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Insights: Sports

As long as the money is big, sports agents are inevitable - and some will go bad
Dave Anderson
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 01

As long as the money is big, sports agents are inevitable -- and some will go bad

They are bandits with briefcases, the unscrupulous sports agents who prey on unsuspecting athletes. They have been convicted of thefts as bold as Jesse James's legendary train robberies. Others have simply blown their clients' money because of mismanagement. Some have done both.

They are the scum of sports. And no matter how often the scum is skimmed off the pond of multimillion-dollar contracts, more scum soon develops because the pond keeps getting bigger.

Not all sports agents are crooks; it just seems that way sometimes when one is indicted or convicted or jailed. Most are basically honest and responsible, but even the most reputable are, by the nature of their occupation, primarily motivated by greed. The bigger the contract for their athlete, the bigger their cut.

An agent's cut for negotiating a player's team contract can have limits -- a maximum of 4 percent in the National Basketball Association, 3 percent in the National Football League, but the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball have no limit. The cut for a player's marketing agent or financial adviser is separate and negotiable.

Whenever a sports agent says, as so many of them do, that the athlete's megamillion-dollar contract "is not about the money," be assured that it is definitely about the money. For both the athlete and the agent.

The agents' common denominator is a drive to ask for more -- more salary, more years, more bonus money, more perks. If you don't ask, you'll never get. And as outrageous as a request might seem, maybe the club will be dumb enough to agree to it. Scott Boras, the agent who negotiated shortstop Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, had the most brazen suggestion yet: that Rodriguez always had to be baseball's highest-paid shortstop.

"Scott asked me about that, but we said we can't do that," Doug Melvin, the Rangers' general manager, recalls. "What if Derek Jeter had that in his Yankee deal? It would go to infinity. A-Rod gets bumped and the next day Jeter has to get bumped because A-Rod got bumped. Then A-Rod would have to get bumped again. On and on and on."

Ask and maybe you shall receive. That has always been the credo of every agent, especially David Falk, who negotiated all those deals for Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls, Nike, McDonald's and anybody else willing to pay the price. Falk reportedly kept 20 percent of Jordan's outside income at first, then 15 percent.

With such marquee names as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Stephon Marbury in his stable, Falk has been described throughout the NBA as "the agent from hell" for influencing where his clients play. Nothing annoys Commissioner David Stern more than talk that Falk is really the commissioner.

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