Discovering the True Meaning of Success: A Journey from Luck to Destiny
One of my all-time favorite Jay-Z songs is a hidden gem called “Lucky Me.” In this powerful and somewhat sarcastic track, Jay-Z delves into the complexities of success, shedding light on the envy, jealousy, and danger that come with it. Despite the external perception of his seemingly perfect life, Jay-Z reveals that there is more to his story than meets the eye, with a hook that declares, “You only know what you see / You don’t understand what it takes to be me.”
This sentiment perfectly encapsulates how I feel about my own life. Many people label me as lucky, and in a way, they’re right. At the young age of 22, a chance encounter with a teenager named LeBron James set me on a path that eventually led to becoming one of the most influential agents in American sports. However, luck can be deceiving. It can manifest as sudden wealth or seemingly fortuitous circumstances that are hard to grasp. My own strokes of luck often appeared in disguise, hidden within the challenges and hardships I faced, such as forgiving and understanding my absent mother in the end.
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People who attribute my success solely to luck fail to understand the foundation on which I was built. I spent my formative years in Glenville, Ohio, enduring the struggles of a mother consumed by drug addiction. In the 80s, my father brought our family to live above his store, R&J Confectionary. As a young boy, I would open the store with him, working until 8 a.m. when he sent me off to school. After school, I would return to the store, stocking shelves, operating the cash register and lottery machine, and indulging in video games, Doritos, and Hawaiian Punch. Behind that humble storefront, I witnessed that selling food, beer, and cigarettes represented only the surface level of my father’s success.
This article is adapted from Rich Paul’s new book, Lucky Me: A Memoir of Changing the Odds.
Just as I overheard conversations about my mother’s struggles with addiction at a young age, I also listened to my father interact with people, gaining insight into how he attained respect and success. The overarching lesson from observing my father was his unwavering respect for all individuals, regardless of their societal standing. The education I received from my surroundings gifted me invaluable knowledge. When the door cracked open for me, it was these experiences, rather than formal education or a conventional job, that prepared me for the life that shouldn’t have been possible for someone who stood at just 5 foot 8 and grew up with dice in one hand and a gun in the other.
My initial stroke of luck was being born into a world that forced me to develop focus and preparedness. Luck came in the form of recognizing the importance of friendship, loyalty, love, and justice, and how to nurture these values in both life and business. It meant learning how to confront power structures without wavering, walking on a razor’s edge without falling.
Those who witness my current success but remain unaware of the journey that brought me here often simplify the narrative to one famous anecdote: LeBron James, still a high school student at the time, noticed me wearing a vintage Warren Moon jersey, sparking a conversation that ultimately shaped my future. Yes, LeBron was one of the prominent athletes who joined my newly established agency in 2014. Yet, few people truly grasp the trials I endured before reaching that point or the work I’ve put in since then to arrive where I am today. This disregard stems from preconceived notions about Black men rising from the depths of society.
LeBron and I shared an immediate connection after our first meeting in 2001. Our bond was organic, as our mothers both grappled with addiction, and his Akron, Ohio, upbringing mirrored my experiences in Glenville. I was familiar with his friend Maverick from playing basketball together. Moreover, LeBron found me intriguing, as I possessed independence and a unique perspective on life. When we went to a club, we strolled right in, effortlessly entering the VIP section. I introduced him to hidden gem restaurants that most people had never heard of. LeBron witnessed my self-sufficiency and genuine approach. Neither of us had ulterior motives; we simply enjoyed each other’s company. Our connection flowed naturally and genuinely. I understood the profound essence of his being, embracing both his strengths and flaws.
This sentiment forms the core of our relationship and shapes my work today with Black athletes. Our minds align on an individual and collective level. Having experienced the struggles that define Black life in America, I find common ground with individuals from all walks of life. Naturally, I’ve also worked with white athletes, as well as athletes from Europe, Asia, and beyond. The Black American experience resonates with countless lives. In a broader sense, the story of our struggles embodies the essence of human struggle. Every person on this planet yearns for love, dignity, and purpose.
My next chapter truly commenced on a summer day in 2014 at the Arrogant Butcher, a downtown Phoenix restaurant. Over lunch with Eric Bledsoe, his phone illuminated the table, catching our attention. I picked up the call. The Phoenix Suns had offered him a four-year contract worth $28 million—to play the game of basketball.
This sum was life-altering for us. Growing up on the East Side of Cleveland and in Birmingham, Alabama, respectively, making even a fraction of that money required risking our lives. However, we now inhabited a different world. Bledsoe was on the cusp of hitting his first free-agent jackpot, while I negotiated my inaugural contract as an official agent for my company, Klutch Sports Group.
After ending the call, I conveyed the offer to Bledsoe. At 24 years old, fresh from a phenomenal season with Phoenix, establishing himself as a cornerstone of the team, he sported a smile that radiated happiness and relief. He was prepared to sign the dotted line.
However, I remained devoid of any smiles.
“We’re not accepting this deal,” I asserted.
Bledsoe, generally soft-spoken, betrayed a hint of disappointment beneath his impassive facade.
“Here’s why,” I explained. “I don’t want you stepping onto that court each night, facing opponents whom you surpass in ability, outperform on the court, and yet earn less than them. You deserve far more than $28 million. I can’t pinpoint the exact figure, but I will ensure you receive what you’re worth.”
Reluctantly, he agreed to reject the contract offer.
Phoenix had initially made their offer at the beginning of the previous season, but we had declined. As Bledsoe played throughout the season, burdened by the uncertainty of an unresolved contract, other top free-agent guards secured deals totaling approximately $48 million over four years—$12 million annually. The Suns inched closer to that number, but I held firm, demanding a fifth year. Bledsoe grew restless, while I remained composed.
My life had never allowed room for panic. I transmitted my calmness to Bledsoe, who ultimately trusted me due to the love and care I had poured into him since his entrance into the NBA. From the months he spent living at my house for summer training workouts to the simple act of carrying his sneakers to the gym, I demonstrated my commitment. These actions mirrored the support my friends and I once provided one another as we navigated the challenges of survival.
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The season concluded, and time passed. As September approached, with training camp looming, Bledsoe remained the lone high-profile free agent on the market. His uncertain situation garnered attention in the media daily. I advised him to leave his Phoenix home and seek anonymity back in Birmingham. I instructed him not to answer the team’s calls. Other players urged him to accept the latest offer…
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