College Sports

7 takeaways from ‘The Scheme’, HBO’s documentary about the college basketball scandal

"There's no law in the world that says that breaking an NCAA rule is a federal felony."

Former sports agent Christian Dawkins was the center of the HBO documentary, "The Scheme." AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

When former sports agent and manager Christian Dawkins was in fifth grade, he read the book “Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed, and the Corruption of America’s Youth” by Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger. He knew then what he wanted to do.

His original aspirations did not involve getting caught up in the scandal that shook the college basketball world. He wanted to become a sports agent, but what he became known for is allegedly pioneering the corruption of NCAA coaches in order to get top prospects to sign with his sports management companies back in 2017.

The FBI also uncovered that Dawkins and sports agency ASM Sports were allegedly paying top high school prospects and their families, like Brian Bowen and the NBA’s Miles Bridges, Collin Sexton, Wendell Carter Jr. and others when they were in college. Documents revealed thousands of dollars in “loans” given to players and wiretapped conversations exposed the ugly truth of what was going on. Even Zion Williamson’s father was heard reportedly asking for a job, “cash,” and housing to Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend.

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In October of 2018, Dawkins was convicted and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by paying players to choose Adidas-sponsored schools. Then, in May of 2019, he was charged with bribing other former college assistants. For both convictions, which his attorney is appealing, Dawkins was sentenced to a total of 18 months in federal prison.

All of this was captured in HBO’s documentary, “The Scheme,” which aired Tuesday and detailed how the college basketball scandal went down through Dawkins’s perspective.

Reactions to the documentary have been mixed. The Undefeated called it a “commercial” for Dawkins, and argued about its limitations by only including interviews from him and his lawyer. Others wrote how it exposed a “bigger problem” in the NCAA. 

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Here’s what we learned from the film:

Dawkins – who came from a basketball family – started his own prep basketball scouting publication when he was 11 years old. 

Dawkins was a self-described curious young boy from Michigan who one day wanted to play in the NBA. However, after reading about about how black athletes were valuable, in his own words, to “white coaches, white agents, white business managers, white sneaker reps” – he knew there was a more going on than just the game of basketball.

Exposed to the talent in Michigan thanks to his father, Dawkins built relationships with athletes and coaches around Michigan, and he knew that the sports business world was his calling. At a young age, he started “Best of the Best scouting” – which featured detailed rankings and reports of basketball prospects. For a subscription to his newsletter, he charged college coaches – many of which were Division 1 – $600.

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He even ranked himself, sometimes as the No. 1 prospect in the state, and boldly at 6-foot-2.

He then organized his own tournament and travel team while he was still in high school.

Dawkins’s  younger brother, Dorian, was a talented basketball prospect that tragically passed away at a young age after suffering a heart attack during a basketball tournament.

Knowing his brother was “the next star from Saginaw,” Dawkins honored his memory by organizing a basketball tournament in partnership with the American Heart Association – as well a travel team, “Dorian’s Pride. At around the age of 16, Dawkins was coordinating his team’s sponsorship deal with Under Armour, selecting coaches, organizing tournament schedules, and recruiting players.

“It’s marketing,” he said about why a company like Under Armour would sponsor a high school team. “If I’m outfitting Zion Williamson in South Carolina with all Adidas or all Nike [gear], I’m pretty sure the kids in that area are going to buy Nikes and Adidas because he’s gonna be the most popular, most visible person in the community.”

Rather than attend college, Dawkins worked at ASM Sports with agent Andy Miller. He recruited several current NBA players. 

While first working for a financial services company, Dawkins signed first-round picks Elfrid Payton and Rodney Hood in his first year. When he went on to ASM, Dawkins’s role was to build relationships with clients and recruit players, including the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet.

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“Andy was probably my agent in all my paperwork but Christian was the one who did everything for me,” VanVleet said. “Mostly Christian kind of shaped me, pointed me in the right direction to end up where I am now.”

“He’s like a mastermind when it comes to the basketball agency world, and it’s not up for debate that he was great at what he did.”

His first NBA scandal arose early in his career  – known as “Uber-gate.”

In May of 2017, Dawkins’s former company alleged that he stole over $40,000 in Uber fares and charged it to Elfrid Payton’s credit card. Dawkins claims it was a mix-up of which Payton’s card remained linked to his Uber account even after he no longer served on his financial team.

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After splitting ways with Miller and ASM Sports, Dawkins decided he wanted to start his own company, LOYD Management Inc.

“Uber-gate sped up what was going to be the inevitable anyway,” Dawkins said.

Dawkins claimed he did not want to involve college coaches initially

Dawkins joined forces with investors “Jeff D’Angelo,” his partner “Jill Bailey,” (who were actually undercover FBI agents) and financial advisor Munish Sood  (who later testified that he gave funds to Markelle Fultz and Kyle Kuzma’s agent at ASM Sports when they were in college).

According to Dawkins, D’Angelo was the one who really pushed the scheme to pay college coaches in order to “steer” players to sign with their company – which he says was not what he originally wanted.

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Dawkins, who says he was given an ultimatum that he must follow these orders, decided to set up the meetings with coaches but take the money instead. While in Las Vegas, he met with many coaches like USC assistant coach Tony Bland, and told them what was going on.

“Listen, bro, this guy’s stupid,” he recalled saying to them. “He is my investor. Just go in here. I’m going to take the money off the table…Tony [Bland] definitely was aware…He knew that. I think it was $13,000. Tony didn’t get it, I took it off the table.”

The documentary recalled wire-tapped phone calls between Dawkins and college coaches that he claimed were about money. 

While Arizona head coach Sean Miller has denied any involvement in bribery, he can be heard discussing the recruitment of the Trailblazers’ Nassir Little and the Timberwolves’ Naz Reid with Dawkins, an exchange that seemingly hinted at compensation. When Dawkins asks him if they would land Reid, Miller replies:

“No. He’s going to LSU. We’re not even bringing him on a visit. He’s not even visiting. That’s all bulls***. Like, I’m looking at our recruiting board, he’s not even on it. I’ve never talked to the kid. All this f***** hype s*** on the phone, it’s stupid. He just probably said, you know what, f*** you I don’t want seventy-five I want a hundred and twenty. I may go to Arizona. That’s all that was.”

LSU head coach Will Wade also denied working with Dawkins, but can be heard talking about what appears to be Jaron Blossomgame and LSU’s Javonte Smart:

“Hopefully Blossomgame’s not blowing you up too much right now,” Wade said to Dawkins on the phone.

“He could be playing for LSU or some s***,” Dawkins replied. “He could have his fifth year of eligibility and he doesn’t get drafted like Randolph Morris.”

“We could compensate him better than the rookie minimum,” Wade jokes. “We’d give him more than the D-League…Alright I was thinking last night on this [Javonte] Smart thing, like, I’ll be honest with you. I’m f******tired of dealing with the thing…What do you think? ‘Cause I went to him with a f******strong a** offer about a month ago. F****** strong. Now, the problem was I know why he didn’t take it now, it was f****** tilted towards the family a little bit….Hell of an offer – especially for a kid who’s gonna be a two or three year kid. I’ve made deals for as good a payers as him that were f****** a lot simpler than this.”

Dawkins firmly believes he did not break any laws by paying players.

After Dawkins was intercepted by the FBI, and “refused to cooperate,” he was arrested and charged with a handful of felonies such as bribery conspiracy, wire fraud, honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and money laundering.

He believes that paying players was not a federal offense.

“We admitted from day one we paid the players,” he said on camera. “There’s no point in hiding that. It’s not illegal. There’s no law in the world that says that breaking an NCAA rule is a federal felony. There’s no law that says that and they twisted the law to make it fit.

“I want to be very clear with this,” he later said in the documentary. “Any coach who offers to pay a player, in my opinion, is good guy. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think the coaches who are not willing to help out their players are not good people. The way the system is set up, it’s kind of caused someone to have to step in to provide what the families and the players need.”

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