I interned at the sports agency Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles, California, when I was twenty-two. The internship not only had me doing typical intern-type tasks, but most importantly to me, because I had ambitions of being a coach, it had me working on the court daily with the company’s newest clients: Shelden Williams, Brandon Roy, J.J. Redick, Jordan Farmar, and Joel Freeland, as they prepared for the 2006 NBA draft.
At that time, I was admittedly horrible with basic tasks in the office that were typical responsibilities asked of interns. Besides being a ball boy, working basketball camps, and helping out at the NBA Draft Combine a few times, I had never had a real job before, as I was always busy being a basketball player. So, while at Wasserman, I had a significant low point when asked to send basketballs via FedEx for the agency’s players and designated coaches to use at a showcase workout in Florida for NBA scouts to attend. I sent them out just fine. However, I sent them “ground,” and they didn’t arrive until days after the workout. Greg Lawrence, who was in charge of managing the interns at Wasserman, had every reason to let me have it on that one, but fortunately for me, he didn’t. Honestly, I had some growing up to do, and I needed to become more detail-oriented.
Despite my challenges in the office, I was right at home on the court, which was why I was there. I assisted Coach Dave Joerger in working out and preparing all Wasserman’s new clients for the NBA pre-draft process. Joerger was a D-League head coach then and would eventually become the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Sacramento Kings. Former NBA player and current Wasserman agent, B.J. Armstrong, also worked with the players occasionally. Darren Erman volunteered to help us with the workouts as well. Erman, a corporate lawyer at the time, ultimately had a successful career as an NBA assistant coach. He is currently the head coach of the Maine Red Claws. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work with that impressive group of coaches.
In addition to the time I spent on the court with the coaches and players, I was also able to spend a lot of quality time with the players off the court. We routinely had lunches and dinners and watched NBA playoff games together. I became close with Shelden, “B-Roy,” and J.J. I got along with Jordan Farmar too, but because he had already lived in L.A., being from there and attending UCLA, he wasn’t around as much as the other guys, so I didn’t get to know him quite as well. It was a great group of guys, and we had a good time together.
In his 13th season in the NBA, J.J. Redick has had a very successful career, but in 2006, his fame peaked. J.J., who played at Duke, and Adam Morrison from Gonzaga had historic college seasons that year. They each generated a ton of media attention and were even on the cover of Sports Illustrated together. They were like rock stars. As an example of J.J.’s fame during that time, Shelden Williams, J.J.’s teammate at Duke, once told me that fans would regularly avoid him and his teammates for autographs if J.J. had already signed. Supposedly, if anyone else would sign the memorabilia, it would decrease the value. Think about that for a minute. Shelden was a consensus first-team All-American and one of the top NBA prospects in the country while at Duke.
With the approval of his agents, who were also my bosses, J.J. and I had a couple of nights out on the town. One night, we went to an exclusive nightclub in Hollywood. We stood in a long line like ordinary people: me, an average person, and J.J., who was famous but looked like the typical college frat boy. After standing in a hopeless line, I decided to talk to the bouncer to see if I could somehow get us in. I told him I was with J.J. Redick. Within moments, we were welcomed into the club and seated at a table next to reality TV star Kristin Cavallari and former boxer and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
After a month or so of us establishing a steady daily routine with the players, agent Thad Foucher let Coach Joerger and I know he had a client named Joel Freeland from England who would be joining our workouts. He said Joel was relatively unknown, but he would be in that year’s draft. He needed us to help get him polished up for a showcase workout that we would be hosting the following week, in which every team in the NBA would be in attendance.
Every player we worked with up to that point was very well-known. Joel, who was from England and played for a small team in Spain, was virtually unknown. However, at 6’10”, athletic, and skilled for a player his size, Coach Joerger and I agreed quickly after working with him that he was a worthy prospect. Thad knew this already, which is why he signed him. We thought Joel might make a big splash at the showcase workout, and that’s exactly what he did.
Following the showcase workout in front of the entire NBA, Thad called me into his office and explained that Joel’s draft stock had suddenly erupted, and he had more teams wanting to bring him into workout than days left until the draft. He said he would need to be aggressive in organizing his schedule. Thad continued explaining that Joel was young and it was his first time in the United States. He asked me to accompany Joel as he traveled around the country visiting different NBA teams, essentially serving as Joel’s manager until draft night. Of course, I agreed. I vividly remember walking out of Thad’s office to call my dad to tell him the good news. I was so excited to get that opportunity!
Before I knew it, Joel and I were off to Portland, Oregon, for his first-team workout with the Trail Blazers. Joel and I shared a hotel room, and the team gave him per diem to cover his dinner. We ate at the hotel that night and had breakfast there the following day. While Joel was at the Trail Blazers practice facility for his workout, I stayed at the hotel, killing time because the team didn’t allow me to attend. Following his workout, we flew back to L.A. for one day so Joel could work out for the Lakers.
Altogether, the trip to Portland was pretty uneventful for me. However, our journey was just getting started. Our next stop was Phoenix, Arizona.
When we landed in Phoenix, we were greeted by a car service: a gentleman in a black suit and tie with a fancy black car. Subsequently, he took us to the hotel where Joel and I were each given rooms at “The Ritz.” Upon settling into our hotel rooms, the Suns’ director of player personnel at the time and current executive vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans’, David Griffin, called to invite Joel and me to dinner at a steakhouse within walking distance from the hotel. He also said I was welcome to attend the workout the next day. I must say that I appreciate the first-class treatment David Griffin and the Suns gave me, although I was just a young guy at the time. “Griff” is undoubtedly a class act.
After a terrific trip to Phoenix, Joel and I continued our hectic travel, stopping in Houston, Dallas, and Memphis. Aside from the Phoenix Suns, no other teams allowed me to attend the workouts. And although it was perhaps a bit overzealous, it didn’t stop me from trying. While we were in Memphis, I casually walked into the practice gym with Joel and quietly took a seat, hoping no one would take too much notice of me and I could watch the workout. Shortly after I sat down, Ryan West, a scout with the Grizzlies and the son of the general manager and hall-of-fame player Jerry West, told me he wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stay for the workout or not but that he’d check. Ryan and I were friends, and his dad and my uncle Pete had a close relationship, so I thought they might let me stick around. But before I knew it, Jerry West was approaching me. My heart began to race. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me whether I watched the workout, but the fact that “The Logo” was about to speak to me was a big deal. Mr. West stuck out his hand and introduced himself: a real classy man with an incredible presence. And I’m not even entirely sure what I did or said. I’m not even sure if I responded at all initially. So, ironically, I choked when meeting “Mr. Clutch.”
Our brief conversation went something like this:
Jerry West: Matt, would you like to watch the workout?
Me: Yes, I would like to, but it’s not that big of a deal if it’s an issue.
Jerry West: Do you speak to your father?
(My dad worked for another NBA team)
Me: Well, of course, I do, but…
(And before I could finish)
Jerry West: It’s nice to meet you, but we must ask you to wait for Joel in the locker room.
And that was my experience meeting Jerry West.
Following the Memphis trip, we made our way to New York so Joel could work out for the Knicks the morning of the NBA draft. Because I planned to pursue coaching jobs for the following season, the NBA draft was when my internship would wrap up, as I would attend the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas to hunt for coaching opportunities in July.
So, just like that, my time with Wasserman was suddenly ending. But first, we needed to see how the draft unfolded.
Although I was just a young intern who had only known these players for a few months, we collectively worked hard and created a bond. I cared about those players and was invested in their success. And I formed a uniquely strong bond with Joel Freeland, who quickly became like a little brother to me.
So, our moment of truth was upon us. NBA Commissioner David Stern approached the podium, and the NBA draft began. I anxiously watched, waiting to hear our guys’ names called.
Here’s how it played out:
Shelden Williams was drafted 5th overall by the Atlanta Hawks
Brandon Roy was drafted 6th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and traded to the Portland Trail Blazers
J.J. Redick was drafted 11th overall by the Orlando Magic
Jordan Farmer was drafted 26th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers
Joel Freeland was drafted 30th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers
All our players, even my “little brother,” Joel Freeland, were selected in the first round. I couldn’t have been happier. And especially for Joel.
The night of the 2006 NBA Draft, Shelden Williams, Brandon Roy, J.J. Redick, Jordan Farmar, Joel Freeland, their families, the Wasserman agents, and I celebrated the fruits of our labor. It was undoubtedly a great night and a great summer.
It was a summer I will never forget.
Little did I know then, it was just the beginning of my involvement in the sports agency business.
Continue reading: “My Past Life as a Sports Agent: An Aspiring Coach Goes Abroad.”