After “The Decision” aired, a surprising amount of controversy arose over NBA entourages. The general narrative was that LeBron James' entourage pushed him in the wrong direction and ultimately led him into a public relations nightmare.
LeBron's situation was not the first time a star player's posse had made its presence felt.
In 2002, Sports Illustrated's L. Jon Wertheim wrote a brilliant piece about the inner circles of NBA players, which at that point were so ridiculous that one Eastern Conference coach told him, "Sometimes I could swear that the entourages have entourages. That's how out of control it's gotten."
Somehow, over 10 years later, the exact same things that Wertheim described still hold true. NBA entourages live on, perhaps stronger than ever.
They can be tricky to dissect, but they generally consist of six different components (some of which overlap). Presented in decreasing order of importance, they are:
Close Friends and Family
Baron Davis (via Sports Illustrated''s L. Jon Wertheim):
You're not going to abandon your homeboys because you've made it. Let me get this straight: I'm in the NBA and making money, so I'm supposed to start kicking it at Yale and Harvard with Poindexter and Pender-puss? Nuh-uh. That's not me.
Close friends and family generally make up the vast majority of an NBA player's entourage, largely due to the “don't forget where you came from” motto.
A picture has been painted of NBA stars' friends and family mostly being bottom-feeding leeches who are just there for the money. That can be true, but it's not always the case.
Take Kevin Garnett, who the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted straight out of high school in 1995. Minnesota management had serious trepidations about how Garnett would adjust to suddenly being surrounded by grown men in their 20s and 30s instead of his high school friends.
Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves coach at the time, told Wertheim what the team was thinking: "Lots of other guys on the team had families and kids. Are they going to want to hang out with an 18-year-old, and vice versa?"
But much to the Timberwolves' surprise, Garnett arrived with a fairly large peer group, all of whom lived with Garnett. According to Wertheim, Garnett later credited them for keeping him grounded and helping him thrive as a player.
A more recent example would be Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.
A lot of jokes were tossed around when it was revealed that Thompson's parents give him a $300 weekly allowance (per ESPN LA Now, transcribed by Believe the Hype) and that his father docked it following his role in the Warriors-Indiana Pacers scuffle.
Though Thompson's father may have been joking, it's clear that he's keeping a watchful eye over his son as he breaks into a league filled with off-court temptation.
That's not to say every entourage is a shining beacon of light and positive influences (we'll get into that later), but to write them all off as money suckers is irresponsible.
I mean, former Seattle SuperSonics star Gary Payton had his crew sign employee contracts. They even had a fitness clause they had to abide by that Payton described by saying (or cackling, according to Wertheim), "Got to look good and be in shape if you're going to roll with GP"
One of Payton's cousins, Glen King, said, "People say, 'What's it like hanging out with Gary?' I tell them it's work. We earn every dime. There's no spoon-feeding going on here."
Actually having to be in shape just to be friends with an NBA player? Now that's some tough love.
LeBron James' marketing consultant, Maverick Carter, on whether he was ready to take over James' business operations when he began (via Fox Sports' Jason Whitlock):
"No, I was not ready. Not ready at all. ... But I wasn't doing it all on my own and I'm still not."
These are the people that should be around every NBA player—particularly the superstars. Sports agents and publicists understand how to make (and save) money. They also probably have the sense not to let their employer break the collective heart of Cleveland on a TV special.
The problem with the businessmen in NBA circles is that they're far too often just unqualified friends of the player they represent. Everyone's heard of Maverick Carter, but there are other players who have trusted their money to friends rather than professionals.
Former Boston Celtics star Antoine Walker is one of the most recent examples. Walker earned over $100 million throughout his NBA career yet ended up virtually penniless after investing millions of dollars in real estate with a friend named Fred Billings (per ESPN's Mark Schwarz).
Friends can always remain friends, but serious businessmen exist for a reason.
Random Service Guys
Former NBA forward Charles Oakley (via Wertheim): "They're like contracts. Everyone's got one. Some are just bigger than others."
These guys often double as friends and family, pretty much running the gauntlet as far as jobs go. We're talking about masseuses, DJs, jewelers, chauffeurs, gamers, towel guys...everything under the sun, really.
This is the kind of luxury stuff that everyone makes fun of NBA players for. Do you really need your own DJ? Seriously? Is music so important to you that you can't just use headphones like a normal person?
Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr. once described a photoshoot he had with LeBron (directly after “The Decision”):
It was huge. When LeBron arrived, it was as if Nelson Mandela had come in. Six or seven blacked-out Escalades pulled up, a convoy. LeBron had bodyguards and his masseuse. His deejay was already there, blasting. This for a photo shoot that was going to last an hour, tops.
This is how crazy it was: I wasn't even allowed to talk directly to LeBron. There was a liaison, someone from Amar'e Stoudemire's family. I would say to him, "O.K., have LeBron drive right," and then he'd turn to LeBron and say, "LeBron, go right."
This isn't meant to paint LeBron as a villain or a frivolous spender, but to explain the nature of bigger NBA circles. Of course, there are also other players, like then-Grizzlies forward Shane Battier, who have a much smaller crew. Battier told Wertheim:
I realize how this is going to sound, but the NBA schedule is so demanding that you need someone to take care of the details, whether it's shipping a package or picking up milk at the store. I'm not sure I'd quite call it an entourage. It's a she. And she's a retired FedEx employee. I ride with a tough crowd.
Either way, players tend to have at least one (and usually way more) random service guys. Whether that means buying groceries or polishing jewelry and DJ'ing depends on the player.
LeBron James (via Sports Illustrated's Irving Scott): "Every professional player should have security. It's good to have some eyes in the back of your head."
This applies more to NBA superstars than role players, but it's always good to have someone watching your back. Superstars do make hundreds of millions of dollars, after all. Heck, even end-of-bench guys usually make seven figures.
And as Gilbert Arenas reminds us, it's better to have someone else carry the guns.
Distant Family and Friends
Pretty self-explanatory. There's not much to say about the distant family and friends except that they sometimes double as...
The “Not Sure How I Got Here, but I'm Going to Milk It for All It's Worth” Guys
Then-New Orleans Hornets Coach Paul Silas (via Wertheim): "The big contracts came, and all the boys came out of the woodwork."
These are the people everyone thinks of when they hear the word “entourage”—the actual bottom-feeding leeches who are just there for the money. Unfortunately, they are fairly common.
As mentioned earlier, trying to support other people was one of the reasons that Antoine Walker lost all of his money (via Schwarz). Allen Iverson, who earned over $150 million in salary throughout the course of his career, is now bankrupt in part because he heaped gifts onto his crew of over 50 people (per CBS News' Joshua Norman).
Metta World Peace also nearly went broke after the first two years of his career. Much like Iverson, World Peace gave far too much to far too many people. He told Wertheim, "Probably wasted a couple of million or so. It seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted to take care of my friends."
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Pretty much every story you hear about a former NBA star going broke involves him giving away huge handouts. As Silas said, all of these supposed friends come calling when they get a whiff of money.
That's generally how it goes when it comes down to the inner workings of NBA circles, so if you ever hear someone talking about an NBA entourage, you'll have a pretty good idea of what's going on.
Unless Shane Battier or Klay Thompson is involved.