Ever since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh decided to team up in Miami with the Heat we have been hearing about how it is the player empowerment era in the NBA. That has continued with more stars pushing their way to different teams via trades, and some have suggested things have gone too far.
However, the truth is “player empowerment” is really just “star empowerment,” and the number of legitimate stars capable of wielding power is incredibly low. Rich Paul has represented one of those for some time, as LeBron James is the single most powerful player in the league when it comes to dictating how his team operates, but that’s largely due to three factors that Paul recently broke down on the Old Man And The Three podcast with J.J. Redick: Approach, Play, and Professionalism.
As Paul explains, only about two percent of the 450 players in the league (aka, 9 or 10) have actual power and it’s only valid if you’re playing at a high enough level to warrant it and you carry yourself in a manner that ownership and front offices are going to respect and, in Paul’s words, enhance that power.
— TheOldMan&TheThree (@OldManAndThree) October 18, 2023
“It’s your approach, your play, then your professionalism. That equals your power,” Paul says. “Because if I have a guy whose approach is right, is playing at that level, and is a professional, I’ve got all the power in the world. And the owners, they’re going to respect and accept and enhance that power. Very few guys in the league actually has the power to move the needle and have an impact on things. But because you may be making max money, you feel like you do, and we all know that is not true. That’s why I hate that word, max. Because it gives you this entitlement, and that’s where you lose it all. Between the entitlement and your ego, it really stunts the growth of you professionally.”
There’s no agent in the NBA more keenly aware of how to leverage player power than Paul, but it’s fascinating hearing him talk about this because it does a very good job of explaining how there are even tiers to the “max” money guys. Even though you might make the most you can in the league, it does not mean you’re in that ultra-elite tier where you can dictate what goes on, and when you start trying to wield power you don’t have, then you start slipping on the professionalism aspect of the formula Paul talks about.
This summer has been quite the example of the limits of star power in the league, as Damian Lillard ultimately had to open his list of destinations up beyond Miami to get his trade done and the James Harden saga is still ongoing in large part due to Harden’s history limiting his value around the league and leaving the Sixers with one suitor, who won’t give up all that much for him.