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How to become an NBA Agent
So,you wanna be an NBA agent?
Youngsters with first-round talent rarely opt to sign with inexperienced agents. In the coming draft, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Brandon Roy -- all likely lottery picks -- have signed with Tellem's company. Adam Morrison, a certain top five pick, is with Mark Bartelstein. Duffy has point guards Rajon Rondo and Marcus Williams -- probable lottery picks -- plus first-round hopefuls Allan Ray and Paul Davis. Octagon scooped up Rudy Gay and Rodney Carney, two other likely lottery picks. The rich will get richer, Skippy.
In fact, almost all of the best players in the draft belong to the agent world's heavies. In the past five drafts there have been 67 lottery picks, and 17 of those went to SFX. (That company was Tellem's employer until he left in January. His departure is causing problems for SFX, which likely will not have a lottery pick in this draft and might not have a first-round pick at all.) Duffy is next, with six lottery picks. Thomas and Dan Fegan each have had four, and Billy Ceisler, Leon Rose and Lon Babby have had three apiece. That means 59.7 percent of the lottery picks have gone through seven agencies.
Step three: Know the rules
Along with your application, you will receive a 13-page section called "NBPA Regulations Governing Player Agents." There are other rules involving your duties as an agent-the NCAA has regulations, and 40 states have laws governing sports agents. But the rules outlined in this document make clear that, as a registered agent, you are working as a representative for the union on behalf of players and that you are accountable to the union.
It also makes clear, particularly in Section 3B, what conduct is prohibited and subject to discipline. Among other rules, an agent is prohibited from:
n Providing monetary inducement to any player to encourage that player to utilize his services.
n Providing monetary inducement to any member of a player's family or any other person to encourage that player to utilize his services.
n Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or any conduct that reflects adversely on his fitness as a player agent.
Now, now, relax, Skippy. These rules are, shall we say, loose. Or, as one agent says, "A joke. I don't know why there's a rulebook at all."
Take Sections 3Bf and 3Bg, for example. The first prohibits "representing the general manager or coach of any NBA team ... in matters pertaining to his employment." The second prohibits "engaging in any other activity which creates an actual or potential conflict of interest." It's a bit odd, then, that there was no problem with Keith Glass client and former Rutgers guard Quincy Douby working out for the Knicks in May-a workout that was overseen by coach Larry Brown, who is a client of Joe Glass, Keith's father. Douby also worked out for the Bulls, coached by Scott Skiles, who is Keith Glass' client. Flouting of the rules on coaches and conflicts of interest is common-agent Mark Termini represents Pistons head coach Flip Saunders (and assistant Ron Harper) but also represents about a half-dozen players, including draft candidate Mike Gansey.
See, the rules are not taken too seriously. In fact, bad things can happen when you try to play by them. Veteran agent Darren Weiner had only recently started his practice in 1994 when he met a talented freshman at the University of Massachusetts named Marcus Camby. Weiner limited his contact with Camby, though. "I feel when you recruit kids, you should give them space to be a kid and not constantly call them directly," Weiner says. "If you work hard to get to know the adults around the kid and let them know what you're all about, then when the time comes they'll introduce you."
Weiner got to know UMass coach John Calipari, as well as assistants Bruiser Flint and Bill Bayno. He met Jackie Bethea, who worked with a Boys & Girls Club back in Hartford, Conn., and was a mentor for Camby. Weiner developed a friendship with Bethea and the coaches.
But everything changed when Camby was a junior and it became clear he'd be leaving for the NBA. Weiner was approached by Dave Glover, an assistant to the UMass athletic director who asked Weiner which player he was looking to represent. When Weiner responded with Camby's name, Glover told Weiner he'd be better off pursuing lesser prospects Donta Bright and Dana Dingle. Glover informed Weiner that the university had implemented a registration program for agents looking to represent Camby, and if Weiner still wanted to pursue Camby he'd have to file an application.
Weiner filed the application but never received verification. Once Glover took over the process, smaller agents were bumped out in favor of big names such as Tellem, Eric Fleisher and Tony Dutt (then with ProServ). Weiner was certain the cause was lost after the university sent out a notice saying Camby would be off-limits to agents once the conference tournament started. But after one conference tournament game, Weiner saw Glover, Camby, Dutt and Dutt's associate, Alex Johnson, chatting at the arena.
The agent-finding process at UMass was later revealed to be a fiasco-Camby admitted to taking money, gifts and, allegedly, the services of prostitutes from agents, which left the university in hot water. But Camby signed with ProServ, though he now is represented by Richard Kaplan. "I was young and inexperienced," Weiner says. "Marcus was the player of the year, and the fact is you're not going to get every client you go after. Did I have a real shot at him? Maybe and maybe not. I know I had no shot once Dave Glover and the university got involved."
You don't have to break the rules to get your agency started. Just massage them. The rules say you can't offer money to a player or his family, but the rules say nothing about giving jobs to key people close to players.
When Houston-based Bob McClaren, a former executive with the Astros, wanted to get into representing NBA players last year, he hired Tommy Thomas, the longtime coach at The Colony High School in north Texas. Made sense; two alums of The Colony, Deron Williams and Bracey Wright, were juniors in college (Williams at Illinois and Wright at Indiana). Both were heading into that year's draft. Little surprise, then, that McClaren's first two clients were Williams and Wright.
Sound fishy? It's all within the rules. And it is common practice. Duffy hired Calvin Andrews, who had been Drew Gooden's AAU coach. And now Duffy and Andrews, a certified agent, represent Gooden. But Andrews has been valuable beyond his connection with Gooden. He also brought Carmelo Anthony, Kareem Rush and Marcus Williams (among others) into the company. The same thing happened when Tellem brought AAU coach Thad Foucher-who coached Jonathan Bender's New Orleans Jazz AAU team-into his company. Tellem got Bender, but Foucher later brought in players such as Joe Johnson and Dahntay Jones.
But, hey, if the rulebook isn't for you, you still can be an NBA agent. Just get yourself some piles of cash and a few FedEx envelopes. It seems to have worked for Fegan, according to a former employer.
Fegan is one of the league's most powerful agents and has a client list made up of several players who sport eight-figure contracts, including Gilbert Arenas, Erick Dampier, Shawn Marion, Troy Murphy and Jason Richardson.
In 2002, Fegan's former associate, Brian Dyke, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court over the sale of Fegan's business to Canadian conglomerate Assante. Dyke alleged that Fegan broke promises and froze him out of the deal. The case was settled out of court and Dyke dropped the lawsuit, but the allegations in Dyke's deposition were fascinating. He named four AAU representatives-Foucher, Chicago's Michael Irvin, Michigan's Chris Grier and Fresno's Darren Matsubara-who, he claimed, were paid by Fegan.
Dyke was asked if he thought Fegan had paid Irvin compensation in order to sign Marion. "Yes," Dyke said. When asked why he thought that, Dyke said, "Because he told me he did."
The best sequence of the deposition starts on page 212. Dyke's lawyer asked about the payments Fegan allegedly made and labeled them "brown bag payments" made directly to the coaches, not as donations to the AAU programs.
Q. How do you know that when he said he was making payments he wasn't referring to making an AAU donation?
A. Because I think if you're making an AAU donation you wouldn't be sending it in a FedEx envelope in cash to someone's house.
Q. Did you see him FedEx envelopes in cash to someone's house?
Q. When did you see a FedEx envelope in cash to someone's house?
A. He sent Chris Grier cash.
Q. When was that?
A. That would have been 2000 also.
Q. How much cash?
A. I don't know how much it was.
Q. Do you have any ballpark?
A. It was over $1,000.
The players association never punished Fegan. Again, Skippy, you should know the rules. Just don't worry about them too much.
Step Four: Agent, beware
However you manage to get yourself a client or two, remember that the wise agent remains on his toes. That's because it's very easy for players to drop an agent and pick up a new one-the player simply must file an official termination letter with the union and wait 15 days. Just like that, you're gone. "You learn to live in fear of the fax," one agent says. "Every time the fax starts going, you think, 'Am I getting fired?' "
Peruse the pages of the 2001 agent's handbook. Then look at the 2005 book and you can see there is cause for such paranoia-during that four-year span, 70 of the 233 players (30.0 percent) listed in both books changed agents. Look at Mavericks guard Jason Terry, for example. He entered the 1999 draft with Larry Fox as his agent and just weeks later switched to No Limit Sports, the company started by rapper Master P. He left No Limit and signed with agent Brad Marshall in 2001. Terry dropped him within a few months, which led Marshall to file a grievance with the union over a $200,000 loan he had given Terry. In 2003, Terry was a Raymond Brothers client. That year, Brothers negotiated Terry's three-year, $22.5 million contract. Terry, who will be one of the NBA's top free agents this summer, is currently represented by Fegan. For now, at least.
Players change agents like tube socks, which means that threats to your practice lurk everywhere. So, Skippy, beware ...
... of runners
The biggest danger an agent faces is clients' being stolen or "poached." Runners often are the culprits. Many agencies have employees who are not certified agents and, thus, are out of the jurisdiction of the union. These are runners, and their goal is to hammer players with a consistent message: "Drop your agent, join up with us, and we'll take better care of you."
Runners are everywhere. They are at late-night clubs frequented by players. They are given family passes by NBA teams (who get the requests from players). They haunt gyms in the offseason. One agent says he discovered a runner had paid a popular barber to introduce the runner to players who frequent the barber's shop. There are no restrictions on runners in the NBA-by contrast, the NFL Players Association is more diligent-which means that if you can't be with your client round-the-clock that client certainly will be approached by a runner.
"It's a mess," an agent says. "There is no regulation. The problem is you have a new group of players coming in every year, and every year these runners can just reinvent themselves and tell players whatever they want to hear. In the corporate world, you have a resume and a background and a reputation. In this world, you can just lie, just say whatever you think the guy wants to hear."
... of players
Agent Keith Kreiter first signed a deal with point guard Rafer Alston-a veteran of Rucker Park, Fresno State and the Fresno County Jail (thanks to a 90-day sentence stemming from a domestic violence arrest)-in early 1999. Alston had been drafted in the second round by the Bucks, and Kreiter had been working with then-Vikings receiver Randy Moss on image repair. Alston saw the success Kreiter had with Moss and hired Kreiter. Five years, three leagues, five teams, a lot of sweat and, finally, a termination letter followed.
Alston started with the CBA's Idaho franchise in 1999, and that offseason he moved into Kreiter's house. Kreiter worked with the Bucks on a guaranteed deal-he finally got one, a two-year contract with a large portion of the first year guaranteed. He also managed a deal with And1, the shoe company, by using old tapes of Alston to start the And1 mix-tape concept.
But still it was a challenge to keep Alston in the NBA. When the Bucks opted not to re-sign Alston in 2002, Kreiter again had to scramble. He told Alston to prove his talent-despite Alston's objections-in the developmental league. Kreiter was right. Alston averaged 15.8 points, and after just six games the Raptors signed him. That summer, Kreiter steered Alston to Miami for an increase in playing time. Alston had his breakout season with the Heat, averaging 10.2 points and 4.5 assists.
And that's when Eddie Lau, a reputed runner who had known Alston from their days in New York, and Fegan got involved. Alston was a free agent, and despite Kreiter's sacrifices Alston terminated Kreiter and hired Fegan just before signing a big contract with the Raptors.
There's an important lesson here, though, Skippy: Don't sink too much into one guy. Kreiter since has expanded his practice worldwide-he represents basketball players such as Maciej Lampe, Kendall Gill and Orien Greene-and the new revenue outweighs Alston's contract.
As a bonus, Kreiter did not have to deal with the bizarre, headache-ridden year Alston had in Toronto in 2004-05.
"You work hard to put your player in a good situation in which he thrives; logic would suggest loyalty follows," says Kreiter, who says he bears no ill will toward Alston. "Clearly the agent business and logic aren't always synonymous."
In fact, it works the other way too often. "Our business is littered with unscrupulous agents who prey on players' impressionable minds," Kreiter says. "I have a friend in the business who tells a great story about one of his players' toasting him at his wedding. The player fired him by the time he returned home from his honeymoon."
... of partners
In the mixed-up world of the NBA agent, the saying goes, "Keep your enemies distant and your friends even distant-er." Or something like that.
Rare is the lasting partnership. Two of the league's top agents, Duffy and Goodwin, were partners in the early 1990s before a bitter breakup. After seven years with SFX, Tellem left and now is part of the smaller Wasserman Media Group. Those were high-profile divorces, and perhaps the lesson is that agents simply should not operate in pairs. But you'd think you could work with your own brother, right?
Funny you should ask. That brings us to the saga of the Fleisher brothers, Eric and Marc. Theirs is a big name in the player representation field because their father, Larry Fleisher, was a founder of the players association, the guy who facilitated the ABA-NBA merger, negotiated the league's salary cap, created the NBA's very tough antidrug rules and helped spread the game globally. It seemed only natural Eric and Marc would form an NBA player agency, called Entersport.
In 1995, though, Eric and Marc ran Larry Fleisher's good name through the wringer. It was then that Eric, claiming irreconcilable differences that mostly centered on Marc's work ethic, sued Entersport and Marc. The lawsuit is embarrassing. On page 3 of Eric Fleisher's affidavit, there is a section titled "Marc Fleisher's Waste of Corporate Assets." A subsection is titled, "The 40th Birthday Party," which alleges that, in 1994, Marc spent company time and money planning his birthday celebration at Donald Trump's Florida home. Another subsection is "The Wedding in Acapulco," which is similar to the 40th birthday party-except Eric points out Marc planned the wedding for the weekend of the 1993 Final Four, which is an important time for agents who are recruiting.
The clincher, though, is Subsection D: "Marc Fleisher Sleeping at the Office." The affidavit charges that "on numerous occasions, rather than conduct the business of Entersport during business hours, Marc Fleisher simply closed his office door and went to sleep on his couch."
Eric Fleisher left Entersport with his intern, Andy Miller, who is at the center of the Fleisher brothers' postscript: Miller left Eric Fleisher's new company in 1999 and took several big clients, including Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups, with him. Fleisher was back in court after that, this time with a lawsuit against Miller. Fleisher was awarded $4.6 million.
STILL WANNA BE AN NBA AGENT?
There you have it, Skippy. That's what it really takes to be an NBA agent -- you must crack through the dominance of the league's top power brokers to get a client, you must bend (or break) the rules, you must fend off runners and you must protect yourself from other agents and partners, maybe your brother. Negotiating contracts is a small, relatively easy slice of an agent's business. The rest of your time is spent in paranoid defense of your turf.
It doesn't need to be this way, of course. The players association should get tougher when it comes to investigating and punishing rule-breakers. The union should tighten the rules on runners by forcing agents to register their runners. NBA teams should stop giving runners access to the tunnels outside the locker room.
Major changes, though, are not likely, which is going to mean the agent business will continue to be a brutal line of work. Says one agent, with a pause: "If I could do it all over again? I'd go into f -- real estate."
THREE TO FEAR
If you see any of these runners canoodling with your client, take action ... immediately.
William Wesley: "Worldwide Wes" transcends the runner label. He is a behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealer known for bringing in big game, and he is one of the league's most powerful men. Wesley steers clients to his personal attorney, agent Leon Rose. (Wesley was instrumental in turning LeBron James from an Aaron Goodwin client to a Rose client last year.)
Eddie Lau: A former high school player who was befriended by ex-NBA All-Star Jayson Williams, Lau is a major presence on the AAU scene in New York -- especially with the Long Island Panthers. He has been connected with agent Dan Fegan.
Reggie Brown: Known for his persistence in flipping players to powerful Chicago agent Mark Bartelstein, Brown is a regular at the United Center and at the West Loop Athletic Club, the home gym of renowned trainer Tim Grover. One agent says that at the 2004 All-Star Game in Los Angeles he grew so fed up with Brown's approaches to his clients that he told Brown, "We're adults, and I can't believe I have to say this, but if you don't stay away from my guy I'm going to have to kick your ass." -- S.D.
'We're adults, and I can't believe I have to say this, but if you don't stay away from my guy I'm going to have to kick your ass.'