In this story, former NBA agent Matt Babcock shared how his background of growing up in an NBA family influenced him to pursue a career as a sports agent, and how he got started with agents Jeff Schwartz, Sam Goldfeder, and Excel Sports Management, to embark on what turned out to be a wild and crazy roller coaster of a career.
I grew up in and around the NBA, having multiple family members that have had successful careers as NBA executives. My family’s success has provided me many benefits and unique opportunities that I am thankful for, but it has also led me to have an inherent burning desire to create a name and identity for myself within the basketball world, separate from my family. Despite a childhood that gave me full access to the behind-the-scenes of the NBA, including team planes, locker rooms, and draft war rooms, I wanted more. Being “Dave Babcock’s son” or “Pete and Rob’s nephew” was not enough. I spent the first part of my life putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on myself to succeed as a basketball player. My playing career was without a shadow of a doubt the number one priority in my life. I developed into being a respectable player, but didn't even come close to having the career that I had envisioned. Once I shifted my focus to working in basketball rather than playing, my burning desire to succeed didn’t go away — it grew significantly.
In early 2007, I was 22 years old and not even a year removed from the University of Arizona and my unavailing playing career. I had already completed a summer internship at the powerhouse sports agency Wasserman Media Group, where I assisted in training their NBA draft prospects. I also had a brief assistant coaching gig with the professional basketball team Virtus Bologna in Bologna, Italy. Although I always thought my career path would be in coaching or scouting, I left my job in Italy to meet with sports agents Jeff Schwartz and Sam Goldfeder of Excel Sports Management to pursue a career as a sports agent. I thought to myself, “this is how I can pave my own way.”
I stepped off the plane in Los Angeles and jumped into a cab. I told the driver, “101 Santa Monica Boulevard, please. I have a job interview.” Pulling up to the fancy high-rise office building in the heart of West L.A., I called Sam Goldfeder and he told me to come up. Sam had become a good friend and mentor, as I had lived at his mother-in-law’s guest house in Beverly Hills the previous summer during my internship, and he had also arranged the job in Italy for me. He was pushing Jeff to hire me so they could groom me to be an agent. However, I wasn’t given any promises. I certainly took a risk by leaving my job in Italy for a meeting that was not guaranteed to be fruitful.
I walked into the office building and made my way to the elevator. The building was filled with prestigious law firms, financial groups, and other businesses. There were seemingly high-powered “suits” running all around. Excel Sports Management, now based in New York City, represented star NBA players, including Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Lamar Odom, Al Jefferson, and Tyson Chandler, just to name a few. Needless to say, it was a powerful agency. Although I probably should have been nervous, this being a huge opportunity for me, I wasn’t. I was young, confident, and fearless — a situation where “ignorance is bliss” perhaps. I got off the elevator and entered Excel’s office; Sam was waiting for me. The office space was impressive, yet refreshingly casual and comfortable despite the stuffiness of the building's lobby. Sam proceeded to introduce me to Duane Cooper, a former NBA player, who had a role with the company assisting with recruiting new clients. I then met Jayme Messler, the head of marketing, followed by Heidi, Jeff’s assistant. Sam and I sat in his office for a short time and chatted while Jeff finished up a phone call.
After a few minutes, Jeff walked into Sam’s office. He was a nice-looking guy, polished and professional with an intense presence that was impactfully felt right away. He briefly asked about my background, but then he cut to the chase and shifted his focus by drilling me about my intention to be a sports agent, as well as my commitment to pursuing that career path. He also explained, and pretty much warned me, that being a sports agent was very challenging and not for everyone. I told him I was sure that I wanted to be an agent, and that I thought I could be successful, having a good understanding of the inner-workings of the NBA due to the exposure my family had given me, and that my network should serve me well in that industry. I assured him that I lived and breathed basketball and the NBA. He then questioned my ability to handle the pressure that would come along with that career path. I explained my experience as a former athlete had prepared me. He asked if I had ever considered going to law school. I explained that I felt prepared to begin a full-time career. My answers to his questions seemed to be well-received, as both Jeff and Sam subtly nodded their heads with apparent approval. Jeff told me it wasn’t the best timing to add someone to their staff, but he would talk to Sam to discuss options. Before I knew it, Jeff shook my hand, thanked me for coming, and walked out of the room. Sam followed him and asked me to wait there for a few minutes. When Sam came back into his office, he said he thought our meeting went really well and he was very optimistic. He said, “I think this is going to work.” I hopped into another cab and headed back to LAX to catch a flight to Milwaukee, where my parents lived.
Once I got to my parent’s house, I proceeded to wait to hear from Sam. In hindsight, I probably should have looked for other jobs instead of putting all of my eggs in one basket. However, I knew that I wanted to work for Excel. So I waited, and then I waited some more. I waited for weeks. The more time passed, the more antsy and impatient I became. Eventually, I called Sam to check in. He told me that he thought something would happen, but he was still trying to push the idea through with Jeff. I continued to wait for what felt like many more weeks. I was going crazy during that time as I was so bored and anxious to get my career started. I spent a lot of time at the gym lifting weights, binge-watched the entire series of the tv show “Lost” with my mom, and pretty much just twiddled my thumbs waiting for the call.
Finally, Sam called. He said, “Alright, we’re good to go. I’ll book you a flight. You start Monday.” Little did I know at the time that it was just the beginning of a wild and crazy roller coaster of a career.
And that’s how “My Past Life as a Sports Agent” really began.
Please stay tuned for the next installment of the series as I share my experiences from my time as a sports agent.