Who Is World Wide Wes?

Doug Benc, Getty Images
Doug Benc, Getty Images

A 2007 GQ Magazine article on 45-year-old William Wesley asked, "Is this the most powerful man in sports?"

That's a stretch. But in the new NBA, where superstars are flexing muscles like Mixed Martial Arts fighters, the Summer of LeBron James seemed at times like the Summer of William Wesley, otherwise known as "World Wide Wes" -- which very well could be the greatest nickname going.

(Former NBA player Jalen Rose claims to have given Wesley his name. His latest name anyway. Wesley first answered to "Fresh Wes" when he was putting spanking new basketball shoes on the feet of athletes at a Cherry Hill, N.J., store called Pro Shoes.)

Not since Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects has one man/myth cast such a shadow -- real or imagined -- over the proceedings as Wesley has recently.

Example: Louisville coach Rick Pitino told ESPN that for anyone courting LeBron James it would "probably be smart to have a relationship with William Wesley."

The well-dressed man moving through the crowd in Miami that greeted LeBron James' private jet the night he flew from "The Decision" on ESPN to his new life with the Miami Heat. Yep. World Wide.

"Uncle" to NBA stars such as James, Chris Paul, and dozens more. That's World Wide Wes.

The guy pictured shielding Ron Artest from harm on the court during the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl at The Palace in 2004? That's him, too.

NBA analyst David Aldridge told GQ, "At any given time, if you look at a sports event, there's a very good chance you're going to see Wes."

And so the litany of Wesley sightings: hugging Jerry Jones after a Cowboys' Super Bowl win, sitting next to Jay-Z at the NBA All-Star game, with Phil Knight of Nike at the Final Four, hanging in Greenwich, Conn., with James earlier this month for the worst hour in sports programming history, in various locales with Team USA.

Brian Windhorst, my colleague at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, attended the World Championships in Japan in 2006. Team USA execs had clamped down on distractions. They adopted a bunker mentality. No players' families. No entourages.

"Nobody," Windhorst said. "Except...there was Wes."

THE MOST INTERESTING MAN IN THE (SPORTS) WORLD

In the GQ article, writer Alex French doesn't quite pin down whether Wesley was a guest at Sinatra's funeral (one story says he was) or his legitimacy as a reported friend of the Clintons (another story). But he captures the Wes Experience with an anecdote involving Brazilian star Leandro Barbosa's trip to the United States in hopes of positioning himself for a NBA career.

Barbosa found himself in Cleveland that night at a Cavaliers' game, then shortly after in Wesley's car. The former shoe salesman/mortgage broker/all-around-go-to-guy impressed the young player by dialing up Michael Jordan on speaker phone (he got Jordan's voice mail) then Jay-Z (who was with Beyonce working a late night in the studio).

Who was this guy, Barbosa wondered?

No one has spent more time on that question than basketball writer Henry Abbott. One New Year's Eve night a few years ago, Abbott was struggling to come up with a resolution. Wesley popped to mind. Abbott pledged to find out as much as he could about William Wesley over the next calendar year.

OK, so it wasn't a pledge to help end world hunger. But he's a basketball writer, not a rock star.

And it beats my annual resolution to go to the gym once every January.

The abbreviated version of Abbott's findings paint the picture of a man who works the margins between players, teams, shoe companies and the entertainment industry. The more relationships he fosters, the more valuable he becomes.

As Abbott wrote, "The basic goal of the investigation was to find out what he did for a living."

Short answer: um, uh...everything?

THE RISE OF FRESH WES

Wesley met a number of Philadelphia athletes while working at Pro Shoes in Cherry Hill and as a doorman for at a nightclub owned by former Pistons and Sixers player, Rick Mahorn.

Growing up in South Jersey, he also became best friends with high school basketball sensation Milt Wagner and followed him to Louisville, where Wagner appeared in three Final Fours. Through Wagner, the NBA world opened even more to Wesley, who met Jordan and worked at Jordan's basketball camp.

In 1993, he partnered in a Chicago nightclub frequented by Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Rodman told ESPN this about Wesley: "No one knows what he's delivering, no one knows what he's doing, no one knows what he's got." He also said before Wesley earned Jordan's trust Wes "used to kiss more ass than anybody back in the day."

Abbott found players, team executives and others reluctant to talk about Wesley on the record. That helps Wesley fit the Winston Churchill line about Russia. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

When Milt Wagner's son, DaJuan, was looking for a college, Wesley sought out Memphis head coach John Calipari because of the coach's reputation for dealing honestly with players on whether turning pro was to their benefit. DaJuan Wagner spent one year at Memphis before Calipari told him he was ready for the NBA draft.

WORKING FOR NOBODY. AND EVERYBODY. 

Wesley became a representative for coaches, doing their bidding for jobs behind the scenes, while building trust with players. The players Abbott contacted repeated one theme. Wesley was always there to help. He never asked for anything. Abbott concluded that in the world of the young, rich, black athlete being pulled in a thousand different directions, what Wesley offered -- friendship, trust and seemingly endless contacts -- was greatly valued.

No relationship did as much for Wesley as his friendship with Jordan. Through Jordan, Wesley met a teenage sensation already headed for the cover of Sports Illustrated under the title, "The Chosen One." LeBron James was 15 when he met Wesley. In the GQ story, James called Wesley his "role model."

A long-time friendship with sports agent Leon Rose has greatly benefited the agent in acquiring players. Wesley helped deliver James to Rose. Creative Artists Agency (CAA) of Hollywood brought Rose's business under its umbrella a few years ago and soon CAA represented James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Wesley, not unexpectedly, has called his role "overblown" in published interviews. He says his power is a "myth."

But agent David Falk has been quoted saying Wesley is one of the two or three most powerful people in sports. Falk told GQ, "Leon Rose doesn't have any clout. Wes has clout."

Wesley worked to get head coach Larry Brown to Detroit after the firing of Rick Carlisle. Brown was hired in a whirlwind. Wesley had the ear of Cleveland Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert and pushed for the hiring of head coach Mike Brown in 2005.

Wrote GQ's French, "Working for nobody allows him to work for everybody."

THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE

In the days leading up to LeBron James' decision, Maverick Carter, a high school buddy of James and head of his marketing "team," made a point to tell the New York Times that Wesley would not influence James' decision.

The comment became evidence to some of a rift between James' camp and Wesley. But it's since been suggested that perhaps Wesley wanted to be seen as bringing Swiss neutrality to the table to protect his other interests. Somebody was bound to be upset with James' decision. Worldwide Wes didn't want the fallout to land on him.

Rift? He was in Greenwich for James' one-hour special. And there he was getting off the plane with James in Miami.

Not too many days later, a report claimed New Orleans point guard Chris Paul would tell management he wanted a trade to go pursue a title despite having two years remaining on his deal.

Yahoo sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski calls Wesley a "full service middle man," orchestrating deals for players and coaches. He claims Wesley has been trying for months to pull the strings on a deal for Paul, who is even more determined to improve his lot now that his best friend, James, is part of a stacked team in Miami.

The NBA recently issued a strict tampering warning, specifically naming a player (Paul) for the first time.

Even if the Olympic experience is responsible for bringing James, Wade and Bosh together -- and it wasn't Wesley directly convincing James to leave Cleveland for the Heat -- no one doubts Wesley's "player" credentials.

Jordan long ago retired. Wesley is still going strong working with another generation of NBA superstars.

Lacy Banks, a Chicago sportswriter covering Jordan's Bulls, told GQ that back then he thought Wesley worked for the "Secret Service, the FBI or the CIA."

Now everybody knows it's CAA. Not that the job description is much different.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.