It’s a trap. The target enters, takes the bait. The door snaps shut behind him.
It’s a system created to lure the nation’s best basketball players, often capturing them when they’re still in high school.
The trap is operated by sports agents, coaches and financial advisers who lock promising young players into their networks, controlling their careers through college and the NBA, all to maximize their value to apparel companies intent on driving sales in the multibillion-dollar sneaker market.
It can take different forms. Often a player has no idea he is being played. Often his parents, coaches or friends — the people he most trusts most — are active participants. And once a prospect or his family takes the bait by accepting cash or plane tickets or hotel rooms or any other benefit, the trap door snaps shut.
With his amateur eligibility damaged, his basketball career may no longer be his own.
Three federal criminal complaints released in September detailed some aspects of the process: Coaches, financial advisers, agents and the shoe company allegedly working together to control a prospect’s basketball career and business dealings for their own enrichment.
Ten men were criminally charged. The revelations helped bring down University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich and continue to cause widespread shockwaves in college basketball, threatening the NCAA and perhaps legal trouble for more colleges.
It’s a scandal that could reshape the business of basketball for generations.
“Everybody is involved in this scandal. There’s nobody left out,” Sonny Vaccaro, a retired shoe company executive, told Courier Journal on Saturday. “… The most important person in the transaction is that high school kid … and he’s the poorest of all of them. And they’re all bidding on his ability to play basketball — to win championships, go to the Final Four, to sell shoes, to sell suits, to put money in investments.”
To understand how the trap works — and the damage it can do — all you have to do is listen to the people who work it.
“If we take care of everybody and everything is done, we control everything. … You can make millions off of one kid,” sports agent Christian Dawkins allegedly told an undercover FBI agent when asked how he could “guarantee” a player would sign with a particular financial adviser.