My Past Life as a Sports Agent: The Protégé
Former NBA agent Matt Babcock shares his story about working for prominent agent Andy Miller and ASM Sports early in his career.
In the early fall of 2007, I began working for sports agent Andy Miller and his agency, ASM Sports. Although I was only 23 years old at the time, I had already worked as a summer intern at the high-powered sports agency Wasserman Media Group, as an assistant coach for the professional basketball team Virtus Bologna, in Bologna, Italy, and as a junior agent for another prominent sports agency, Excel Sports Management. Despite my experience, I did not fully understand just how competitive the sports agent business was until I began working for Andy Miller and ASM Sports.
Today, Andy Miller is infamous for his role in the dramatic college basketball FBI investigation of 2017, which brought to light much of the corrupt nature of the business of basketball pertaining to the recruitment of top amateur players. Many people were implicated during the investigation that ultimately led to the arrest of a number of college assistant coaches, a couple of shoe company executives, and Christian Dawkins, a former associate of Andy Miller and ASM Sports. The charges included various corruption and fraud charges, as well as bribery, money laundering, and wire fraud. ASM Sports’ offices were raided and numerous documents were found indicating that the company had provided financial assistance to high school and college players. Andy Miller was not arrested but was forced to relinquish his certification as an NBPA agent, meaning he could no longer represent professional basketball players. The whole fiasco was depicted in the HBO documentary, “The Scheme.”
Before all of that, Andy Miller was on a shortlist of the most notable NBA agents. He represented dozens of NBA players, including former NBA MVP Kevin Garnett and multi all-star player Chauncey Billups. He was also a partner of one of the leading international sports agencies, YouFirst Sports, which represented countless top international players. To put it simply, prior to the FBI investigation, Andy was extremely successful and well-known as a sports agent.
In 2007, ten years before the FBI investigation, I left my job as a junior agent with Excel Sports Management to take a position at ASM Sports. I felt limited in my role at Excel, as I was assigned a lot of responsibilities within their marketing department, and I became impatient. I wanted to grow my basketball network, recruit new clients, and have basketball-related responsibilities. Despite my young age at the time, when I was introduced to Andy Miller he offered me a job to do all of those things. The plan was to have me aggressively travel to recruit new clients and assist in managing the company’s current clients. Andy would personally show me the ropes and train me to be an agent. I jumped at the opportunity.
After verbally agreeing to accept the job offer from ASM Sports, I moved from Los Angeles back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where my family lived, per Andy’s request. My parents allowed me to move back into their house. I figured I would be traveling so frequently with my new job that it would not be too bad to move home, and I could save quite a bit of money — which I did.
I had some time off before I began traveling to recruit new clients. During that time, Andy sent my employment contract. At that point in my career, I was not very familiar with contract structuring. My dad arranged for me to talk to a veteran agent, a long-time family friend, so he could advise me before I signed the contract. To my surprise, when I got on the phone with that agent he made it very clear, right off the bat, that he was not a fan of Andy — to put it nicely. He explained that Andy had begun his career working as a paid intern for agent Eric Fleisher’s company and gradually moved his way up. He continued to tell me that Andy then left Fleisher to start his own agency and took a number of Fleisher’s clients with him, including star players Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups. Fleisher went on to sue Andy and ultimately won the lawsuit, which forced Andy to pay $4.6 million. The agent then addressed my contract, saying there was language protecting Andy and his agency, prohibiting me from doing what he did to Fleisher in regards to leaving the company and taking clients. Despite warning me about Andy’s track record, he said the contract was reasonable, and that I had a good opportunity to make a lot of money if I was able to effectively recruit good players to the agency. Subsequently, I signed the contract and sent it back to Andy.
Shortly after that, I flew to Newark, New Jersey, for company meetings prior to the start of the college basketball season. When I arrived, Andy’s assistant, Cyndi Raia, picked me up at the airport. Cyndi was the anchor of the office, in my opinion, and was my “go-to” while I worked at ASM. Anyway, we drove straight to the company offices in Tenafly, New Jersey. As I walked into Andy's office, I took notice of his client’s framed jerseys on the walls, including Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Kyle Lowry, and Ty Lue, among others. I took a seat as Andy finished up a call. He hung up the phone and our first in-person meeting began.
During that meeting, we discussed plans for the upcoming season and he started to coach me, right then and there. It was clear from the start that Andy was very good at his job and that I was going to be able to learn a lot from him. However, it was also apparent that he and I were cut from a different cloth. On one hand, I grew up as a college basketball coach's son, and my dad’s style as a leader, coach, and parent has always been upbeat and positive. He’s a “glass half full” kind of guy, and due to his influence, I am too. On the other hand, Andy seemed to thrive off of negativity. He was never a yeller or screamer type of guy with me, but just about every sentiment that came out of his mouth was abrasive and condescending. For example, if I ever brought up any type of scouting or basketball-related opinion, Andy would tell me “you’re not your dad; I don’t care.”
It’s funny to think back about calling the ASM Sports office: Cyndi would answer the phone and put me on hold, and the song “Gravity” by John Mayer would come on each time — a mellow and relaxing tune, and the type of song that would likely be heard at a spa. The song would stop, Andy would come on the call, and abruptly all hell would break loose — that happened several times a day.
Later that night, we had a big dinner meeting scheduled with our entire staff — which was the main reason I was in town. Andy had reserved a private room at a local steakhouse. The purpose of the dinner meeting was for our staff to get organized for recruiting new clients throughout the upcoming college basketball season. When we arrived at the restaurant, I met the other agents of the company, including Justin Zanik, who is now the general manager of the Utah Jazz, and Andrew Vye, who is a veteran agent that has represented some NBA players but is mostly known for being a top agent internationally; both are really good guys. At the time, they referred to me as their protégé and I really appreciated that.
In addition to the agents, I was surprised to see that there were also a number of AAU coaches and “runners” at the meeting. This was before Christian Dawkins worked for ASM Sports, but there were some people there that were later implicated in the FBI investigation in 2017. I sat next to Andy at that dinner and at one point he said “we need to get him rewired” when talking about me. He used that phrase somewhat regularly throughout the time I worked for him. Andy was certainly taking me under his wing, which I appreciated, but I felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea of being “rewired.”
Everyone at the table, including the AAU coaches and runners, had an opportunity to propose a list of players that they wanted to recruit to the company. During that process, it felt as if any time someone brought up a player’s name, the whole room would erupt and everyone would start shouting out statements like “I know his dad,” or “his coach is my boy;” it was chaos! Andy ultimately decided who was assigned to recruit who during the season. The company tried to recruit everyone from everywhere so there was not a shortage of players for us to chase. The primary target that I was assigned was Courtney Lee, a star shooting guard from Western Kentucky.
That night was eye-opening for me. Although it felt great to have successful people invested in my professional development, something just didn’t seem right. I had this weird feeling like I had just joined the mafia. I started to ask myself, “what am I doing here?”
Throughout that season I traveled constantly. I would make one trip after another with quick stops at my parents’ house in Milwaukee to do laundry before I hit the road again. Regardless of where I was in the country, I would wake up each morning to text messages from Andy and subsequent phone calls so he could manage and train me. I was able to get involved with Courtney Lee and met with him several times in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I also assisted Andy in his recruitment of Eric Gordon, who was a top prospect that played for the Indiana Hoosiers. I made several recruiting trips to Indianapolis and Bloomington with Andy. Gordon and his dad even verbally committed to sign with Andy and ASM Sports on one of those trips. At that point, Gordon was Andy’s number one priority, which he should have been. Andy asked that I stop recruiting Courtney Lee because he feared it would be a conflict with Gordon — so that’s what I did. Unfortunately, Eric Gordon did not honor his verbal commitment to Andy and ultimately signed with agent Rob Pelinka of Landmark Sports Agency. Ironically, we were left in the dust without signing Eric Gordon nor Courtney Lee. The truth is, I am not confident we had a good chance of signing Lee anyway. I was young, inexperienced, and I was not very effective as a recruiter yet. I was involved with some other players that year too but did not have any luck signing them. I was disappointed but that period of time was such a great learning experience, which is probably what mattered the most at that point in my career anyway.
ASM Sports was a well-oiled machine and did not depend on me to sign players at that time. Following the college season, Andy assigned me to live in Las Vegas during the pre-draft process for several months to manage our company’s new clients as they prepared for the NBA Draft with skills coach Joe Abunassar at Impact Basketball. During that time, I shared a condo with and managed Marreese Speights and also managed J.J. Hickson, Serge Ibaka, Omer Asik, Richard Hendrix, Sasha Kaun, Deron Washington, Semih Erden, and some others. I worked around the clock and it was a great experience but I was more than ready to get out of Las Vegas by the time the NBA Draft came.
For the draft, our entire staff worked out of a hotel suite in New Jersey. Although I played a very insignificant part in their success, all of the players that I mentioned before that I managed in Las Vegas were drafted. That was a great feeling! We also had some players go undrafted that night though. In addition to the agents having to deal with their clients’ disappointment of not hearing their names called, we also scrambled to find the undrafted players spots on NBA summer league teams — it was very stressful. That night was my first time really dealing with the emotional roller coaster that routinely comes with being a sports agent. It’s not uncommon for an agent to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all within the same day — especially on draft night.
Andy taught me how to be organized, efficient, and ultimately helped me become a good agent. He gave me a great opportunity as a 23-year-old kid to get my feet wet. The lessons I learned from him will stick with me forever. With whatever success I have already accomplished in my career, or whatever success lies ahead, plenty of credit should be attributed to Andy, as he has been a significant influence on me professionally. And for those reasons, I’m very thankful.
However, Andy and I had issues over one thing or another that entire year, and I found myself constantly battling ethical conflicts, which wound up being a common theme throughout my entire career as an agent. Nevertheless, ASM Sports and I were not a good fit.
Without an idea of what my next step was going to be, I chose to leave the company, following the draft. I had a much better lay of the land than I did before and I knew the type of agent and businessman that I wanted to be moving forward. But I found myself, once again, playing musical chairs.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the series, “My Past Life as a Sports Agent: Coming Into My Own.”