Making millions for NBA Stars: the high-powered world of super agents David Falk, Curtis Polk and Mike Higgins.
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97
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Once inside Ozio, Polk proudly opens his locker and offers his companions their choice of several Cuban cigars. Higgins takes a Montecristo No. 3. Polk takes a Cohiba Robusto. Sadofsky accepts a small Dutch cigar, the third she will have ever smoked. Sitting down to lunch, Polk recommends the grilled chicken sandwich, then orders the pasta for himself. By the time lunch is served, he is already halfway through the cigar.
Halftime at the Garden, the Knicks are losing to the Rockets by three at the half and Falk is still upstairs in VIP land saying hello to people whose faces are familiar but whose names have evaporated. Relief comes when the second half starts and Falk returns with Ross to their courtside seats, about four down from Spike, eight down from Alec Baldwin, just around the corner from Woody and Soon-Yi, and a few rows in front of David Halberstam. The Knicks come back in an exciting, if sloppy, show to beat the Rockets by four. Minutes later, Falk is standing next to Ernie Grunfeld, the Knicks general manager (profiled in the Autumn 1996 Cigar Aficionado), in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. Falk and Grunfeld are likely to be meeting a lot more after the season when Ewing's contract expires and he becomes a free agent. But there's time for that after the playoffs.
"A guy just gave me a Romeo y Julieta Churchill," Grunfeld says enthusiastically about the Cuban cigar. "It was great. You ever have one?"
"I like the Hoyo de Monterreys," Falk counters. Then he proudly pulls out a Dominican Fuente Fuente Opus X double corona. "I just got this tonight."
Grunfeld takes it out of Falk's hand and examines it admiringly. "What is this? Ooh, I never had one of these," he says. Falk is waiting to take Patrick Ewing and Othella Harrington to dinner. Now on opposing pro teams, they each played for Georgetown University, in different eras, under John Thompson, the only coach who is a FAME client. Critics claim that Thompson is FAME's pipeline to Hoyas players. It's now 11:10 p.m. Falk will not get to sleep before two.
"Having an agent is not so important in negotiating a contract, but it's tremendously important for the second contract," says Grunfeld, alluding to the league's wage scale that caps how much a rookie can make according to when he was picked in the draft. "Having the right agent," Grunfeld adds, motioning towards Falk, "is key in positioning a player and marketing him. Agents can really help players handle their business, but not all agents do that. A guy like David also helps the players take care of their money."
Harrington comes out of the locker room and starts walking with Falk and Ewing to the garage reserved for players and VIPs. The Rockets rookie agrees with Grunfeld about the value of getting a good agent.
"It's extremely important to get the right representation," Harrington says. "You know that if they're handling the business, you can concentrate on playing ball. It keeps your mind at ease." Harrington, the first pick in last year's second round, has convinced the experts with his play that he should have gone in the first round. Though he makes $220,000 under the terms of the rookie wage scale's minimum one-year contract, he is also included in a group endorsement deal with Signature Rookies and Classic trading cards worth about $30,000. He also has an unusual two-year "guaranteed-dollar" deal with Nike.
FAME's attention to Kerry Kittle's business interests is what has allowed him to emerge as "the best player" from the 1996 draft, according to his New Jersey Nets teammate Jayson Williams. "Some kids come in, they're worried about their sneakers, their commercials, their money," Williams, who does not use FAME, told Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News in January. "This kid [Kittles] loves to play, doesn't care anything about the business aspects, just loves to play ball. Of course, if you have David Falk representing you, why should you worry about business?"
Falk has many battle scars. He's been sued several times and so many bad things have been said about him, one would understand if he just cashed in his chips. But if anyone doubts that David Falk is a competitor of the first order, they don't understand his motivation for doing what he can to help his clients: "I think the American dream is to make as much money as you can and have a choice of what you want to do that makes you happy." Despite an overwhelming number of business possibilities, Falk isn't planning to expand the firm. Instead, he wants to spend more time with his family and his charity work--among other projects, producing a regional telethon for leukemia research and raising money for the United Negro College Fund.
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