On this Thursday before Mother’s Day Weekend, I sit in a nondescript gym watching six men play basketball late in the evening. The game isn’t really about winning, although there is clear competitiveness in all who are on the court, but rather about getting the two younger guys on the floor to raise their basketball IQ. So while the game continues on for a couple of hours, there’s plenty of downtime for their trainer to stop play and berate one or the other on their shot selection, their defensive stance, or on their move -or lack thereof- to the basket. Anyone looking for a fast physical game will be sadly disappointed. But if they are looking for what it takes to be a professional ball player, they are in the right place, because one of the guys on the floor is James “Chubby” Wells, and he knows what it takes to make it and stay in the NBA.
Hailing from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Reading Terminal Market, Chubby Wells took his skills to Clemson after originally signing with N.C. State prior to graduating from high school. When it was revealed that North Carolina State had signed too many players, Chubby visited Clemson during a particularly cold spell in Philly; “I got off the plane and it was like 60 or 70 degrees and I was like, I’ll take it.”
During his four year career at the school the 6’6″ post player mostly came off the bench except for his Junior Year when he was the starting Center taking over for Tree Rollins. Upon receiving his degree from the Clemson, Chubby became the first in his family to graduate from a four year college.
|Chubby directing his players during a pause in the pick-up game|
For the next twelve years Chubby made a living playing basketball overseas in various countries. When he finally hung up his gym shoes, so to speak, he took a job working with his former Clemson teammate, Tree Rollins, as a recruiter of sorts. This exposure to the often hidden side of pro-basketball led Chubby into making it his full-time gig. His love of a good battle led him to want to represent some of his friends in the NBA in order to get them the money that their services and talents were worth; and his knack and love for seeing a guy get better on the court led him to working out some of the larger names in the NBA. Dale Davis, Eric Snow and Allen Iverson are just a few names of guys that he has worked with in one way or another.
A good question for me to have asked, might have been, which is more lucrative, not that it matters, because he loves both facets so much that he says
“I wouldn’t trade (my job) for anything in the world.”
|Watching his player practice a free throw|
His days begin early, where he checks out the news online and emails, answers any he needs to and then checks on his players. At the present he’s working with two guys, one hoping to make it to the NBA, and the other trying to get better for his freshman year in college. This summer is the first in a while where he is not trying to figure out where the client he represents, Ramon Sessions, is going to play in the fall.
Two years ago, Chubby dealt with the Knicks, the Timberwolves, the Clippers and the Bucks in Ramon’s first stint in free agency. As the negotiator of all things concerning his client, Chubby was quoted often on the dealings and subsequently penned as the bad guy by disgruntled fans as various teams tried to sign his client.
Various stories claimed that Chubby was close to finishing contracts with at least three of the teams after Ramon. Many times it seemed that New York would land the young point guard, but the contract never came to fruition and Ramon ended up in Minnesota after the Bucks passed on matching the four year deal that the Timberwolves offered.
|Chubby speaking with fellow Clemson alum Wayne Buckingham|
Then in the monsoon of all free agent summers last season, Chubby was once again quoted when Minnesota traded Ramon to Cleveland after the Cavs lost out in the LeBron sweepstakes to Miami.
It was Chubby who was responsible in both instances of sharing his client’s feelings on all of the rumors and deals while keeping Ramon shielded from the worse of the media crush for knowledge. In some respects, Chubby said that the dealings with all of the different factors involved in a deal and the lies that inherently go with such deals is often what he hates the most about being an agent. He’d prefer to be “strait up” and just get the deal done, but he understands the game, and makes sure to keep his client out of all of it.
In fact one of Chubby’s largest role during such negotiations that is often overlooked is that of counselor. To find out and disseminate as much information as possible in order to properly advise his client…and then to make sure that his client is cool and calm during the stressful proceedings.
To say the least, Chuuby and his cell phone are the best of friends. Before cell phones, Chubby had to make sure that he was always in a place where his client(s) could get in contact with him. Now he is literally free to travel the world to train foreign teams for a week or weekend if he can fit that into his schedule while never being more than text away from those who may need him.
Speaking of training, this is what takes up the largest part of most of his days. He is a staple at the gym where he works out his training clients anywhere from three to seven hours. While some trainers are called up by agents to workout their clients, Chubby is often found by the athletes themselves to train with him.
And although this world is extremely competitive, at almost every level, in almost every aspect, at this particular gym, where quite a few guys who work with NBA hopefuls train as well, there is NOT a sense of competition among them. In fact there is great sense of respect and camaraderie that perhaps come from being in the game for years, and knowing the battles that each have waged. They each know the amount of hard work and commitment and sacrifice that has to be given in order to be successful at each level, whether high-school, college or pro.
|Dolly P, Anthony Wilkins, Chubby Wells and Dale Davis|
And working hard is what Chubby is all about. Even if it is a pick-up game with nothing on the line but pride, he’s going to hand deliver some hard knocks if you are on his team and NOT playing up to the standards that he has set for you. He’s not any easier as a trainer, in fact some may even call him a few select words, I believe Chubby’s favorite is A**H***. And while he’s almost proud to be able to say that many believe him to be one, it is clear to me that what has allowed him to stay in this game for so many years is the fact that he cares for those he works with. It is not just about his name, or the money involved, for Chubs it is about seeing these guys, who come to be trained by him, execute the skills that he has taught them on the court. It’s about seeing them able to make a living in this sport as long as possible.
The fact that google-ing Chubby’s name will only get you articles that are more about the players he represent than about him, is a little of the testament to all of that. Whereas many agents decide to work for larger agencies, where there is plenty of marketing and websites, Chubby can only be found by those who know who and what they are looking for. Or, by the occasional bystander who is completely clueless, as in my case. He is low key, and chooses to work only with guys who he feels are practically like family. So in a way, his toughness on a guy is his form of respect, love it or hate it.
In fact the biggest thing Chubby wishes young people would learn is that they need to work hard at whatever it is they are doing.
“People think it’s supposed to be easy. They want the rewards without the work, and that’s not gonna happen.”
In a way that last statement ties into his feelings about the next generation of NBA players coming out of the feel good system of the AAU.
“They don’t know what it is all about. They can’t take criticism and don’t usually know how to communicate with teammates. They need to be more humble and listen to learn what is needed from them.”
For those wanting to become agents, his advice is a little more open, but just as insightful.
“There are more agents than players out there. The most difficult part of this part of the job is actually getting the player. But after that it’s knowing how to negotiate and deal with the General Manager, the Media, and sometimes the Coach.” Further advice for any wanting to follow in his footsteps is to stay in the loop, find a guy who is already working with NBA talent and see if they will allow you to help them. Just as in any other job, it’s about who knows what you are capable of.
To close, we’ll end on Chubs definition of success, which happens to be knowing that he’s done a good job.
“I’ve done deals worth 20 and 30 million dollars and I’ve gotten contracts for the league minimum, but knowing that I’ve got my guy squared away brings me satisfaction.”
Addendum…Since writing this, The NBA Lottery happened…and Chubby will now be working hard again as his client will likely be on the move.
For great information on what it takes to become and stay a Sports Agent visit: http://www.sportsagentblog.com/