The NCAA doesn’t have a Rich Paul problem. It has a problem with black men. The move to regulate agents looks like yet another effort to police black mobility and freedom

The NCAA doesn’t have a Rich Paul problem. The problem is that its structure is designed to regulate the freedom of athletes to turn pro in primarily black sports but not in white ones.

And an entity that now preaches the importance of college graduation for agents doesn’t have the same righteous energy for black athletes at its most lucrative institutions.

Earlier this week, the NCAA implemented what was immediately labeled the “Rich Paul Rule,” after the man who represents NBA players LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, John Wall, Ben Simmons and 2019 first-round draft picks Darius Garland and Darius Bazley. The new regulations require that agents interested in representing players who are considering declaring for the NBA draft now must have a bachelor’s degree, be certified with the National Basketball Players Association for at least three years and take a comprehensive in-person exam at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Paul, who never attended college, is one of many agents affected by this rule — but unquestionably the most prominent.

The NCAA’s move was instantly lambasted as hypocritical and vindictive. “The world is so afraid of ground breakers.…This is beyond sad & major B.S.,” tweeted comedian Kevin Hart. James, Paul’s biggest client, longtime friend and confidant, could only laugh at the NCAA’s energy, saying, “Nothing will stop this movement and culture over here.”

Chris Rock explained the context for the NCAA mandate years ago. “We’re only 10% of the population,” he said on 2004’s Never Scared. “We’re 90% of the Final Four!”

Only basketball must adhere to the new NCAA mandate. The actual text doesn’t mention race. Nevertheless, the writing is not just written on the wall, it’s been carved. It’s a “race-neutral” rule that isn’t race-neutral. This comes with historical precedence that the NCAA knows all too well.

One of the worst-kept secrets in sports is how top-tier college football and basketball programs directly benefited from desegregation. Before integration, the vast majority of top black athletes had no choice but to attend historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Once the larger and richer predominantly white schools began to integrate, HBCUs couldn’t compete. But there’s been a parallel development too: The graduation rates for black athletes at top sports programs remain consistently and embarrassingly low.

Agent Rich Paul (right), seen here with LeBron James (left), is a threat. To the status quo. To the hierarchy of power.

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Klutch Sports Group

Shaun R. Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, found that, overall, black male athletes graduate at higher percentages than black males who are not involved in sports. But that’s not true for the NCAA’s wealthiest leagues: the Power 5 of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

“The [NCAA] has claimed in television commercials that black male student-athletes at Division I institutions graduate rates are higher than black men in the general student body,” the report says. “This is true across the entire division, but not for the five conferences whose member institutions routinely win football and basketball championships, play in multimillion-dollar bowl games and the annual basketball championship tournament, and produce the largest share of Heisman Trophy winners.”

And an entity that now preaches the importance of college graduation for agents doesn’t have the same righteous energy for black athletes at its most lucrative institutions.

Black men made up 2.4% of the Power 5 student population but 55% and 56%, respectively, of its football and basketball teams. Of those numbers, 55% of black male athletes graduated in under six years, compared with 60% of black men in the overall undergraduate population and 76% of all college graduates.

“Over the past two years, 40% of these universities have actually had black male student-athlete graduation rates that have declined,” Harper said. “We’re supposed to be getting better, but actually 40% of these places have gotten worse.”

Meanwhile, the debate over paying college athletes is sharply divided by race. Most whites are against “pay to play,” while most blacks strongly support it because the current system exploits a largely black athletic base.

In the NBA, the sport is still primarily black. (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that during the 2015-16 season, 81.7% of NBA players were people of color and 74.3% were black.) But black athletes have significant power and influence over everything from where they play to who coaches them to the structure of their contracts.

This shifting power dynamic is beginning earlier and earlier too. Bazley skipped college last year to become a million-dollar intern with New Balance. R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball, both touted as 2020 lottery picks, are taking their talents to Australia for a year before declaring for the NBA draft. Hampton has already inked a shoe deal with Li-Ning.

As Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel noted, the new rule’s standard doesn’t apply to college hockey players or baseball players, who can be drafted out of high school but can choose to attend college if their draft placement doesn’t appeal to them.

If this wasn’t about a young black man who achieved his success out of the mud and then empowered other black men to recognize their worth in spite of an organization that has for years manipulated their talents for the organization’s gain, if this wasn’t about yet another American institution attempting to police black mobility and freedom, then it’s difficult to see what the actual reasoning is.

This brings the discussion back to Paul and James. It’s often been said there is a Jay-Z lyric for any situation in life. Perhaps the most fitting here is a bar from Jay’s 2001 album The Blueprint, which entered the Library of Congress in March: All I need is the love of my crew / The whole industry can hate me, I thugged my way through, he pledged on “All I Need.” In essence, this has been the motto for Paul, James and the two other members of their inner circle, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims.

When James cut ties to agent Aaron Goodwin in 2005, eyebrows raised and many said that the young basketball phenom had risked his career before it truly tipped off. At the time, it was easy to understand why, given that Goodwin had helped the 2003 No. 1 overall draft pick obtain a bevy of endorsements, including Bubblicious chewing gum, Upper Deck trading cards, Sprite, Powerade and, most gaudy of them all, a seven-year, $90 million shoe deal with Nike. Few believed in James’ vision when he turned to three of his childhood friends to chart the course of his career on and off the court.

“James’ switcheroo a youthful mistake,” the Chicago Sun-Times wrote.

“I will promise you really ugly things will happen,” said former NFL player turned financial adviser Jim Corbett. “This is a big mistake, a bad decision that is going to cost LeBron.”

Which leads us to another Jay lyric, this one from 2009’s “Already Home”: And as for the critics, tell me I don’t get it / Everybody can tell you how to do it, they never did it. Thanks to the friends he entrusted with his career nearly 15 years ago, James is not only the most powerful player in basketball history but also a player in Hollywood, fashion, education and politics.

Money and power elicit respect, as elucidated by Kimberly Jones. But they also open the door for fear and angst. President Donald Trump took shots at LeBron on Twitter last August after the launch of his I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, saying it was hard to make “LeBron look smart” and weighed in on the NBA’s most contested debate, saying he preferred Michael Jordan over James — which Jordan quickly rebuffed. The two were labeled “mob bosses” by an unnamed Western Conference general manager last season after public attempts to move Anthony Davis to the Lakers (a move that eventually happened).

From left to right: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Rich Paul, Ben Simmons and Miles Bridges attend the Klutch 2019 All Star Weekend Dinner Presented by Remy Martin and hosted by Klutch Sports Group at 5Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 16.

Photo by Dominique Oliveto/Getty Images for Klutch Sports Group 2019 All Star Weekend

Rich Paul is a threat. To the status quo. To the hierarchy of power. And to the image of an industry that is still dominated by white males and has long exercised fiscal and moral authority over black athletes.

Basketball altered its rules to make it harder for three players who made the game look too easy (i.e., they dominated the white players too much): Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Maybe the NCAA didn’t implement this rule with Paul as its sole motivation. Just like maybe the NCAA wouldn’t be so open to criticism if it made the education of players a higher priority.

Unfortunately, the NCAA addressed a perceived problem while never addressing its own. Sometimes sports really is a reflection of life.

Charlotte native Anthony Hamilton to sing national anthem at NBA All-Star Game ‘I’m singing for my whole community and the people who loved me for so long’

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker isn’t the only local talent feeling himself heading into NBA All-Star Weekend. Charlotte, North Carolina-born rhythm and blues singer/songwriter Anthony Hamilton is happy to return home and do what he does best. But Hamilton is also seasoned enough to know that home-court advantage can lull even the biggest performers into a false sense of security.

“I know I’m not boo-proof,” said the 17-time Grammy nominee, who won the Grammy for best traditional R&B performance for 2008’s “You’ve Got the Love I Need” with Al Green. Hamilton will sing the national anthem before the NBA’s midseason classic on Feb. 17 at the Spectrum Center, home of the Hornets. “The safest thing to do is to not do too much,” said the 48-year-old father of six boys who range in age from 6 to 30. “People like the national anthem more standard, but you can also make it your own with different inflections and vocal textures.”

“Anytime you’re home amongst your people and your peers, you tend to hold stuff a little closer to your heart.”

The Spectrum Center is hardly unfamiliar territory for Hamilton, as he’s sung the anthem five times for Michael Jordan’s team. But this performance, which will be seen and heard by fans in more than 200 countries and territories, will have an extra helping of Carolina barbecue, and he finds that comforting. “Anytime you’re home amongst your people and your peers, you tend to hold stuff a little closer to your heart,” said Hamilton, who attended South Mecklenburg High School, the largest high school in North Carolina. “I’m not just singing for me. I’m singing for my whole community and the people who loved me for so long and supported me. So it’s like the whole broader community is coming out to sing.”

Known for his raspy and soulful voice, Hamilton, a musical descendant of Green and Sam Cooke, has achieved global sales of more than 50 million albums. He rose to prominence in 2003 with his platinum-selling second studio album Comin’ from Where I’m From, featuring the title track and follow-up single “Charlene.”

Anthony Hamilton has already sung the national anthem five times at the Spectrum Center.

Ted Wimbush

There is no doubt that All-Star Weekend will spotlight the best that North Carolina has to offer. Besides Hamilton, Walker will make his third All-Star appearance (and first-ever start), Fayetteville native J. Cole will perform during halftime of the 68th annual game and Hornets rookie Miles Bridges will be among the league’s highfliers competing in the Slam Dunk Contest.

As a bonus, the NBA’s first family — the Currys, who have ties to Charlotte — will get plenty of looks, with brothers Stephen and Seth dueling in the 3-point contest on Friday night. All this familiarity will add to a nice vibe, Hamilton said. “That’s true,” said Hamilton, who’s also known for the song “Freedom” from the soundtrack album of Django Unchained. “I’m gon’ have family in the stands … some family outside trying to get in and some at home watching on TV,” he joked. “It’ll be a little bit of everything.”

“People like the national anthem more standard, but you can also make it your own with different inflections and vocal textures.”

A North Carolina Music Hall of Fame inductee who is working on his ninth studio album and has performed for former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Hamilton said his “game prep” is bigger than a simple sound check.

“The night before, I make sure I’m rested up, hydrated and get a good sleep,” he said. “I make sure my outfit is going to be comfortable enough and I feel really good about it. And the day of [the performance], I wake up, have breakfast, get to the venue in time to do sound check. When it’s time to perform, maybe like an hour or so before going on, I just like to sit quiet, and before I go on stage, I pop an extremely strong mint gum, I say a prayer, and I go out there and give it all I’ve got.”

Once his job is done, Hamilton plans to take in as much of All-Star Weekend as his schedule allows — while being his city’s biggest cheerleader.

“Charlotte is a beautiful city that’s capable of hosting one of the most amazing and big events of the year, and it’s a place you should see and experience,” Hamilton said of his hometown, which is hosting its second All-Star Game since 1991. It’s also among the three fastest-growing big cities in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released last year. “But [experience it] not just around All-Star, but throughout the year. Take in some of the beautiful sites: the greenery, the Southern hospitality and the love that we have here to offer. This is my city.”