My Past Life as Sports Agent: “Get Out of My Own Way”
Former NBA agent Matt Babcock shares his story of working at power agency Excel Sports Management early in his career. He outlines the mistakes he made, lessons he learned, and more.
It was 2007, I had not even turned 23-years-old but I had already gained some unique and valuable experience. I completed a summer internship at the powerhouse sports agency Wasserman Media Group, followed by a brief stint as an assistant coach for a professional basketball team in Bologna, Italy. Without any guarantees, I left my coaching position in Italy to take a job interview with sports agents Jeff Schwartz and Sam Goldfeder of Excel Sports Management. Fortunately, they decided to hire me and set a plan in place to groom me to be an agent. I had spent my entire life up to that point having expectations to follow in my family’s footsteps by pursuing a career in either coaching or scouting. However, I was set to embark on a new journey down an unfamiliar path: a career as a sports agent.
I packed all of my belongings and moved back to Los Angeles, California, as I had lived there the previous summer. When I arrived, Sam Goldfeder and his lovely wife, Laura, were kind enough to welcome me to stay at their home until I sorted out where I would live long term. Little did we know that I would stay with them for the entirety of my employment with Excel Sports.
My commute to the office from Sam’s house was beyond incredible! I would start on Mulholland Drive, a famous road at the top of the hills that separates L.A. from “The Valley". I would then go down Beverly Glen Boulevard and head through the hearts of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, two of the most prestigious neighborhoods you can find anywhere. I cruised down the hill each morning in my Jeep Cherokee surrounded by luxury cars and some of the most exclusive real estate in the world. As I made my way toward Century City I would meet the garage of my high-rise office building at 10100 Santa Monica Boulevard. To say that commute inspired me would be an understatement. I was a young, hungry, and ambitious kid just beginning my career. I was living among the rich and famous and it fueled my fire even more.
While I worked at Excel Sports, something new and exciting seemed to happen every day. For example, star players like Paul Pierce or Tyson Chandler would stop by the office from time to time and have lunch with our staff and meet with the company’s executives. On one occasion, we went to a party for Lamar Odom’s record label... There were always things like that happening. I also attended Lakers games somewhat regularly with Sam, sitting in the company's seats located in the first row — not a bad way to see prime Kobe Bryant do his thing.
Despite all of the fun and excitement that came with working at Excel Sports, I had some issues. It was apparent that there was a disconnect among the executives on how I was to be used initially. I was frustrated. Let me explain.
On one hand, I think Sam understood that although I was young, my background in basketball could be advantageous. He had me prepare analysis reports on players, teams, and the draft. He also had me call NBA scouts and executives to gather information on current and prospective clients. During that time, I spent a lot of time in Sam’s office picking his brain. He explained contract structuring, negotiating tactics, and essentially showed me the ropes — training me to be an agent. I value those conversations to this day.
As I carried on executing the tasks that Sam assigned me, he was complimentary of my understanding of the NBA and he conveyed that he was in awe of how many people I knew within the industry, even though it was my first full-time job. Despite having extensive contacts already, in large part due to my family’s involvement in basketball, I was not content; I wanted to build off of my established relationships. I grew up as a college coach’s son and then as an "NBA Kid". Because of that, I knew that relationships were the key for me to find success in any role or level of basketball. I needed to position myself to assist the company in signing new, good players. I felt the best way for me to expedite that process was to get a lay of the land on upcoming prospects, as well as develop my network. I was proactive by putting together a database of young prospects we could target in the coming years. I also attended many high school games and tournaments in Southern California and Las Vegas, after office hours and on the weekends. There, I was able to watch prospects and network with college coaches and people involved within the grassroots of basketball. During those trips I remember watching many top high school players that went on to be NBA stars, including Jrue Holiday, Demar DeRozan, Klay Thompson, and Paul George, just to name a few.
On the other hand, Jeff Schwartz had a different vision for my initial responsibilities and development. Although Sam was influential, Jeff was the owner and founder of Excel Sports — it was and is his company. The desk I was assigned was at a cubical right outside of the chief of marketing Jaymee Messler’s office. In addition to the tasks I was assigned by Sam, I was responsible for answering Jaymee’s phone, running errands for her, and doing a lot of work within the marketing department. Jaymee was very good at her job and has had a lot of success in her career, including co-founding and serving as the president of The Players’ Tribune and co-founding the sports and entertainment company (co)laboratory. I was lucky to have been able to work for her — and Jeff too, for that matter. However, I didn’t see it that way at the time. I viewed myself as a “basketball guy” and I did not have much interest or see the value in being heavily involved in the marketing department. Jaymee and I both knew that I was far more committed to working for Sam. I think there was some tension and resentment between the two of us because of it. I do not hesitate in saying that I would have handled myself much differently if I were able to go back and do it again.
I voiced my frustrations to Sam and I think he understood and agreed with my sentiments for the most part. It was not public knowledge at the time, but Sam told me that Jeff planned to move the company’s headquarters to New York, which he did the following year. He continued to explain that when the company moved, he and I would stay in L.A., we would have an office of our own, and all of my issues would subside. Although I was only months away from being able to work with Sam exclusively, I became increasingly frustrated and impatient.
The next thing I knew, I was on the phone with Andy Miller, a prominent agent from New York who was the owner and founder of ASM Sports and represented star players Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, and many others. After one phone call with Andy, he offered me a job with the career path and initial responsibilities that I wanted. He also offered me a little more money than I was making at the time. In a knee-jerk reaction, I agreed to leave Excel Sports, after only a handful of months there, to work directly for Andy Miller at ASM Sports.
Over time I realized that leaving Excel Sports was an enormous mistake, for many reasons. I am not one to have many regrets, as I try to use my mistakes as learning experiences so that I can grow and improve. However, I truly regret leaving Sam Goldfeder prematurely. It was probably the biggest mistake I have made in my career. I still keep in touch with Sam and we have a good relationship, but I must admit that I am embarrassed that I bailed on him after everything he and his family had done for me. My immaturity and impatience at that time really hurt me, and it probably set my career back pretty significantly. It took me time to truly absorb the lesson, but I learned that sometimes I need to get out of my own way.
Stay tuned for my next article: “My Past Life as a Sports Agent: The Protégé.”