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HoopsHype Chronicles the Crazy Lives of NBA Agents

Alex Kennedy goes behind the scenes with the guys behind NBA contracts...and so much more.

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The life of an NBA agent is crazy and hectic. That’s the thesis of an article by Alex Kennedy published at HoopsHype last May, compiling “tell-all” stories from the folks who negotiate contracts for elite athletes. It’s an older piece, but suitable for summer reading. If you think being an NBA agent would be glamorous, these anecdotes might cure you.

Among the revelations in the article...

Agents Pay Players

Kennedy quoted one agent lifting the veil on the courting process between agents and prospective clients.

“I’d say the vast majority of players who are in the draft conversation are taking money from agents, sometimes while they’re still in school,” one agent said. “I’d say somewhere between 75 percent and 90 percent of players get paid. Sometimes, it’s the player taking money. Sometimes, it’s a family member and, in those cases, it may be unbeknownst to the player.”

Kennedy adds:

Sometimes a player won’t directly take money, but they’ll ask an agency to hire one of their friends or family members. This way they can take care of someone close to them and the money doesn’t have to come out of the player’s paychecks. In these arrangements, the friend or relative will typically live with the player when they move to their new city after being drafted.

Athletes Grow Up Differently

The article relates a half-dozen tales of agents bailing out NBA players from situations that most people would avoid. One agent speculates that elite athletes don’t get connected to the outside world during their developmental years.

“You and I went to college, matured, faced rejection at some point, and experienced failures and successes. You learn and you grow; it’s a healthy development. But these players – the five-star recruits who are known nationally – have a very unique development. From the time they’re 14 or 15 years old, they’re probably the most famous person in their community.

“How do you develop normally when every coach plays you, every girl says yes when you ask them out, every person wants to be your friend, every decision is up to you, and every person tells you how wonderful you are while minimizing your weaknesses? And if something does go wrong, someone else is usually blamed – whether it’s the coach or the teammates or the agent or whoever. They’re deprived of any opportunity to fail, they aren’t held accountable and they don’t learn important life lessons.”

Signing a Client Brings No Guarantees

Agents strike gold when their client signs a huge contract, but up to that point they’re investing as much as collecting.

“A lot of people think if you have a first-round player, you’re going to make a lot of money. But what they don’t understand is that agents sometimes take zero percent or one percent commission on a first-rounder’s rookie deal. Factor in that the agent has to invest in that player’s pre-draft training, which can cost $40,000 if you send your player to a top training site like the IMG Academy. So now you’re $40,000 in the hole. Agents swallow a lot of expenses that aren’t reimbursable, so by the time that first contract comes around, you’ve really just signed the kid for posterity. Really, you signed the kid so you can say to the next recruiting class, ‘Look at the first-rounder I had last year.’ And then you’re hoping the player does well and you can make money off of his second contract.”

Families Can Be a Pain

In addition to dealing with talented players, agents also negotiate with, and sometimes around, family members and their expectations.

“The hardest part of my job is dealing with the families,” one agency staffer said. “You have some family members who have way too much time on their hands and they have strong opinions. But, quite frankly, they don’t have any type of qualifications aside from being related to an NBA player.”

And again...

“Most people view their family members as the people they trust most. But in some cases with professional athletes, the family members are the people who are the most toxic to the player and who ultimately pose the biggest threat to the player’s career and financial future.”

This is just a small sample of the revelations in Kennedy’s article. It’s well worth a read.