Lacy J. Banks chats with Worldwide Wes

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Sun-Times reporter Lacy J. Banks sheds some light on the mysterious William Wesley…

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Who is this guy?

Some call him the most important man in sports, but few know WILLIAM WESLEY

August 26, 2007

BY LACY J. BANKS lbanks@suntimes.com

In the social geometry of the NBA in particular and the black entertainment world in general, William Sidney Wesley of Chicago is the quintessential straight line between two points.

”I get people together so that they can get things done,” he told this reporter after the Bulls won their fourth championship.

He said he attended the clinching game as a special guest of the Bulls’ starting five.

”I try to make life easier and better for the people I hang with, and I have been blessed to be successful doing that,” he said. ”That may be why people like me and want to know me.”

Many in the media have wanted to know Wesley, also known as ”Wes.” GQ devoted nine pages to him in its July edition under the headline: ”Is This the Most Powerful Man in Sports?” The five-month project, written by Alex French, involved interviews with more than 150 people. If the intent was to uncover a smoking gun, none was found.

There are legions, including this reporter, who believe Wesley when he says he’s out to make life better for the people he hangs with. At least a dozen times during my 35-year career of covering the Bulls and the NBA, when team publicists, coaches and agents failed to help me get an interview with an evasive player or his agent in times of controversy, Wes hooked me up after a couple of calls.

The GQ feature is considered a breakthrough because of a personal policy Wes has employed during his 20-something years of high visibility. This policy has enabled him to stay in the public eye while keeping his private life on the down low.

”I don’t do media,” Wes said by phone recently. ”There are two reasons for this. One is the story is never me. I’m just a regular guy. That’s what I tell all you writers. It’s my nephews [Wes’ name for athletes he befriends and supports]. I have never sought publicity for myself. I don’t need it, and I don’t want it.

”The other reason is that the media often get things wrong. They either misquote me, make up things on their own or report things somebody else said about me that aren’t true. So I have a simple solution for this: I don’t do media. … You’re the only writer I’d really speak to for print at this time.”

But as much as Wes wants to fly under the radar, it’s impossible to avoid scrutiny or discourage curiosity when he annually secures the best seats at various sporting events and entertainment award shows.

TV cameras routinely catch Wes sitting courtside or behind the benches of NBA teams, standing on courts or in locker rooms during championship celebrations and applauding or laughing in prime-time telecasts of entertainment award shows. Perhaps his most popular and controversial cameo appearance was the night he played peacemaker in an effort to restrain Indiana Pacers stars Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal during the Nov. 19, 2004, brawl between the Pacers and Detroit Pistons in the Palace of Auburn Hills.

His high visibility with entertainment stars such as Jay-Z has made him a celebrity — and an intriguing one, at that, because of his relative anonymity. He is at once in the limelight and in the shadows.

So for the sake of a growing number of people wondering, here are some basics:

Wesley is a 42-year-old native of Camden, N.J. He was a so-so player on his high school basketball team, and his first job was as a salesman for Pro Shoes in Cherry Hills, N.J. Playing basketball and selling gym shoes helped him forge friendships with players such as Leon Rose, who became an NBA agent, and Milt Wagner, who led Louisville to three Final Fours and an NCAA championship and was a reserve on the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1988 NBA championship team.

Through the years, Wes’ charisma, clean living and passion for meeting and helping people, especially NBA players, have endeared him to countless players, coaches, agents, general managers and owners. This has opened up an ongoing flood of invitations to travel and attend games, concerts, parties and awards programs, with his ”nephews” and other friends often providing free tickets and trips. He has to turn down many such invitations because of scheduling conflicts or job assignments.

Imagine turning down invitations from people such as Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Mark Cuban, Beyonce, Phil Knight, Michael Jordan, Vivica A. Fox or Usher because they invited him to different functions scheduled at the same time. Those are the kind of blues Wes occasionally sings.

As for his job, he became a mortgage broker 16 years ago with the help of longtime friend John Mirenda of Bedford, N.J. For years, he has told friends he is part-owner of Greentree Mortgage, which is headquartered in New Jersey and has an office — apparently under another name, which he won’t give — in Chicago. This is how he supports himself, pays for his condominium in Chicago and pays for travel and event tickets when they aren’t being offered by his friends and ”nephews.”

But how can ”Uncle” Wes find the time to attend all these events and still have a profitable day job?

”Barely,” he tells me. ”But what a lot of people don’t understand is that when I’m at these events, I’m also doing my job. Part of my job is making and maintaining contacts. Some of my mortgage customers have been my celebrity friends.”

In any case, there probably is no better way for a fan and social bon vivant to mix business with pleasure.

At the same time, Wes claims to have enough privacy to fish, listen to music and enjoy his favorite dishes, including mother Peggy’s ”smothered steak with fried hash-brown potatoes with onions” and ”Chef Shawn Loving’s barbecue salmon.”

He also enjoys watching his all-time favorite movies, which include ”Do the Right Thing,” ”The Godfather,” ”School Daze,” ”The Usual Suspects” and ”New Jack City.”

It’s a surprise there’s not a movie about him, the most powerfully anonymous man in sports.

WHO HE’S NOT

There have been many rumors spread about William Wesley, but Wesley said the following are untrue:

* Nike and Reebok pay for his trips to basketball games or clinics.

* He sang ”Amazing Grace” as a special guest at Frank Sinatra’s funeral, which ”I didn’t even attend.”

* He recruits players for sneaker companies.

* He is a player agent or a procurer for agents.

* He punched out a reporter on one occasion and pushed a photographer down some stairs on another.

* He has asked any player, agent, coach, general manager or team owner for money.

* Spike Lee is doing a movie about him.

* He works for the NBA, CIA, FBI, Secret Service or the White House, even though he says he has met the last three presidents.

* He once ran basketball clinics for or was hired to chauffeur Michael Jordan.

* He formerly worked as a doorman and bouncer for a nightclub owned by Rick Mahorn.

* He was a pimp, gigolo, drug pusher or mafioso.

* He fronts for gamblers or casinos.

* He is a millionaire.

* He has a private jet. But he is a frequent guest on some, such as the one owned by LeBron James, who took Wes to the ESPYs.

* He made LeBron James fire agent Aaron Goodwin and replace him with Leon Rose, Wesley’s close friend and personal attorney for more than 20 years.

* He once was Dennis Rodman’s agent.

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