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Fame Jam

Making millions for NBA Stars: the high-powered world of super agents David Falk, Curtis Polk and Mike Higgins.
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 6)

FAME is unquestionably in step with this "market-the-stars" philosophy, but its role is much more personal. Keteyian, who in 1991 co-wrote, with Alexander Wolff, Raw Recruits, which revealed the darker side of college recruiting, contends that FAME does business aggressively but honestly. "From everything I can see," says Keteyian, "David uses every bit of leverage he can to get his athletes the very best deal."

Fighting for its clients has sometimes meant very public battles between FAME and the league, including last year's much-publicized fight over the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. The uglier, very personal characterizations of the battle had Stern as the scourge of players' rights and Falk as the personification of the self-serving agent. While many players spoke out, the assumption was that Falk was putting words in the mouths of three of the more prominent dissidents, Jordan, Ewing and Mourning.

"That was certainly Falk versus Stern," says Keteyian, "but in both of their minds it's just business. It's all business and it's big, big, big, big, big, big, big business. Nothing personal."

In the end, the players ratified a revised collective bargaining agreement that lessened the restrictions placed on them. Basketball Digest wrote, "Although he didn't prevent the agreement from being ratified by the league's players, Falk played a significant role in leveraging the owners to secure a better deal for the players than was initially offered."

Falk disputes the size of his role, pointing out that everyone at these very high levels has advisers. "Patrick [Ewing] really was the leader, but all three [Ewing, Jordan and Mourning] were very active. Everybody basically accused them of being my mouthpiece and yet nobody would say that David Stern had a lawyer. He had an army of lawyers," Falk says. "I'm not a Svengali, I can't hypnotize them and make them follow a certain party line, but certainly I'm going to do my best to advise them of what's in their best interest, whether it's popular or unpopular publicly. That's my job."

Players notice how well FAME performs.

"If there's one thing of which NBA players are cognizant, it's money," Keteyian sums up. "When they see Juwan Howard get $105 million to stay in Washington or they see Alonzo Mourning sign a huge deal, they know who did the deal."

During a midseason game between the Washington Bullets and the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Higgins is mildlyanguished by Washington's Calber Cheaney's form at the foul line. "What kind of shot is that?!" Higgins exclaims. "Ugly!" he answers himself, as the ball bounces off the rim. "You know, the coaches fool around with their shooting and they forget their natural form."

After the game, Higgins is on the opposite side of the USAir Arena exchanging hugs and kisses with Cheaney's family, fiancée and friends. He is waiting for Cheaney to emerge from the locker room, which only the Bullets place off limits to agents. Higgins wants to talk to Cheaney about how he is doing under the new Bullets coach, Bernie Bickerstaff. It's a quiet discussion near the stands and Cheaney is saying that things are going pretty well.

"You know, sometimes players don't play well with some teams, and when they go to another team, they just fit in better," Higgins says. "The same applies to coaches and their new teams, and the sports agents as well."


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