LeBron James’ ‘Falling Out’ With The Kentucky Wildcats


When your watching the Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four, remember that UK coach John Calipari was offered a lucrative deal (in excess of $10 million) to become the next coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer. This is before LeBron James committed to Cleveland, but everybody took the rumor as a sign that James was destined to return.

Calipari rejected Gilbert’s overtures, and James came home anyway. That didn’t do much to squash Calipari’s ties to the Cavs. When David Blatt floundered early on, there’s one particular name floated around as the next Cavs’ top basketball man: Coach Cal.

But what you might not know is that James doesn’t have the same relationship with Calapari and Kentucky as he did three or four seasons ago, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

Mar 28, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James (left) attends the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Kentucky Wildcats during the first half in the finals of the midwest regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

James and Calipari’s relationship was born out of recruiting. At the time, James was represented by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Along with Nike, the trio of entities hoped to land Kentucky’s top players once they decided to go to the NBA.

James was a key cog in this equation because of his summer basketball camp. It was there, that James was able to build personal relationships with the college players in attendance. Like it currently stands, Kentucky was the top basketball program, so it made sense for James and his compadres to target the school.

NCAA sanctions don’t allow for agents or shoe companies to have these types of relationships, and that made James the focal point. Hanging out with the King of Akron isn’t against NCAA rules. Everything was on the up-and-up.

That’s why we all scratched our head when James showed up at Wildcat games wearing Kentucky blue.

But after James, and his agent, Rich Paul, left CAA, the connection to Calipari, and most visibly, the Wildcat program, disappeared.

Brian Windhorst talked further on the topic in a recent podcast (8:23):

"“The Calipari and LeBron relationship has experienced a falling out. Not on a personal level. I think they still like each other and respect each other. But LeBron’s whole connection to Kentucky was a marriage of convenience. It was a marriage of recruiting.”"

Despite James, his agents and Nike’s best efforts, the plan didn’t go all that smoothly. Windhorst said the three went all out when John Wall was a freshman at Kentucky, yet the current Washington Wizard ended up signing with Reebok and another agent named Dan Fagan. 

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“It was a failure,” Windhorst said. “They put the full-court press on and they really weren’t that successful at it. They had all the advantages, and they got a couple of players, but they really didn’t get all the players they wanted.”

Windhorst talked about the two having an obvious mutual respect for each other. James recently went on the record talking about Calipari’s success into transforming a guys with big ego into a championship caliber team. He was even in attendance for UK’s Elite 8 victory over Notre Dame, which was played at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. But it’s worthwhile to note that the tie that initially connected LBJ to Coach Cal no longer exists.

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