You know the scene in Spike Lee’s film, He Got Game, when Jesus Shuttlesworth, a top high school basketball prospect, is ushered into a dorm room during a party? There he meets Big State University’s “assistant coaches,” two eager co-eds played by adult film actors Chasey Lain and Jill Kelly, for a romping, exuberant, if improbably porn-y threesome.
Well—surprise, surprise—the reality isn’t nearly as sexy, if the allegations in Katina Powell’s recently published ebook Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen are to be believed.
The book, co-written with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dick Cady, is mainly a series of stories culled from the Powells’s diaries and text messages. It’s loosely tied together by Cady’s narration and covers a four-year period from 2010 to 2014 in which Powell was both an escort and a madam, who provided strippers—including three of her daughters, one of whom appears to have started working when she was 15—to service the University of Louisville varsity basketball team.
How it started
Her roster of clients included both undergrads, at least six highly sought after recruits, and even some the blue chippers’ parents and/or “guardians.”
“The Dad said he more than likely will send his son to Louisville due to the ‘more than extra’ activities,” she writes. “He said he will call in the morning for two dancers if he has time before he leaves.”
According to Powell, when it came to luring some of the nation’s top talents, it worked, to the point that “I felt like I was part of the recruitment team. A lot of them players went to Louisville because of me.”
Powell was already turning tricks in 2010 for Cheetah’s Escort Service and had “a dance troupe that put on sexy shows in clubs and at occasional bachelor parties” when she came into contact with Andre McGee, a graduate assistant and former Cardinal.
According to Powell, McGee served as paymaster, shelling out upwards of $10,000 for the 20-odd parties that took place both at Billy Minardi Hall and various chain hotels in Louisville. That total, however, doesn’t reflect the money that changed hands once her team of strippers and players were paired off and actually got down to business.
But if you’re inclined to e-pick up a copy of Breaking Cardinal Rules hoping for gobs of titillating, naughty prose and graphic depictions of athletic feats of sexual prowess, you might want to look elsewhere.
As a whole, it’s a pretty muddled clump of writing, but what does emerge is the grim, day-to-day slog of sex work—the fears of getting robbed, gigs falling off, and circumstances that forced Powell to return to low-paying straight jobs, leading to growing frustrations with McGee.
On sex with the recruits
“Having sex with the recruits had its ups and downs,” she writes. “Some of these guys were babies and didn’t know the first thing about having sex, and for other recruits the girls said some of them knew how to work it off the court. The biggest hype at U of L was who would cum first. Andre [McGee] teased some of the guys about how fast they would cum and how he was wasting money on guys who took no time to cum.”
Over the course of the books, she grows weary of the job itself, promising to get out and kick a fairly serious marijuana habit. But she remained trapped by the allure of relatively easy money. If you’ve ever read a first-hand account by anyone in the sex trade, this will scan as very much the norm.
Powell also devoted chunks of her diaries to plotting over-the-top plans for more profitable, high-end performances: “I just sit and think about all kinds of shit. Like a sex play that would be clean, like some kind of skit. Yeah, that would be hot,” rattling off lists like:
NAMES FOR THE NEW SHOW!!
Sex Toyz and Playboyz Dancers Cum To Life
A Touch of Gold
Cum take a swirl with the hottest play girls.
A hypnotic party— when you come, give me some
A French Lick on the biggest dick
Baskets for the females. Cages for the girls. Peep shows. A female with tricks behind the curtains. When shows over cover her up.
Each guy gets 2 minutes behind the Curtains.
She must be able to perform many (variety) of tricks.
She also pings between worrying about her daughters, their increasing involvement with her business, and righteously defending the entire enterprise. Speaking of her eldest, Lindsay, Powell says “she does good. I think she likes it. It puts money in her pocket, plus it is fun.”
“People may think that I expose my kids,” she writes “But, shit, they enjoy themselves, they meet new people. Believe me, they have their own lives, but they enjoy the perks of shows. For those who have a problem wit’ this, kiss my ass.”
On helping the team
While all of this is very much a business, at the heart of it all, Powell is a straight up fan. Meeting Preston Knowles was like “seeing a movie star in the flesh.” She routinely accepted tickets to the games in exchange for services and gushed over Chane Behanan, writing, “He’s tall, light brown skinned, very respectful, but he’s a basketball thug. This nigga cops weed, he loves weed, he says whatever the fuck he wants, and overall he’s a beast on the court. Yes, I need front row seats to this.”
There’s a genuine affection for the players, one that creepily enough, often borders on the maternal. It’s partnered with the thrill of having a tangential connection to the team’s success, even if she was unwilling to give away freebies after Louisville won the NCAA title in 2013.
On if this actually happened
As to whether the allegations are true, the book doesn’t provide much in the way of hard evidence. There are photos that appear to have been shot on campus featuring Powell, her daughters, and some of the other dancers standing with the players. There are pictures of McGee’s car at hotels where further trysts took place. None of this constitutes certifiable proof of anything.
The fact that approximately 700 text messages with McGee evidently “had disappeared from her phone because of a virus” is an awfully convenient excuse, and yes, we’re dealing with a very one-sided account of what transpired.
But if the entirety of the circumstantial evidence—the screenshots, logs of phone calls, text messages, receipts, and diary entries—were fabricated, either as a part of an incredibly complex extortion plot or as a way to cobble together a libelous tale for a quick buck, it would mean Powell is a fabulist of such skill and expertise that it would make Stephen Glass look like Edward R. Murrow.
The NCAA, the local police, and the university are conducting investigations. Head coach Rick Pitino has denied being aware of any of this, offering a tepid defense of McGee, saying he had spoken with him personally, but “at no time did he own up to what’s being printed right now.”
A slew of former Cardinals have either claimed ignorance or declined comment. Terrence Williams, who, according to Powell, offered $1,500 for a three-way with both her and her daughter (ew) told TMZ, “I am not a part of that. To Louisville I am … Elvis Presley, so why would I pay anybody for anything?”
An NCAA interview with one recruit that was mentioned, JaQuan Lyle, was leaked to CBS Sports, confirming the “gist” of Powell’s account.
Dick Cady, naturally, stands behind the story.
“We did our homework, we did our job, we gathered the facts and sought to find the truth,” Cady told WDRB.com. “I’m also confident that once the dust settles, as they say, the truth will be reached. And I think the truth is in that book. I wouldn’t put my name on it if I didn’t think so.”
On Louisville’s reaction
If your instinct is to dismiss the entirety of her claims or to disbelieve a sex worker simply because she’s a sex worker, don’t.
Don’t go the route that McGee’s attorney did when he slung this wonderful bit of analysis: “She’s a whore. She’s interested in making money. She’s interested in making money and the publisher of this book is interested in making money.”
And, yes, if this was only about exposing corruption in college sports, there are plenty of sports journalists that could have gone to town on a major investigative piece.
But the most damning paragraph comes when Powell writes, “I promise I’m waiting on the right time to take these bastards down. I have made thousands off these niggas and plan on making more… It was getting cloudy, though. I just have to be smart and patient as well. At the right time, when I decide to tell my story, I will tell my story.”
Cady doesn’t see this as evidence of a conspiracy, but “rather, if someone tried coming back at her she would have evidence to show that services were requested from within U of L.”
But what Powell understands implicitly is that the NCAA’s feeble insistence on the entire idea of “amateurism” means that many people are going to get paid, whether legal or otherwise, and her take is minuscule in comparison.
“As far as what I’ve been doing for U of L, I know I am only a small person when it comes to big people and millions of dollars,“ she writes. “But wrong is wrong. I don’t think that what I’m doing and what they are doing is wrong in my eyesight. It’s just business in the industry… Why are people so afraid of reality? “