David Falk Q + A, Pt. 2
We discuss the creation of Air Jordan and Evan Turner’s parternship with Li-Ning.
SLAM: One of our writers at SLAM recently wrote an interesting piece that discussed the upbringing of current and past NBA champions. Almost an examination to see if anything correlated to championships. Two parent or one parent homes—
DF: It takes it all. A lot of my clients didn’t have fathers that were present. In the old days when those players went to college and they went to a place like Georgetown, Duke, Indiana or Kansas they had a very strong coach who acted almost like a lifetime coach. When the players started coming out of high school, they missed that. They miss the socialization of college where you learn how to dress and how to eat healthy. How to act with other stars on the floor. In high school you’re the dominant player. As a freshman at North Carolina, Michael Jordan played with James Worthy, one of the top 50 NBA players of all time, the No. 1 pick in the Draft. Sam Perkins was the 4-pick, Brad Daugherty was a No. 1 pick. So he learned to play with other great players and there’s a certain socialization in that. It teaches you how to get along with other guys in your peer group. Some of it is social and some of it is male mentoring. That’s why I think guys should stay in school longer. You can never make up for that. So I try to play a little bit of that role. Almost like an older brother mentor type. I want to be a mentor. I’ve got my own children and have never had a son and I think I have something to add. I’ve had so many critics for so long. They look at me like an ATM: You go to David, put the card in and money comes out, there’s nothing personal. I’ve made enough money for the next five lifetimes of Falks. I enjoy the intangibles. The relationships, the longevity. You live for standing the test of time.
SLAM: I liked what you said about motivation. You were motivated by the criticism you took when people criticized you for allowing Michael to wear what some deemed to be an ugly black and red shoe or people telling you that treating a basketball player like a tennis player wouldn’t work.
DF: To be a really good salesperson you have to believe in your product. I can’t sell something I don’t believe in. I want to do these deals with players I’m passionate about. As I said, it’s not like I can handpick this player or that player because there are so many impediments in the system now, whether it’s payoffs or sharing fees and I don’t want to do that. It totally destroys your credibility with a player from day one and you will lose before you start. I will never work for someone I don’t believe in. That is a luxury I have. I don’t need to pay my rent with the fees so I can be selective. I’ve signed five young players: Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Toney Douglas, Evan Turner and Greg Monroe. I put Patrick Ewing Jr on the side because that is a special category as Patrick’s son. I want to sign five more guys and that’s it. My last F.A.M.E. club. Ten guys. I want to spend a lot of time with them and get them to their second contracts. I want to be different than the big companies. I think I can offer them a unique expertise that nobody has in this business. That’s something I’m looking forward to.
SLAM: Do you still receive a bunch of resumes from youngsters who want to be agents?
DF: Absolutely. My first 17 years in the business I worked for Pro Serv, probably the No. 1 company next to IMG. I went on my own with F.A.M.E. and had a very small company with 25 people and 40 clients. I sold it to SFX in 1998 and grew the business very large. At one point, I think we had 900 clients and 1,100 people working for us. I didn’t really enjoy being that big. Now I’m an ultra-boutique. Now everyone is trying to sort of do what I did 12 years ago and grow these mega agencies. Wasserman’s doing it, CAA is doing it, William Morris is doing it. I’m a contrarian. I want to be ultra small. And I want to enjoy it. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. I just want to wake up everyday and feel like I’m doing something worthwhile both for myself and my clients. So now I have the chance to go to China with Evan Turner for four or five days, come to L.A. for this for two days. Back in the ’80s and ’90s I couldn’t have done this. I couldn’t have done this with Michael Jordan.
SLAM: Tell me about the sports management program you started at Syracuse.
DF: My goal is to have the No. 1 program in the country, both undergraduate and graduate. A guy named Michael Veley is the director of the program. I endowed the program and endowed the professor’s chair. I hired a guy named Rick Burton who used to run the Warsaw program at the University of Oregon. He was a chief marketing officer for the Olympics, a very accomplished individual—he’s our superstar professor. We’re hiring more good professors. I want to have a small elite program. Students need to seek opportunities where they exist. The agent business is a tiny part of the sports management horizon. Event management is huge, hospitality is huge, sports marketing is huge, sales, working for teams and Leagues. I go up there once every four to six weeks to teach classes. We hope to open up opportunities for internships and jobs. Just like my clients, I have the DNA where I want to be the best. I want to have the No. 1 program. We have a lot of people involved that are shaping the industry. I’m very excited about it.
SLAM: You recently had your 60th birthday. You’ve done some great work for hundreds of clients. What are your goals moving forward?
DF: I want to spend a lot more time with my existing clients. Behind the scenes, I try to help my prior clients transition into other business and give them advice. I’m not allowed to represent pro coaches or executives, so I can’t represent Michael Jordan or Patrick Ewing, John Paxson or Rex Chapman who all work in the League. They’re all valued friends to me and I still give them advice when they ask me. I want to try and have enough creativity left in me to do things that are unprecedented. I will take a look at it 10 years from now and see if I’m still having fun.
SLAM: It must be gratifying to have some of your old guys in those power positions today.
DF: It’s very special. These players all come from special parents. In Juwan’s case it’s a grandmother who raised him. They infused them with great values and work ethic. A lot of them played for great coaches like John Thompson, Coack K, Bobby Knight and Dean Smith. You come into the equation as an agent and just hope you can have a small impact and add something in making them better businessmen and people. When I see the success that these players have had, I’d like to feel that a very small portion of that success is something I helped add.
SLAM: You definitely have a different mindset than any other agent I’ve talked to.
DF: I have a different experience than any other agent you’ve talked to.
SLAM: Very true.
DF: I feel like I’m a dinosaur in a changed age. Like everyone is doing it differently than I want to do it. I don’t mind being a dinosaur as long as I don’t become extinct.
Falk’s agency, F.A.M.E., is headquartered in Washington DC. His book, The Bald Truth, is available at Amazon.com. For more information on the David B. Falk center for Sports Management at Syracuse University, visit syr.edu.