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How Jade-Li English Took Her Seat at the Table

Klutch Sports Group agent Jade-Li English speaks with Boardroom about her rise in the industry and working with superstar clients like WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson.

If you watched Game 4 of the Las Vegas Aces‘ scintillating WNBA semifinals-clinching win over the Seattle Storm last Tuesday, a 97-92 victory to advance to the Finals that begin Sunday, you would have witnessed a 31-point, 10-assist, six-rebound performance from four-time All-Star Chelsea Gray, and a 23-point, 13-rebound stat line from 2020 and 2022 league MVP A’ja Wilson.

If you watched the University of South Carolina take home the 2022 NCAA women’s basketball national championship in April, you saw two-time national player of the year Aliyah Boston score 11 points, grab 16 rebounds, and win Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

Along with Dallas Wings star guard Allisha Gray, all these hoopers are represented by Jade-Li English of Klutch Sports Group, one of the preeminent agents in women’s basketball.

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English joined Klutch from Octagon officially in February, moving to Los Angeles and starting the agency’s women’s division alongside a powerful men’s group that includes LeBron James, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, and Zach LaVine. In an intensely competitive industry with an extremely low success rate, English excels at what she does because of her love of basketball, her clients, and telling stories.

Some agents or high-powered talent representatives were born to do it; English is not one of those people, and her path to the business was distinct. “I had never in a million years thought that I would be a sports agent,” English told Boardroom. “Back then, 18-, 20-, 21-year-old me was not on this path.”

Growing up in Denver, Columbia, South Carolina, and New York City, she had hoops not just in her life, but in her blood — her father is Basketball Hall of Famer Alex English. She moved to South Carolina after his retirement for high school and college, competing in track and field for the hometown Gamecocks. After graduating in 2002, she was among the millions of post-college twentysomethings who didn’t know which route they were meant to take after school.

Jade-Li English
Photo courtesy of Klutch Sports Group

English was a theater minor, so she decided to pursue acting and dancing. “I moved to Los Angeles because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said.

There were bit parts and background work in various TV shows and movies in between dance and acting classes. When she didn’t know what was next, English moved to New York, where she spent a couple of years bartending before starting launching a basketball lifestyle publication of sorts with her brother Alex called Nothing But Net. They’d go to the NBA All-Star Game and other events and talk to fans, athletes, and DJs, but she wasn’t still wasn’t quite sure what she wanted her long-term future to look like.

Things began to come together when she joined Roc Nation‘s PR department in 2013. English worked under Jana Fleishman, growing to love the storytelling and marketing aspects of her new career. She had a young Skylar Diggins-Smith under her wing and began working more closely together, along with several other elite athletes, as Roc Nation originated its sports division.

After nearly four years at Roc, English reached another fork in the road.

“I had another transitional moment of being burnt out and unsure,” she said. “So I literally took time.”

Photo courtesy of Jade-Li English

She sublet her New York apartment to a Harvard student who was interning at the U.N. for the summer and went to stay with her parents.

“I really had a moment of ‘I need to figure things out, but I need to take a breath. I need to get back to me and what do I want to do and what is important to me,’” English said. “What really resonated was yes,  I wanted to work with athletes, but especially women.”

A’ja Wilson went to high school with her youngest brother and English wanted to work with her upon being taken by the Aces with the top pick of the 2018 draft following a standout career at South Carolina. Their families knew each other well, as their dads used to work out together in the summers.

“I felt like I knew the industry pretty well just from my time at Roc working with Skylar, but I wasn’t super, super nuanced in women’s basketball yet,” English said. “That was still something that I had to truly learn, but one thing I did know and recognized was that there was a space for them and a space for their stories to be told, and for them to be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts instead of being shoved overseas out of sight.”

English told her dad that she wanted to give a presentation to Wilson’s family, inviting them over to her parent’s house for dinner. The pitch was successful, and English started as her manager. She did this while helping out on the marketing front and doubling as a communications and marketing consultant. After a little over a year at Wasserman, Wilson decided she no longer wanted to work under that umbrella.

Though English didn’t feel a desire to be an agent — she wasn’t initially so interested in the task of negotiating athlete contracts — everything ultimately runs through the players’ representatives, and she was far from new to many aspects of the industry. Notably, her father worked for the NBA Players Association and helped negotiate a landmark collective bargaining agreement.

“There just came a point where I was like, ‘You know what? Let me just rip the Band-Aid off,’” she said.  “I am going to get my certification. I’m going to learn the CBA inside and out. And part of my learning process was that the on-court contracts were probably the easiest thing you had to do when it’s all said and done. You only have a certain amount of period of time and contracts last only so long. And there’s only so much you can do within the CBA.”

With no desire to be an agent and her own HR, accounting, or legal departments, it was a business decision for English to join the agency department at Octagon in 2020 after trying the independent route.

 “It wasn’t fair to my clients and it wasn’t fair to me either, to literally be doing everything and working all hours of the day,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Klutch Sports Group

On her road to the agency world, English leaned on a few mentors for advice and guidance. NBA Vice President Leah Wilcox, whom she called “the mother of the NBA,” taught her that things will happen in life when they’re supposed to.

“She was very much about manifesting and knowing that things do happen organically, but at the same time you do also have to put out there what you want and be specific about it,” English said. “Everything that I’ve ever done and wanted to do, I have done. And if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out and I’m glad it did.”

Former NBPA executive director Charlie Grantham helped English with contracts and the WNBA CBA, guiding her on how to keep the client’s best interests at heart. But perhaps most of all, English credits her mother as someone she couldn’t have accomplished all she’s had without her.

“My mom, she’s reinvented herself a million times,” English said. “She’s a serial entrepreneur and I don’t think she’s ever failed because she works so hard. Even in my darkest hour, even when I didn’t know what I wanted to do and didn’t know where I wanted to be, she was always there to support me, both of my parents.”

Back when English was still independent and repped Wilson, she reached out to Rich Paul at Klutch and said that they should have a women’s division. While he was open to the conversation, Octagon offered what felt like the superior path at the time. But even then, there was something about the way Klutch was conducting and navigating business, basketball, and sports culture that made her want to be a part of it.

All of her existing clients went with English to Klutch in February, a testament to the trust they have in her, something English said meant a great deal.

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“I don’t just take on clients and I’m not just their agent,” she added. “Most agents who are doing their job well know that you’re their everything at some points. You’re their confidant, family, protector, and friend. That’s just how I work. Any of my clients will tell you we are family. Truly. There’s never a time where they can’t get in touch with me. I know their entire families, and that’s important to me in order to do my job. Not to mention that I am very close with these women and they have become a very huge part of my life.”

With more than six months under her belt at Klutch, English said she’s now further helping the WNBA and women’s basketball ascend by shaking tables and trying to create new norms in the sporting landscape. It’s about equity — making sure these ladies are getting the same opportunities as elite male athletes, that they understand that their stories are important, and that they shouldn’t ever feel resigned to accept taking a back seat to anyone or anything.

Photo courtesy of Jade-Li English

“Who better to tell these stories than women? Who better to shed light on situations and help and be change-makers that shift culture?” English said. “These women shifted a whole vote back in 2020. They are really important voices to our society. And it’s really about amplifying it even more and making it a norm where we’re not just talking about, ‘Oh, we changed it to March Madness for the women now.’ That should’ve already been done. How about in 10, 15 years from now, we’re not forgetting but we’re also not having to work so hard to get equity in anything.”

At the moment, Jade-Li English is focused on taking things day by day and being consciously present for her clients while also acting as a megaphone for them and women in all sports to what’s going on and helping in any way she can. Her long-term goals, she said, are branching outside basketball, across all sports and all platforms.

“I don’t know what that looks like right now,” English said, “but it’s been a journey. I’ll say that.”

And as always, things will happen in her life when they’re supposed to. So far, she’s been right on schedule.

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