A Q&A with NIL-bankroller John Ruiz on his role in Miami's Final Four run (2024)

The Athletic has live coverage of UConn vs. Miami in the Final Four.

John Ruiz has 12 tickets for Saturday night’s Final Four showdown between Miami and Connecticut at Houston’s NRG Stadium, but he has no clue where he’s sitting or who is going with him.

“Right now, I don’t even know who’s going to be able to make it because the championship is Monday and a lot of people have to work,” said Ruiz, who is flying in on his private Boeing 767 Friday to cheer on the school he and his three children attended and to support the four Hurricanes who represent his company LifeWallet.


Unless you’ve been asleep for the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament — and the better part of the past year — you’ve come to learn Ruiz, a 56-year-old South Florida billionaire, is the most well-known bankroller in name, image and likeness.

Ruiz’s tweet announcing Nijel Pack’s two-year, $800,000 NIL deal and commitment to Miami after leaving Kansas State rocked the sports world 11 months ago. The reverberations have been felt all the way through the run-up to this weekend’s Final Four, Miami’s first appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage.

Congrats to @LifeWallet teammates, Jordan Miller, Isaiah Wong, and Nijel Pack on collecting All-Midwest Region Team Honors, with Pack also named Most Outstanding Player 🏆 #MarchMadness#FinalFour pic.twitter.com/FF3qUzcxJn

— LifeWallet Sports (@lifewalletsport) March 27, 2023

That’s exactly what Ruiz hoped for when he signed the deal. He says he’s invested between $12 million to $14 million in NIL deals for what he estimates to be about 165 athletes, most of whom compete for Miami’s football, basketball, baseball, swimming, golf and volleyball teams. Pack, Norchad Omier, Jordan Miller and Isaiah Wong, the ACC Player of the Year, are the four Hurricanes who have LifeWallet NIL deals. Ruiz plans on growing LifeWallet’s reach with multiple platforms, including a media company.

GO DEEPERYeah Miami's Sweet 16 run is influenced by NIL, and no the Canes don't care if that upsets you

Ruiz contradicts the NCAA characterizing him as booster when it sanctioned Miami’s women’s basketball team in February for what was deemed impermissible contact between Ruiz and the Cavinder twins, the social media stars he also signed to NIL deals and who helped lead Miami’s women to the Elite Eight.

Ruiz attended Miami’s come-from-behind win over Texas last weekend in Kansas City. He sat right behind Miami’s bench and then stormed the court with other Miami fans to celebrate history.

This week, The Athletic caught up with Ruiz, the son of Cuban immigrants, who attended Miami during Jimmy Johnson’s football heydays in the 1980s, became a lawyer and now has played a role in Miami’s Final Four run.

(Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Do you always sit behind the bench?

Probably within the first 10 rows behind the bench. I’m talking about away games. In Miami, I sit under the basket every game.

How often do you go to games?

With the exception of a few, almost every single one of the (home games). I flew to a couple of the girls games also, so I would say 10 between postseason and regular-season road games. I went to the women’s first game in the ACC tournament and then I had to fly back to work because it was during the week. Then they lost the second game. I went to every single men’s NCAA Tournament game with the exception of the Sweet 16, which was this past Friday. I had to work.

Do you get to go into the locker room or get on the court afterward?

I don’t do anything like that so the school and the kids don’t think that I believe I’m entitled to anything that somebody else isn’t entitled to. So, I keep a good arm’s-length distance from the players and the school and what they have to do. I respect that.

Did you get to go into the locker room, though, after the Elite Eight?

I’ve never asked to go into the locker room. If they invited me, I’m sure I would go. But I try to stay away from doing things that a normal fan would not be able to do. I did get to go on the floor after they made it to the Final Four because I happen to have a ticket that came with a bracelet — so you’re able to do so. But not because there was any special accommodation.

When did you first meet Wong, Miller, Pack and Omier?

I guess along the way. I mean, Wong and Miller were already on the team, and so I extended an NIL (deal) to them (last year), and then after Norchad and Nigel had committed and enrolled, they got NIL deals as well.

You tweeted how much the deal was with Nigel: $800,000 over two years. Collectively, how much would you say Pack, Miller, Omier and Wong cost in total?

I can’t disclose that because there’s confidentiality agreements. But I would just say that they’re being fairly compensated.

So many people have written and said Miami wouldn’t be at the Elite Eight if they didn’t have John Ruiz and the players didn’t have NIL deals. Does that bother you that people point to that, and not the players and the team and everything that they’ve done?

People just love to say something to justify why the Miami basketball team has made it this far. I think it’s in poor taste. You’ve got to give the credit to the kids. You can tell why these kids bond so well. The way that I see it is they have an incredible support structure at the school in both basketball and academics.

What I would say goes a long way is the core of the team, they also come and perform work for LifeWallet at the same time. So these guys are on the court, in the classroom, and doing things like NIL off the court together. That chemistry is very important. They have fun while they do it with us, and I’m sure they have fun practicing doing everything else. That chemistry doesn’t just happen without that.

How often have players come over and hung out with you because they like you as a person? We’ve seen photos of you with a few of them.

I feel blessed to have an amazing relationship with all the kids. Not just basketball, but football, swimming and golf. I’m just hoping that they feel the same way. I have so much love and appreciation not just for the kids, but the families, and it’s just an incredibly positive environment. People may see it from the outside and write things that are either negative or with hatred. People say you’re paying for the kid, you can’t pay for love. Well, when kids are texting you out of the blue for your birthday, Father’s Day and New Year’s, or they’re reaching out to get guidance from a business perspective … I disagree.

You see how smart these kids are with what they want to do in the future and how well they’re put together. They have an understanding of life in general. How they treat others, I look at all those things. I saw Norchad after the Elite Eight celebration, a bunch of kids were getting him to sign balls and autograph stuff. They’re just so accommodating. They just do all the right things.

This is why I am blessed to be able to work with these kids. Bonds are created @NijelPack24 pic.twitter.com/6vFruBOk7O

— John H. Ruiz, CEO LifeWallet and Attorney at Law (@JohnHRuiz) March 27, 2023

How is your relationship with coach Jim Larrañaga?

I love that guy. Unfortunately, because of the position that I’m in, I’m very careful. Sometimes the appearance of impropriety is worse than the impropriety itself. So, I try to stay at an arm’s-length distance. But I think that guy is just amazing. He just exudes everything that you can want from a human being. He loves the kids, and the kids just adore him. He’s fun. He’s exciting. He’s knowledgeable. I mean, if you had to choose a human being that you want to emulate, it’s Coach L. I think, the University of Miami as a school, the kids that play under him, and just that experience, that’s worth all the money in the world. Even if you’ve got $0 and no NIL, I’d tell you if I was a player, I’d want to play under him.

What’s been the best part for you in terms of NIL? It can be as a businessman or as a person?

I would say just the fact that these kids tell you that they love you genuinely without you asking them for it, and that you feel it. And they’ll tell you, “Hey, I know you’re real.” And they see that there’s nothing fake. I don’t want a dime from them. I don’t want anything from these kids. I’m not there to benefit from them. I’m there to hopefully guide them as best as I can with my life experiences and hope that they understand that there’s not one inch of my body that wants anything other than positive for them and not because I want to make money from them at all.


From a business standpoint, the return on investment, I’m sure you have numbers that you’d love to share that says this is worth it or this is why you do this?

When you think about NIL, you think about two things. You think about Nijel Pack, and you think about LifeWallet. That’s going to be connected like that forever. The impact that was made from that deal in particular — which was probably the marquee deal that everybody looked at or everybody measured it against — has turned out to be a very rewarding experience for everybody. Not only is Nigel a great student, he’s a great human being. His parents are exceptional. His play has been formidable. He’s a leader on the court. He’s the shortest guy on the team, but he delivers the biggest impact, which goes to show that size doesn’t carry the day. It’s what you have in your heart and how hard you work. That kid works as hard as anybody else could work.

There was a big controversy when you announced Nijel’s deal. Right afterward, it was reported Isaiah’s agent said he wanted a better deal. How did that get smoothed over?

When you’re Isaiah Wong and his parents, you’re at a disadvantage, you’re not in the business world, you don’t understand how this works. Somebody like me could try to take advantage of that situation. But I would never do that. And I think I opened everybody’s eyes by saying, “Look, you know, this is the way things work.” But it wasn’t the parents. It’s sometimes people guiding them, and not necessarily the agent either. He’s a good guy. Like anything else in life, people try to give you opinions and some of them are not in your best interest and you have to be able to navigate through that to understand the dynamics of what you should really be doing. The kid is an amazing kid. He’s beyond a great basketball player, and I think he did the right thing. Look at where he is now. He’s going to a Final Four.

How many commercials would you estimate they’ve shot?

A ton. They work. You’ve seen them. They put out the content. I mean, everybody sees that there’s transparency in what we do. Complete transparency.

When you first started this endeavor, did you ever imagine it becoming this big of a deal where everybody’s talking about John Ruiz, the NIL guy?

No. Not this big. I knew that I could create a brand because I’ve done that all my life. Remember, my history is I’ve had to promote myself because that’s the way that I was able to get business from a very young age. So, I had experience.

What I was able to do from the inception, which I envisioned, was create this marketing platform where kids were transparent, and we’re constantly out there creating and promoting. One of the things that you have to compare this to, for example, if you hired Shaquille O’Neal for a commercial. He films a commercial, that commercial can get played thousands of times. It’s the same commercial. We’re filming new content all the time. So, these NIL deals are one-year long. Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t get hired for a whole year or film a commercial every week. We’re pumping out content. So people need to understand the continuity. If you look at Nijel Pack, you read almost every story about the Miami Hurricanes has something built into it that says the name LifeWallet and Nijel Pack. So, I mean, what does that cost if you went out and you tried to do that?

Be in the game & in the know with @LifeWallet! Score with the latest news from the country’s healthcare data analytics, technology, legal, and NIL sports leader.#ChangingTheGame#LifeWalletSports#LifeWalletLegal#LifeWalletHealth#LifeWalletEdu pic.twitter.com/uaLWKs6jnk

— Nijel 🅿️ack (@NijelPack24) February 24, 2023

Making the Final Four helped obviously.

But I always figured that this would happen. For me, there was no way to lose. And here’s a reason why. If he didn’t pan out to be what we all thought he was going to be, then I’m considered a dummy. Dummies get attraction from others as well. “This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.” So you’re out there still. I learned from my dad early on, if they talk about you good or bad, it’s still a promotion. Obviously, it worked out very well in the fact that he even became the MVP of the Midwest Regional.

You’ve announced deals with many of Miami’s new freshmen in football. We’ve heard five-star offensive lineman Samson Okunlola, who enrolled early, is going to have a food truck.

Probably right after the spring game, we’re going to start the pancake marketing component of our deal. Pancake Honcho is the name he brought into it. It’s not part of the NIL deal, but it was part of the marketing strategy that I came up with to promote LifeWallet and him. We’re gonna do some pretty cool things. We’re gonna do a lot with giving back to the community with a lot of the Pop Warner games, getting out to the community and getting the youngsters to meet the players and the parents.

(Photo of Isaiah Wong and John Ruiz courtesy of John Ruiz)

A Q&A with NIL-bankroller John Ruiz on his role in Miami's Final Four run (2024)
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