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My Past Life as a Sports Agent: Get in the Trenches

Former NBA agent Matt Babcock reflects on when he was first trusted with significant responsibilities. He outlines the lessons it provided and its contributions to his growth as an aspiring player representative.

As a 25-year-old aspiring sports agent, I finally found my first success by recruiting a star player from the University of Kentucky named Jodie Meeks to the sports agency I worked for, DB Hoops. Jodie was selected 41st overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. And Jodie earned playing time early in his rookie year, showing promise that it was the beginning of a fruitful NBA career. All indications suggested that I was on the brink of a fruitful career representing professional basketball players of my own, too.

Well, I ended up working in the sports agency business for years, and these days, many aspiring agents ask me for advice on pursuing a career in that industry. I often tell them it's a tricky business because it's hard to learn its intricacies without actually being in it. And it's a challenging business to break into. But you must be on the inside to learn and develop properly.

In 2010, I was in, and I had momentum. I had seemingly earned the trust of my boss, sports agent David Bauman. He increased my responsibilities within his company, and subsequently, I began doing real agent work. 

Today, I will tell you about that turning point in my career.

As I mentioned, I earned the trust of my boss, David Bauman, and he increased my responsibilities, essentially making me his right-hand man. I wasn't certified as an agent just yet. Still, behind the scenes, I was included in everything with our company and clients.

Jodie Meeks was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks the previous summer, and David negotiated a three-year deal with the team. But that was just the beginning of our company's summer, as we had an important free agency ahead, as we represented Ron Artest, now known as Metta Sandiford-Artest, an unrestricted free agent who was a star player in the prime of his career. 

As you probably know, Ron was the focal point of the infamous Malice at the Palace in 2004, a brutal fight between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, which included fans — it was horrible. It forced the Pacers to restructure their roster, and they traded Ron to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic, David's client, in 2006. Apparently, Ron was impressed with how David handled Peja's situation and reached out, expressing interest in David representing him. After the trouble he had gotten into, he was looking for a clean slate, so Ron signed with David and DB Hoops. 

After another trade that had Ron go from Sacramento to Houston, he became an unrestricted free agent. Although there was quite a bit of interest in Ron from around the league, he agreed to a full mid-level exception, which was well below his market value, as he was determined to join forces with Kobe Bryant and the reigning champs, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Before I knew it, it was opening night, and I was in L.A. to see the Clippers take on the Lakers at the Staples Center. And it was the championship ring ceremony, which was incredible! Kobe dropped a smooth 33 points, Andrew Bynum scored a forceful 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Lamar Odom had 16, 13, and 5, and Ron was Ron, as he defended and made his presence felt instantly. And I haven't even mentioned all-star big man Pau Gasol, who didn't play in that game. The Lakers were loaded and seemed poised to bring home another championship. It was quickly evident it would be an exciting season for the Lakers, Ron, and myself.

Considering the Lakers' impact as a team, Ron's magnetic personality, and that they were in a market like L.A., Ron quickly became one of the most famous athletes in all sports. He was more like a Hollywood celebrity than your typical star basketball player. He received so much attention; it was unbelievable! 

As a result of Ron's emerging celebrity status, David proposed having me be more involved with Ron's off-court business and marketing endeavors. I was excited to get more involved, and, of course, I agreed without hesitation.

In the following months, I got to know Ron. I thought he was personable and friendly. I liked him a lot. But although I worked on Ron's business daily, to my surprise, I didn't deal with Ron directly except in person when I visited California. For example, suppose I was dealing with a company for an endorsement deal: when I got an offer, I'd take it to David, and then he'd take it to Ron and his business manager, Lou Taylor, who also worked with other high-level stars, like Britney Spears. So I was grinding day in and day out but was kept at arm's length. I didn't even have Ron's phone number. And it didn't bother me; I'm not complaining. It was interesting, though. And it was a good lesson. Ron was a massive star at the time, and David needed to make sure he kept a firm pulse on everything related to Ron's representation. Delegate but keep control. It was smart. 

I grew up in and around the NBA. I was exposed to a lot. However, running around under the bright lights of L.A. that season and seeing the behind-the-scenes life and business of a star player of Artest's stature, and everything that came along with that, like Lou Taylor, Britney Spears, Lamar Odom, the Kardashian's, and of course, Kobe Bryant, it was all eye-opening. And they won it all that year, defeating the Boston Celtics. It was a thrilling experience, to say the least.

So, I was working on marketing deals a lot, mainly for Ron. But I also assisted with some of our other clients, like Andrew Bogut and Peja Stojakovic. The marketing responsibilities were time-consuming, but I still had other duties, including managing Jodie Meeks, who was more of "my guy" since I had brought him to the agency. But that was easy because Jodie was so low maintenance. But even more critical than those responsibilities, I needed to generate new business for DB Hoops, as we wanted more NBA clients. So before the season, David had me assemble a list of prospects I'd like to recruit. The list probably included a dozen players from all across the country. All these players were high-quality talents with whom I had a unique connection. Also, each player provided an opportunity where I felt I could help get David and me in the door and to the table.

That season, I traveled across the map to see our current clients and recruit new ones. And I was working hard. I met with prospects and their parents and had some productive calls and meetings. I arranged some meetings and calls for David, too. Still, in hindsight, I wasn't fully prepared for the ultra-competitive and cutthroat recruitment process. 

Unfortunately, we didn't sign any players on my initial target list that season.

But then, in the spring after the college season, I was connected to a player named Samardo Samuels from Jamaica, who had just finished his sophomore season at Louisville.

Like the year before, with Jodie, I made a last-minute sales pitch to Samardo's advisor. I must have done well because he connected me with Samardo and his mom afterward. Then I introduced them to David, who closed the deal, making Samardo Samuels the second player I successfully recruited to the company.

After we signed Samardo, David walked me through our strategic approach to managing his NBA pre-draft process. He had me take the lead regarding outreach to NBA teams and organizing Samardo's workout schedule. In my mind, it was exactly the right next step for my career and development. I was motivated and excited. 

Samardo was originally from Jamaica but played high school ball for St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey. He was one of the top-ranked players in the class of 2008 and a McDonald's All-American. While at Louisville, he did alright but didn't necessarily live up to the expectations of becoming a projected lottery pick. However, he was still relevant, and it was very realistic that he would be drafted in the 2010 NBA Draft.

When I made my first round of calls to front-office members of NBA teams, almost every team showed interest on some level or another. I quickly realized managing Samardo's travel and workout schedule would be a tall task. 

Between May and the NBA Draft at the end of June, I arranged 17 team workouts and visits for Samardo, which is a lot. By doing so, I quickly learned to sort through the information I was gathering from teams regarding their evaluations and opinions of Samardo. I also learned to sort through which people were being transparent and who was playing the game. I looked at the team's depth charts, salary structures, and play styles. Using all the information I gathered allowed me to create a priority list of teams. And while exposure is essential during the pre-draft process, especially for projected second-round picks, Samardo showing up to teams exhausted and worn out would be counterproductive. And we didn't want him to get injured either. So, I had to carefully manage Samardo's workload and travel while considering our priority list. It was a lot to juggle. 

Samardo went through the process and did 16 of the 17 workouts that I scheduled. He had me cancel the last workout, right before the draft, with the Atlanta Hawks because he was drained. I felt that he did a great job. He did his part. And I thought I did mine, too. We had a handful of teams and picks we were excited about, and we felt good going into draft night. If you had asked David and me that day, we would have confidently said Samardo would likely be drafted somewhere in the second round and probably closer to the first round than undrafted.

One interesting detail was that a front office executive of a team told Samardo they were heavily considering him with their late first-round pick. This created some stress for David and me because it set high expectations for Samardo and his circle, and David and I didn't believe it was true.

Anyway, we all got through the rollercoaster NBA pre-draft process, and the NBA draft was upon us. I worked the draft remotely from my house in Phoenix, and David did the same at his office in Washington, D.C. 

Then it finally began. David Stern announced the first pick: John Wall to the Washington Wizards. Then, five minutes later, Evan Turner to the Philadelphia 76ers. Then, Derek Favors to the New Jersey Nets, Wesley Johnson to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and DeMarcus Cousins to the Sacramento Kings.

I knew we weren't close to hearing Samardo's name called, but my nerves kicked in a little more after each pick anyway. We finally got to the pick that Samardo was hoping for in the late first round. And I thought to myself, "I don't believe it's real, but what if it is?" I had a glimmer of hope. 

David Stern approached the podium, and my mind began to race. I had become close with Samardo, and I wanted him to succeed. If he were a first-round pick, he'd make millions of dollars, and the first two seasons would be guaranteed. And selfishly, I thought about what it would do for my career if Samardo became a first-round pick. I thought about how much easier recruiting new clients the following season would be.

I held my breath as the words came out of Stern's mouth. I was nervous. 

Well, he didn't say Samardo's name. The team selected someone else. 

So, I sighed and quickly snapped myself back into gear because the second round was approaching, and our job wasn't even close to done. I spoke to David on the phone to huddle up before the second round began. I told him I had touched base with all the teams considering Samardo. We wanted the lines of communication to be open, so I ensured all the teams knew I was the point person. 

Although most of an agent's work is done by draft night, there are still last-minute scenarios where decisions must be made or communicated with teams. For example, if a team traded for a second-round pick and wanted to use it to select a player to stash overseas and hold his rights, that team would need to communicate with the player's agent to determine whether they would agree to that scenario. If the agent and player disagreed, the team could risk wasting their pick.

Anyway, pick after pick, we continued to hear other players' names called, including our client Devin Ebanks, who was selected 43rd overall by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Samardo was still on the board.

Once we reached the middle of the second round, teams started calling me. They wanted me to know they'd be interested in Samardo if he went undrafted. I told them I would let them know, but we weren't ready to commit to anything yet, as we still had teams and picks we were hopeful for.

After a grueling second round, pick after pick after pick, we finally got to the 58th pick of the draft, and Samardo was still available. There were only three picks left. The good thing was that the Los Angeles Lakers were on the clock. Considering our strong relationship with the Lakers and their interest in Samardo, we thought this was the pick. We didn't feel Samardo was in the mix for the next two picks, so this was likely our last chance for him to be drafted.

We needed this pick!

So, Adam Silver stepped up to the podium. And again, I anxiously held my breath. Then the words came out of his mouth: 

"With the 58th pick, the Los Angeles Lakers select Derek Caracter from UTEP." 

I couldn't believe it. 

Then, the next two picks went quickly. And before I knew it, the draft was over. Samardo's name was not called. He went undrafted. 

After all that hard work, it felt like a punch in the gut. Ugh.

But then, suddenly, my phone began to start ringing off the hook. Teams were aggressively working to fill their summer league rosters. And David and I were trying to figure out the best move. And Samardo and his circle were calling looking for updates. A lot was happening all at once. I felt like a stockbroker on Wall Street. Fortunately, the level of interest in Samardo following the draft was high, and it gave us the confidence that we didn't feel we needed to decide immediately. So, after a long night, we agreed to sleep on everything before deciding. 

The following day, David and I went through our options. And it came down to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. David felt that our relationship with the Lakers would give us some leverage to secure a contract for Samardo. But due to the homework I did, I preferred the Bulls. They were built around Derrick Rose and had enough cap room to sign two players to max contracts. It was rumored throughout the league that Chris Bosh would go wherever LeBron went, and we all knew the Bulls would make a run at both of them, and I thought it would happen. I liked that the Bulls had so many open roster spots either way, as it naturally improved Samardo's chances of making the team. My communication with the Bulls front office was also excellent throughout the pre-draft process. Overall, I had a good feeling about the opportunity with the Bulls. On the other hand, I struggled with the fact the Lakers chose Derrick Caracter instead of Samardo, who were similar to one another.

David and I had a candid conversation about it all. I expressed my feelings and pushed hard for the Bulls. David put me on the spot, asking if I would put my job on the line. And while I didn't believe my job security was actually at risk, I told David I believed that choosing the Bulls was the right move. After a while, David told me, "I trust you and know you've worked hard. Let's go with the Bulls." So, we advised Samardo to join the Bulls summer league team, and he agreed.

Samardo eventually earned a starting role on that summer league team, where he performed very well. However, as fate would have it, LeBron and Bosh chose to join the Miami Heat, not the Chicago Bulls. And the Bulls didn't sign Samardo, although they showed interest. So, things didn't unfold exactly as I had thought or hoped. However, thanks to Samardo's opportunity with the Bulls' summer league team, he caught the attention of other teams. After the summer league finished, David successfully negotiated a three-year contract for Samardo with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Ironically, Samardo entered the NBA as an undrafted free agent in a more stable position and set to earn more money than many players selected in the second round, including Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter.

That marked the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season for me, and it was a genuinely career-changing season at that. It was a time in my career when I was given an opportunity to immerse myself in the day-to-day challenges of being a sports agent and gain invaluable experience, allowing me to learn and grow.

I'll leave you with this thought, conclusively: if you're pursuing a career as a sports agent, or any path in sports, for that matter, you must find a way to get in the trenches. Fancy law degrees, sports management majors, or other areas of traditional education will only take you so far. GET IN THE TRENCHES!


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