by Liz Mullen
LaVar Ball and Lonzo Ball may be the father-son story that’s getting all the attention in the offseason, but there’s another story that’s equally compelling.
NFL agent Roosevelt Barnes adopted Caleb Swanigan when he was 13, obese and homeless. Swanigan was taken No. 26 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in last month’s NBA draft.
Barnes, Independent Sports & Entertainment’s co-president, football, is a veteran NFL agent who mentored many young men with his longtime business partner, the late Eugene Parker.
“You don’t become good in this business if you are motivated by the money,” Barnes said. “You have to have a passion for people, and you have to have a passion for them to succeed. That’s the joy, for me, in being an agent.”
One of the people he mentored was was Carl Swanigan, Caleb’s older brother by 11 years.
Barnes’ journey with Caleb, called “Biggie,” started with a late-night phone call from his older brother seven years ago.
Here’s how Barnes tells the story:
Carl said, “You need to come get my brother so he doesn’t end up like the rest of us.” I said, “You can bring him out to Fort Wayne [Indiana]. But if he comes out, it has to be a situation where I adopt him. I am going to treat him like my own child. Because that is the only way it is going to work.”
And he came out. He had a big duffel bag with all his possessions in it. He had a blue shirt on and khaki pants and a tie. I said “Wow, he’s got a shirt and tie on.” He wanted to make a good first impression. He was 13. He was about 6-2 and he was about 360 pounds. He was just super fat.
I told him I had two rules in my house. You’ve got to get good grades. You’ve got to keep your room clean. He said he wanted to play sports. I said if you want to play, you’ve got to get in shape.
I would tell him, “You are going to be the best college forward in the world.” He was still 360 pounds and I would say it and I would make him say it.
This is not the first success story I’ve been around. But if you do what I do for a living, sometimes people could think there was some type of motivation behind it other than just trying to help the kids. I never jumped up front and said, this is what I am doing. The kids knew what we were doing. But I never tried to publicize it.
On being a dad and an agent
It wasn’t that hard having both hats on. I knew he would be a first-round draft choice, just I didn’t know where. When you looked at all the mock drafts, the whole year, at the beginning, no one had him in. A lot of the mock drafts didn’t have him going in the second round. But I knew he was a good player.
On LaVar Ball
He is a brilliant marketer. Yeah, I think he is. I mean, everyone is talking about him. And his son is good. But I am not running around (talking). I believe this is the best player in the draft. And time will tell. History has shown that he has been the best at whatever he has put his mind to.