by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
“Who is that?”
“Is he somebody famous?”
“Should I take a picture of him?”
“Uhm, dad…who is BJ Armstrong?”
Yes, those were real questions asked by real people who visited Champs Sports on Tuesday afternoon at the HIP (Harlem & Irving Plaza) on the northwest side of Chicago and happened to see legendary Chicago Bull BJ Armstrong holding court at the front of the store.
While I remember his playing days like they were yesterday, I was a little taken aback that some people–not all–actually had no idea who he was. It made me feel old.
Really, really old.
While spectators and passersby didn’t immediately recognize the former Bulls point guard, they certainly recognized the current Bulls point guard he told the crowd he represents in his post-basketball life as a sports agent, Derrick Rose.
Champs Sports and adidas have already opened Official NBA Shops at retail outlets in Miami, Denver, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. To celebrate, players who rock adidas in the NBA have come down to kick off these events in their home cities. I’d heard that Derrick was originally supposed to attend this one, but he was kind of busy with this thing called the NBA Playoffs. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
But I ain’t one to gossip, so you didn’t hear that from me.
Anyway, because Derrick unsterstandably couldn’t make it, BJ was gracious enough to come down–fresh off a trip from Asia no less–and hang out instead.
After retiring from the NBA following the 99-00 season, Armstrong went to work in the front office for the Chicago Bulls. It was during that time he decided he wanted to become an agent to help guide and steer young athletes through the craziness of the world of professional sports. While some agents get a bad rap for just about every reason under the sun (greed, dishonesty, etc.), BJ Armstrong and the Wasserman Media Group are committed to doing things the right way and putting first the needs of the athletes they represent above all else.
If you’re a kid coming into the League or a vet looking for new representation, you couldn’t ask for much more from an agent or a sports agency.
Before BJ addressed the crowd, took pictures, signed autographs, raffled off a few things and then jumped behind the counter, he sat down with me to talk adidas, Derrick Rose, and what he’s trying to give back as a former player turned agent to the new wave of talent coming into the NBA.
SLAM: What’s your relationship with adidas and what brings you out to Champs Sports today?
BJ Armstrong: Well, working with the shoe companies is something that I’ve been involved with, particularly now that I represent players. Needless to say, I’ve been able to have a great relationship with them in the shoe world and I’ve kind of just been learning the shoe business. adidas has been terrific working with Derrick, supplying him with shoes, allowing him to be creative and have input on his shoes and developing other shoes, so it’s been a great relationship with adidas thus far and that’s why I’m here today.
SLAM: Now that you’re an agent representing other players, as a former player yourself, how important were shoes to you and how do you apply that importance into negotiating shoe deals for others?
BJ: As an ex-player, I’ve always known the importance of a quality shoe. You need your feet and more importantly, they need to feel comfortable because your feet are your bread and butter. You’ve got to take care of your feet. So I definitely saw the importance of it as a player. But more importantly, it’s about building a relationship with the shoe company and being able to see all of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes as far as the technology and all the advancements that they use so that a player can feel comfortable with the product that they’re wearing. Those things are key when you’re talking about a player and the longevity of his career.
SLAM: When helping a player choose what shoes to wear or what shoe company to go with, what’s the biggest deciding factor?
BJ: It’s very, very important that you have a shoe company that understands the level of athletes that they’re dealing with and certainly adidas has done a real good job in having that experience over the years and their track record speaks for itself. We feel very fortunate to be able to work with and have the relationship that we do with a company like adidas.
SLAM: adidas differs from Nike in that their NBA marketing campaigns don’t particularly focus on a single athlete but instead on a group of athletes described as “The Brotherhood” in which Derrick Rose is a part of. With the success that he’s had thus far in his career, how do you keep him within the framework of adidas’ marketing strategy while at the same time, as his agent, push him more and more to the masses?
BJ: Well, the marketing part is more internal within adidas, but I think with any athlete that achieves a level of superstardom like Derrick has, it’s really about one thing and that’s winning. When you win, I think everything else takes care of itself. The light, if you will, will always shine on the team that wins and on whatever player that may play on that team. When you see marketing campaigns it’s very easy to have that “superstar”, but the true supertsars are those that have staying power and excel beyond their sport, and that’s what you’re looking for. So until you see that, they’re just campaigns.
SLAM: In your opinion, what’s been the most impressive thing about Derrick Rose so far?
BJ: The thing with him that makes him so impressive is that he’s only focused on one thing and that’s winning. For him it’s very, very simple and he gets what this is all about. It’s about winning. There’s nothing else going on in his basketball life other than you play, you perform, and you focus all your energy on winning basketball games.
SLAM: When targeting him as a potential client, was there anything other than his obvious ability that made you go after him?
BJ: When I first saw him, what I saw was someone whose focus and mentality was solely on winning. It was very impressive because you normally don’t see that in a young kid. From day one he’s only been focused on winning. That’s all he cares about. He can’t get pulled in another direction because that’s where he puts all of his energy. That’s a tribute to him and his family, and it says a lot about him and who he is as a player. Normally you don’t see that until someone is five, six, or seven years into the League when guys begin to figure out what’s going on, but Derrick stepped right into the NBA with that mindset and mentality. That’s how he plays and that’s his lifestyle.
SLAM: As a former NBA player, what made you want to become an agent?
BJ: Well, once I retired from my playing days I went straight to the front office and began working for the Bulls as an Assistant General Manager and that was a great learning experience for me. I learned about the business, I learned about the draft, I learned about the players, I learned about the NBA, I learned about marketing, salary caps, so those five years with the Bulls was an invaluable learning experience for me. I have to thank Jerry Reinsdorf and the Chicago Bulls for allowing me to see how this business really works from the inside, out. I got a chance to negotiate against all the other agents, do trades, I learned how to run an organization, I just really learned the business. That’s kind of really where I grew up. Those five years, I just learned the entire business and that’s basically where I decided that the thing I really wanted to do was work with the players because those are the guys that I know the best. That’s my audience. That’s how I fell into becoming an agent. I decided that if I really wanted to make an impact, I would need to share what I’ve learned by taking it right to the people because I was once one of those young kids.
SLAM: Do you think being BJ Armstrong, former player, 3-time World Champion, and All-Star gives you a recruting advantage in getting players to sign with you?
BJ: I think that the benefit of having a mentor, someone who’s been there and done what you want to do or has gone through that, greatly increases your chances to speed up the process. So if you want to be a golfer, it’s important to be in a golf environment so that you can try and learn from someone in order to do what it is that you’re trying to do. If you want to be an NBA player, if you want to be an NBA champion, if you want to know what it’s like to be here, then at some point my path and your path are going to cross. Not to say that I’m the only person, but if this is what you want to do then we’re going to be in the same environment. So, I don’t know if being BJ Armstrong gives me an advantage or not, but I certainly know that basketball people are going to be around other basketball people. This is my life. Basketball is my life. Basketball agent may be my title, but I’m a lifer. This is what I do. Basketball is what I’ve done my entire life. So when I see young kids who want to learn, when I see young kids who want to reach their pro-potential, when I see kids that want to be the best they can, then those are the kids I’m looking to reach out to. I always say that without the benefit of experience, you’re not going to know what to do. So for the people who want to win a championship and for the people who want to know what the NBA is about, hopefully our paths will cross and hopefully I can be of some guidance to help you get there.
SLAM: Were there any influential people like that in your life during the early part of your career?
BJ: I remember that I would talk to Dr. J and I would have a chance to reach out to guys like Moses Malone and George Gervin. Those guys helped me along the way when I was young in my career. So now, for me to be able to be there when guys have questions when they call me after a game, it’s kind of like a cycle. When I was young I could talk to Bill Russell; guys like that were there for me. I remember when Isiah Thomas shared with me the first time he won a championship, so I kind of had it all in my mind what to look for when we were there. I always say that like goes to like. Winning is not for everyone, being in the NBA is not for everyone, but the information that you need to succeed is there for the people who want it.
SLAM: With the NBA draft coming up and with college kids putting their names in to test the waters, what kind of advice would you give a kid in terms of choosing the right representation and making an informed decision for themselves and their family?
BJ: The best advice that I can give to someone is to understand that first and foremost, this is a business. That was the most shocking thing I found out when I was a young kid. As a kid you dream of playing in the NBA and then once you get there you suddenly realize what this is really all about. I think it’s important to have a way to not only think about the game of basketball and your decision, but to also have a way to think about the world. Think about the ways in which you’re going to gather information to make an informed decision. Think about how you’re going to get yourself organized to participate and play everyday in the NBA. It’s not just about playing basketball. You have to have a way of thinking about how you’re going to live your life, how your family is going to live, how you’re going to travel, how you’re going to pack, how you’re going to eat. My biggest advice is to find out who can, how can, and what can you do to get yourself as organized as possible so that you can do what it is you want to do which is play professional basketball. And that involves having a way of thinking about how you’re going to deal with solving problems that you’ll encounter in everyday life situations. Organizational skills are the most important aspects of being a professional athlete, especially today when you have so many things that are distracting. Things like travel, media responsibility, Twitter, Facebook, cell phones, iPhones, you have so many distractions. It’s easy to say what you want to do, but the hardest part is figuring out how you’re going to do it and that involves getting yourself organized so that you can execute what it is that you’ve dreamed about since you were a kid.
Shout out to BJ Armstrong for coming out and to the Champs Sports staff at the HIP: BG, Brendan, Devani, Mari, Rima, John (store manager) and Dave Otto, Regional VP of Champs Sports. Also a special thank you from SLAM and SLAMonline to Paul Jackiewicz at adidas.