Perhaps the most remarkable development to come out of the first half of the NBA season has been the unexpected renaissance of the New York Knicks, who reached the All-Star break 19-18, one game over .500.
The Knicks, who were previously unwatchable for oh, a decade or two, are over .500? Let the celebration begin from Madison Square Garden to the prominent Creative Artists Agency and all the way to Lexington, Kentucky. They all own a share of these good times.
Like all success stories, this one starts at the top with team president Leon Rose, who operates under the radar, avoiding the spotlight while going about the business of assembling this team. In his previous life, Rose was a prominent player agent at CAA.
His right-hand man is William Wesley, known affectionately as “World Wide Wes,” who functions as executive vice president and senior basketball advisor for Rose. He previously was a consultant for CAA.
When Rose and World Wide Wes went shopping for a coach, they imported Tom Thibodeau, a high-profile bench boss who has been largely responsible for the Knicks’ turnaround. Thibodeau is a longtime CAA client.
Is there a trend here?
In the basketball community, Rose and Wesley had developed a chummy relationship with Kentucky coach John Calipari, who needs all the friends he can get in a sub-.500 season in which UK almost certainly will sit out the NCAA tournament. So it was no surprise that Thibodeau hired Kenny Payne as an assistant coach. Payne had been on Calipari’s staff at Kentucky.
Now, when it came to assembling a roster, Rose and World Wide Wes did a considerable bit of shopping at Calipari’s school. The Knicks have a definite Bluegrass tint about them.
Start with their best player, Julius Randle. He has played at an MVP level this season and was selected for the All-Star Game. He played his college ball at Kentucky. The same goes for Randle’s teammates, Kevin Knox, Nerlens Noel and Immanuel Quickley.
In the draft, Rose made Obi Toppin his first choice. Toppin is represented by Creative Artists. So are his teammates, Elfrid Payton, Theo Pinson and Austin Rivers.
When this collection of players from one college and one agency was pointed out to Thibodeau, he called it a coincidence. Maybe so. Maybe no.
What we know is Rose and Wesley, have assembled a nice, tight little family of Kentucky players and Creative Artists Agency clients. And together they have brought watchable basketball back to Madison Square Garden.