When people hear about a sports agent, they think about the guy who is constantly on the phone, making high priced deals, and has no regard for what other people think. However, most people don't realize that the agent and the athlete he represents are two different people, with different values and attitudes. Just because the agent realizes the best option doesn't mean the athlete sees it too. One of the hardest parts of being an agent is convincing your client to do something that he does not want to do. This can be incredibly frustrating at times especially when it is something you perceive to drastically increase the overall image of your client. It can seem like common sense to the agent, but there could be reasons why the player doesn't feel the same. To make it more difficult, the player may not want to communicate those reasons to you. Or he could lie to you and then you have to think if it's smart to ask him if he's telling the truth, or believe his ridiculous answer. Is it worth damaging the relationship?
There is a fine line between recommending an idea and being a pain in the neck to the man who is the source of your commission check. At the end of the day, you need to keep your client. No idea, no matter how good it sounds, is worth losing your client. If he wants to make a decision you don't agree with, just hold your tongue and let it go. Live to see another day. He is the one in charge, not you.
I recently had a situation with a client that is similar to this. A basketball player I represented had the opportunity to appear on a nationally televised talk show. They wanted to pick him up with a private car service, pay him a per diem, fly him back home, and feature him on the show. Most importantly, they were offering him exposure. And at the time I felt that being on TV would only help his image and perception. I planned to use the film to show teams that he is a well-known player. The producers of the show told me they were very excited to have my client on, and I was excited too. My client was also ready to do it.
When the day before the filming came, the player decided he wanted nothing to do with the show. He changed his mind and that was it. No explanations. I had to fix the situation with the producers the best I could. I offered them another one of my clients, but they had already done their prep work on the guy they were expecting. Needless to say, they were disappointed. So all that work went down the drain, but that is all in a days work for an agent.
That situation made me think about what Allen Iverson's agent must be feeling. AI has been his own guy throughout his career, we all know that. That's part of the reason why we love him so much. But could you imagine trying to steer that man in any right direction? Do you remember how we heard all summer that AI was a free agent and we didn't know which team he would sign with?
I remember thinking he would possibly follow Rasheed Wallace to Boston, Shaq to Cleveland, or Vince Carter to Orlando for a chance at winning a championship. Think about it, AI was making over $20 million per season for more than 6 years. As a fan or follower of the game, one could reasonably expect AI to no longer play for the big contract, stats, or PT - but instead to go for the elusive NBA Championship ring. Remember Karl Malone and Gary Payton on the Lakers - they lost in NBA finals? What about Antoine Walker, a kidney diseased Alonzo Mourning, and Payton on the Heat (they won in the NBA finals)?
Logic says that AI should have gone to Cleveland with Shaq and LeBron...accepted a spot off the bench behind Delonte West and played between 15-25 minutes per night. Playing limited time, and with such a talented cast, it would have helped AI to stay healthy and be fresh for the playoffs. I think we all know who would be on the floor with 2 minutes left in Game 7 between the Cavs and Magic. No question it would be Iverson. This is very clear to AI's Agent (and all of us), but not seen the same way by AI. He is allowed to have a different opinion. His agent should try his best to understand it so he can protect his client from people who try to take shots at him.
Instead his agent spent all summer convincing Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley that AI would not be a distraction to his team, and that he would help sell tickets. Well, when he did sign, there was a bump in ticket sales. But overall, AI was a distraction during the 7 games he was with the team. AI must have told his agent, " Yeah, I'll play for Memphis. I'll let the young guys do their thing. I know they invested lots of money in them. I will do the right thing. I'll be a team player. And uh yea, how much money can you get me?"
The fact that AI forced his way out of Memphis so early in the season must be frustrating for his agent. Months and months of first getting Heisley to take on AI (when no other team was willing to do so), and then trying to squeeze as much money out of him as possible in a down economy. Like I did with my player who changed his mind about the TV show, his agent had to clean up the mess that AI made. AI doesn't have to deal with the Grizzlies anymore, he’s “on to the next one,” but his agent will deal with Heisley again. It is true that agents do get some glory when the contracts are signed, but they are also forced to do these rocky jobs. Try explaining to Heisley that AI quitting on the team was part of the plan all along, or that it could be a good thing for a team that needs to get people in the seats.
As an athlete, you are the source of a lot of money. Financial advisors, teams, agents, and family members all get something from you. You hold the position of power. Everyone is going to be nice to you, laugh at your jokes, and tell you how great you are. If you don’t feel like doing something, you won't be forced to do it. Nobody is going to push you to do something too much because they will be afraid of losing your trust, and worse, your business. A smart athlete would realize that his window of opportunity to create income is limited to begin with, gets smaller every day, and can be cut even shorter unexpectedly by injury. He should listen to the advice that his inner circle gives him, and realize that sometimes, the hardest things to do are the things that we should do. Always talk things through with your agent. Try to become as close as possible, so that he can think for you when generating new business. It will save a lot of time if you have a clear understanding as to where you both stand on certain issues. If you don’t trust your agent, find one that you do trust. It can mean millions of dollars to your income.
If you have any thoughts about this article, or about basketball in general, feel free to contact me. I am an American Agent on the east coast (Romanoff Sports Management) always looking to expand my network of professional associates. My e-mail is Zak@RomanoffSM.com.