In a lengthy New Yorker profile on Rich Paul, a general manager speaks about the player empowerment era as an issue that goes beyond the NBA's best players choosing where they want to play.
“Player empowerment is a catchall for the fact that the league has done a terrible job of empowering teams,” a current NBA general manager told The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner. “The players have all of the leverage in every situation. I think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to professional sports on all levels.”
Chotiner, however, follows up the quote from the general manager with one from ESPN's Bomani Jones that puts the situation in a different way.
“The NBA has a problem, which is it’s got some bad real estate," said Jones. "They put a lot of teams in places that young Black men don’t necessarily want to live.”
By most accounts, the player-empowerment era began with LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Kevin Durant made a similar move in 2016 when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. Durant now plays with the Brooklyn Nets with Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Klutch Sports internally defines player empowerment in a more holistic way.
“Putting them in a decision-making role and educating them—not just putting paper or deals in front of them, but really talking to them and educating them about being a basketball or a football player,” said chief operating officer Fara Leff.
Paul and James both seem to appreciate the fact that they're still business partners with the league.
“Rich is the first to tell LeBron and these players, ‘You have to do this,’” Adam Mendelsohn, a longtime adviser to Paul and James said. “There is this idea about player empowerment that we are taking on the league and taking on the owners. But there is more time spent figuring out how to help the owners and the league be successful than there is spent trying to take them on. And a lot of people assume it’s some sort of activist orientation. It’s not.”
“The perception is that you are busting into the room,” Paul said. “No. You are really trying to have conversations at the highest level, on How are we able to grow our game? How are we able to grow the business of our game?”