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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Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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