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Rich Paul blasts Bill Simmons’ racist rant on LeBron James’ ‘Decision’

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Don’t expect to hear LeBron James and Rich Paul chopping it up on the “The Bill Simmons Podcast” anytime soon (not that you were).

The most infamous written reaction to LeBron James’ “Decision” free agency announcement in July 2010 came courtesy of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, via a bitter Comic Sans letter to fans. Yet, as much as Gilbert’s letter soured feelings between him and James, LeBron still re-signed with the Cavs four years later, leading them to an NBA championship and mending his relationship with the fanbase.

Bill Simmons also wrote up some angry and, in the eyes of Rich Paul, racially charged words about LeBron James following his decision to take his talents to South Beach. Unlike Gilbert, LeBron’s camp hasn’t associated with Simmons since.

In an interview with The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, Paul — who has since ascended to become the most prolific agent in basketball — reveals that doesn’t speak with The Ringer CEO after taking issue with an op-ed Simmons wrote for ESPN after the Decision. Here’s the excerpt from Chotiner’s profile of LeBron’s long-time friend and rep.

‘I blame the people around him. I blame the lack of a father figure in his life,’ Bill Simmons, then a leading columnist at ESPN, wrote. ‘I blame us for feeding his narcissism to the point that he referred to himself in the third person five times in forty-five minutes. I blame local and national writers (including myself) for apparently not doing a good enough job explaining to athletes like LeBron what sports mean to us, and how it IS a marriage, for better and worse, and that we’re much more attached to these players and teams than they realize.’

Paul saw this as condescension and worse. “That’s why I don’t speak to Bill Simmons,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with race, too. He wouldn’t have said that about Larry Bird. He wouldn’t have said that about J. J. Redick. You get what I am saying? ‘The Decision’ ten years ago is the norm today. It’s what everyone wants to do. Kids won’t even decide where they go to college without it being a big production, and Bill Simmons says some shit like that.”

There’s been some back and forth in recent years about the relationship between Simmons and LeBron James’ camp. Last year, an ESPN investigation revealed that Simmons had met with Maverick Carter in Feb. 2010 about producing a “Decision”-like free agency special, an idea which had originally been pitched to Simmons by a fan. Ironically (or not), then-ESPN columnist harshly criticized the special after it aired.

“The Decision” was widely panned at the time and met with vicious reactions (and the Cavs did have a right to be peeved by James’ lack of a heads up, though Gilbert’s letter was unforgivable). However, as Rich Paul and Chotiner point out, it turned out to be a pioneering event of the “player empowerment era”, and would not seem nearly as wild today.

“You are always going to have people that are not going to agree with something that you do, but at the end of the day they can’t stop you, and can’t stop your path, and can’t stop your journey,” LeBron told Chotiner. “I am happy that I was able to fall on the sword for the rest of these athletes, men and women, to be able to feel empowered.”

In a 2018 Sports Illustrated profile, Paul mentioned that he keeps “every rant” about LeBron James “from Stephen A. Smith, every call for his firing by Bill Simmons…on his phone as evidence of the disrespect he feels.”