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Who Is World Wide Wes?

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.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists
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We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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