Power Play: The NBA’s Most Powerful Agents

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Behind the men on the court are the men cutting their contracts. These are the guys making their four per cent night in and night out, bringing in endorsement deals worth millions, and booking ads with Pepsi and Nike. But agents can become very powerful, very quick. With the top players in the league listening to them, and the ability to make or break teams, let’s take a look at the most powerful agents in the NBA.

Honourable mention goes out to the quick rising Rich Paul, agent and advisor to LeBron James. A smart, hardworking guy destined for great things, he’s not yet big enough to bump some of these big dogs off their thrones.

 

Photo: Sports Agent Blog


Jeff Schwartz, Excel Sports Management
Schwartz got his start repping athletes from other sports, while working at International Management Group. Tennis, in particular was good to Excel in the early days, with legends Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis picking Schwartz as they entered the peak years of their careers. Today though, Schwartz is the head of his own agency, Excel, and his client list gives him plenty of power to move around. Though his client list was impressive enough, with clients like Deron Williams, Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce, careful planning brought fellow agents Casey Close and Mark Steinberg into the Excel family. And Close and Steinberg brought their clients with them. Among them? You may have heard of some of them. Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods, maybe?

Schwartz has also got a proven charitable side however, serving on the Miami University Corporate Athletic Board and Board of Directors for the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club.
 
 
Arn Tellem, Wasserman Media Group

Though Tellem’s influence reaches all over the NBA, he got his start working in baseball. In his time in the MLB, Tellem negotiated monster deals for his clients, including Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, and Yu Darvish. But his work in the NBA is no less important. He’s represented Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and dozens more, with most clients tied to max-level contracts on their respective teams. Make no mistake, Arn Tellem is money.

It’s hard to say what’s made Tellem as successful as he is, but anecdotal evidence points to a keen sensitivity to his clients’ needs. Japanese press call him omoiyari no aru dairinin, “The compassionate agent.”
 
 
Photo: Yeshiva University News

Leon Rose, Creative Artists Agency
Who is Leon Rose? It’s a good question. Unlike some names on this list, Rose is as low profile as it gets. Rose has represented LeBron James, Carmleo Anthony, Allen Iverson, J.R. Smith, and Rip Hamilton. If you added up the value of all his current clients, it’d be north of the $200 million mark. And that’s before you count endorsement deals. Nothing short of one of the most influential guys in the league, Rose has earned his spot on this list.

 

Photo: Bryan Horowitz/Creative Commons


World Wide Wes, Creative Artists Agency
A onetime consultant at CAA, William Wesley, or World Wide Wes, as he’s more colourfully known, is unquestionably one of the most influential men in the NBA. When people around the league are asked what he does, you can get any one of a dozen responses, from agent to fixer, to CIA agent, to bodyguard, to mortgage broker. What he does is, he manages people. He makes connections. He’s the people that call other people’s people, and makes deals. He’s one of those guys. And if you know one of those guys, you know that the best ones, know how to make money and retain friends in important places.

In the early 2000s, Wes was widely known throughout the league for his ability to manage guys with difficult reputations. Team USA brought World Wide Wes to training camp in 2004, to ensure Allen Iverson had a smooth tournament. Even the wives didn’t come to camp. And when friend and client Ron Artest threw punches at the Palace at Auburn Hills in 2004, Artest was on the court, pulling him back.

 

Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons


David Falk, FAME
Falk’s list of clients is a laundry list of the NBA’s legends. Allen Iverson. Patrick Ewing. Charles Barkley. Dikembe Mutombo. John Stockton. Falk’s clients list could make their own hall of fame.

But if you want to look at it differently, Falk was also the one who identified Michael Jordan’s marketing potential, and demanded that the shoe brands come to them with ideas for deals, rather than the other way around. Nike promised him his own line of Jordan shoes and a cut of the profits. Adidas countered with a no cut, but slightly more money. I think you know what happened next.

To make it even more ridiculous, Falk was the first one who pitched Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny starring together in a feature film. Falk was responsible for Space Jam, which is already good enough to put him in the top 5 in our “All time favourite people” list.

And even if you wipe out all of David Falk’s other monumental accomplishments, he sent the most famous fax in the fax machine’s short history. The “I’m back,” message from His Airness was sent out on Falk Associates Management Enterprises letterhead.  
 
 
 
Rob Pelinka, Landmark Sports Agency

One of the lesser known entries on this list, Pelinka has kept his profile relatively low. However, he received his own share of fame after being featured as a talking head for the Fab Five documentary on ESPN. His experience playing at the University of Michigan with the Fab Five may have lent him some credibility, but he was first hired on at SFX as a lawyer, before transitioning to an agent. Since then, Pelinka has gone on to represent Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and other stars, before branching out and starting his own Landmark Sports Agency.

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