made an impact on Paul. And clearly, James.
So less than a week later, Cavs general manager David Griffin got to work. He needed to come up with the salary-cap space to provide James with the maximum contract he sought.
On Wednesday, Griffin pulled off a deal, sending Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to the Brooklyn Nets and Tyler Zeller to the Boston Celtics. It paved the way. James could get his max deal.
So not only did the Cavs tell Paul what they could do — Griffin went out and got it done, before even being certain of James’ decision.
The Cavs felt Paul was in their corner, "100 percent," according to a source. Later, it was proved James was, too.
Despite all the rumors and all the speculation and all the many experts who said it would never be true, James chose the Cavs, and their plan, not just for sentimental reasons. He chose them for basketball reasons, too.
And as anyone who knows the situation will tell you, Rich Paul deserves tons of credit for bring it all together.