My Past Life as a Sports Agent: The 2006 NBA Draft
Babcock Hoops presents a series of entries from former sports agent, Matt Babcock. He will peel back the curtain, giving a glimpse of some of his personal experiences working in the sports agency business for over a decade.
In this entry of the series, Babcock outlines his summer internship at the high-powered sports agency, Wasserman Media Group, prior to the 2006 NBA Draft.
I was hired to be an intern at the sports agency, Wasserman Media Group, in Los Angeles, California, when I was twenty-two-years old. 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 on a daily basis 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. It was an exciting summer! Let me tell you more about it…
At that time I was admittedly horrible with basic tasks in the office that were normal responsibilities asked of interns. Besides having been 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 had always been tied up being a basketball player. Anyway, my low-point while at Wasserman as an intern was the time I was made responsible for sending 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 had happened. 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 — thanks, Greg! In all honesty, I had some growing up to do. Luckily I did, eventually.
Despite my challenges in the office, I was right at home on the court — which was the main reason I was there. I assisted Coach Dave Joerger, working out and preparing all of Wasserman’s new clients for the NBA pre-draft process. Joerger was a D-League head coach at the time, and would eventually go on to be 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, went on to have a successful career as an NBA assistant coach. He is currently the head coach of the Maine Red Claws. Needless to say, an impressive group of coaches — I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them.
In addition to the time I spent on the court with the coaches and players, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with the players off the court as well. We routinely had lunches, dinners, and watched NBA playoff games together. I became especially 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. All in all, we had 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 was at its peak. J.J., who played at Duke and Adam Morrison from Gonzaga both had historic college seasons that year. They each generated a ton of media attention, and they were even on the cover of Sports Illustrated together. They were treated like rockstars. As an example of J.J.’s fame during that time, Shelden Williams, who was 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 did have a couple of nights out on the town. One night, we went to an exclusive nightclub in Hollywood. We stood in a long line just like normal people; me, actually being a normal person, and J.J., who looked like the typical college frat boy. After a while of standing in a hopeless line, I decided to talk to the bouncer to see if I could somehow get us in — I simply told him I was with J.J. Redick. Within moments, we were taken into the club and seated at a table next to reality TV star, Kristin Cavallari, and former boxer and heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson! Needless to say, hanging with J.J. was a lot of fun!
After a month or so of us establishing a steady daily routine with the players, agent Thad Foucher let Coach Joerger and I know that he had a client named Joel Freeland from England that would be joining our workouts. He said that he was relatively unknown, but he was going to 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 — every team in the NBA would be in attendance.
Every player we had been working with up to that point was extremely well-known. Joel, who was from England and played for a small team in Spain, was virtually unknown altogether. However, at 6’10”, athletic and skilled for a player his size, Coach Joerger and I both agreed quickly after working with him that he was a worthy prospect. Thad knew this already, of course, otherwise, he wouldn’t have signed him. Anyway, 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 to me 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 was going to need to be aggressive in organizing his schedule. He continued to explain that Joel was young and it was his first time in the United States. He then 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 remember so vividly 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 also had breakfast there the next morning. 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 our own 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 the next day I was welcome to attend the workout. I must say that I am very appreciative of the first-class treatment David Griffin and the Suns gave me although I was just a young guy at the time. “Griff” is certainly a class act!
After a terrific trip to Phoenix, Joel and I continued our hectic travel, making stops in Houston, Dallas, and Memphis. Aside from the Phoenix Suns, no other teams allowed me to attend the workouts. 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 of a 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 maybe I’d get the “Phoenix Suns, Griff” treatment. Next thing I knew, Jerry West was making his way toward me. My heart began to race; it wasn’t that big of a deal to me whether I watched the workout or not, but the fact that “The Logo” was about to speak to me — that was a big deal! As he approached me, he stuck out his hand and introduced himself; a real classy man with such an incredible presence. I’m not even quite sure what I did or said... I’m not even sure if I responded at all, initially. Ironically, I choked when meeting “Mr. Clutch”. Anyway, the rest of 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 are going to have to 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 my plan was to pursue coaching jobs for the following season, the NBA draft was when my internship would pretty much be wrapping up, as I planned to attend NBA Summer League in Las Vegas to hunt for coaching opportunities in July.
So just like that, my time with Wasserman was suddenly coming to an end — but first, we needed to see how the draft unfolded...
Although I was just a peon intern that had only known these players for a few months, collectively we put some real work in together and we created a bond. I really cared about those players — I was invested. I especially cared for Joel Freeland, who had quickly become like a little brother to me during our travels together as he chased his dream to play in the NBA.
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 be called. Here’s how it played out:
Shelden Williams — drafted 5th overall by the Atlanta Hawks
Brandon Roy — drafted 6th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and traded to the Portland Trail Blazers
J.J. Redick drafted 11th overall by the Orlando Magic
Jordan Farmer drafted 26th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers
Joel Freeland drafted 30th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers
All of our players were drafted in the first round, and yes, even my “little brother”, Joel Freeland! I couldn’t have been happier for all of the guys and especially for Joel, who went on to play in the NBA for several years and had an extremely successful career overseas.
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 all celebrated the fruits of our labor. It was undoubtedly a great night and a great summer — a summer I will never forget.
Little did I know at that time, but it was just the beginning of my involvement in the sports agency business.
Stay tuned for my next entry of the series, “My Past Life as a Sports Agent: An Aspiring Coach Goes Abroad.”