David Falk The Bald Truth

ISBN 13: 9781416584384

The Bald Truth

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9781416584384: The Bald Truth
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Superagent David Falk -- the man who called the shots for some of the greatest heroes in the history of basketball -- reveals the innovative business secrets that catapulted him to the top of his game.

David Falk is the most successful agent in the game of basketball. He has represented more NBA first-round draft selections, lottery picks, Rookies-of-the-Year, and All-Stars than anyone else in the business. He changed the NBA's entire salary structure with a unique approach to negotiations that garnered some of the biggest contracts in league history, including Alonzo Mourning's $100-plus million contract with the Miami Heat -- the first ever in professional sports. His groundbreaking Nike deal for Michael Jordan, the most successful endorsement relationship in history, revolutionized basketball by creating the game's first commercial superstar.

Basketball Digest called Falk one of the sport's most influential people, second only to NBA commissioner David Stern. In The Bald Truth, Falk, respected throughout the industry as an innovator, candidly unveils the business secrets that have fueled his extraordinary success. For the first time, he shares the fascinating insider details of how he negotiated lucrative contracts, learned from his mistakes, and branded and marketed not only the greatest basketball stars in history but also other elite athletes and coaches.

Falk is blunt, he's fair, and he looks at the long run rather than the short-term gains. To make a great deal, he believes, both sides have to win. He adheres to steadfast principles, some of which he learned from the celebrated champion athletes and revered coaching legends -- like Georgetown's John Thompson and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski -- who have been long-standing clients and lifelong friends.

Since Falk began representing athletes more than thirty-five years ago, basketball has grown from a fledgling team sport to a multibilliondollar business with celebrity players, powerful endorsement deals, salary caps, and ever-evolving free agency rules. He has made millions of dollars for himself and his clients, but today he remains in the business for one reason: love of the game -- on and off the court.

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About the Author:

David Falk has long been recognized as one of the sports industry’s leading figures and most talented innovators. He began his career representing professional athletes with ProServ in 1974, rising to Vice Chairman of the company. In 1992, he formed Falk Associates Management Enterprises (FAME) to provide specialized and personal representation service to the company’s elite clientele of NBA superstars. 

During his career, Falk has represented more NBA first-round draft selections, lottery picks, Rookies-of-the-Year, and All-Stars than anyone else in the athlete management business. In 1985, he negotiated Michael Jordan’s ground-breaking deal with Nike--the most successful endorsement relationship in history--and in the process coined the nickname “Air Jordan.” Falk negotiated the highest contracts in NBA league history for Patrick Ewing in 1985 and Danny Ferry in 1990. He also negotiated professional sports’ first $100 million contract in 1996 for Alonzo Mourning as part of an unprecedented free agency period in which FAME changed the entire salary structure of the NBA, negotiating over $400 million in contracts for its free agent clients in a six-day period.  
 
In 1998, Falk sold FAME to SFX Entertainment, serving on SFX’s Board of Directors and in the Office of the Chairman. As Chairman of SFX Sports Group, Falk oversaw the acquisition of a dozen sports agencies that enabled SFX to represent approximately 20 percent of MLB and NBA players. Falk stepped down as Chairman in 2001 to pursue other interests. In January 2007, Falk re-launched FAME and currently serves as its Founder and CEO.

He and his wife, the former Rhonda Frank, live in Rockville, Maryland, and have two daughters, Daina, and Jocelyn.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE

I'd Rather Have a Good Enemy than a Neutral Friend, and Other Lessons from Chairman John

In many ways, my career started when I met John Thompson, Jr.

Having grown up in a very modest background, I could never have imagined that I would meet and deal with high-profile individuals as diverse as senators and congressmen, even a president or two, not to mention superstar athletes, entertainers, and chairmen of many of the most influential corporations in America. But without question, the most influential person in my life -- other than my mother, who passed away when I was twenty-seven -- has been John Thompson.

The fact that John played such an influential role proves that hard work and commitment to excellence can be matched, if not trumped, by circumstance and good fortune. The twists and turns that brought us together were certainly not in the game plans either of us had crafted for our careers. That John became my first and, for many years, only coaching client is ironic, given the wisdom and guidance he has provided me over the years.

I had aspired to be an attorney since the age of ten. In fifth grade, a friend named Greg Mallow wrote in my autograph book that I should become a lawyer because I was "a good arguer." Joseph Weber, my maternal grandfather, was an immigrant who frequently served on grand juries in New York. Pearl Weber, my mother, dreamed that I would one day become a Supreme Court justice. Despite these strong influences, my only role model for being a lawyer was Owen Marshall of the eponymous television series in the 1970s. I had absolutely no idea what being a lawyer was all about when I graduated from Syracuse University in 1972 and not much clearer of an idea when I graduated from George Washington University Law School in 1975.

During my first two years of law school, I worked part-time for the Bureau of Land Management at the Department of the Interior and at the Washington, D.C., office of Sidley & Austin, a prestigious Chicago-based law firm. In Washington, the joke is that one out of every twenty-five males over the age of twenty-five is a lawyer. It seemed to me that most of them had an Ivy League background that I clearly lacked. At Sidley I was determined to overcome my lack of pedigree by sheer determination. Initially it seemed to be working as many of the younger partners entrusted me with legal research projects. But when the summer came, I was relegated to being a messenger when two "summer clerks" who were recruited from the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania arrived. If I had a chip on my shoulder about my lack of Ivy League pedigree when I interviewed for clerkships in law school, after the snub at Sidley it grew into a block. When Donald Dell finally allowed me to work -- for free -- at Dell, Craighill, Fentress & Benton, which was the law firm part of the sports agency ProServ, in the summer of 1974, I was committed to overcoming my lack of nurture with my compulsive nature.

At the end of that summer, Donald hired me as a part-time clerk. As a full-time law student, I was permitted to work twenty hours a week. My lack of personal pedigree and ProServ's surroundings better informed my approach. Donald Dell was a Yale man with a University of Virginia law degree; Lee Fentress went to Tulane and Virginia Law; Frank Craighill attended North Carolina and Virginia Law; and Michael Cardozo, the associate, was the grand-nephew of Supreme Court justice Benjamin Cardozo and a Dartmouth and Virginia Law School grad. I probably worked an average of sixty hours a week and went to school just enough to graduate. Later on, when I attained some success, I probably developed a reverse exclusionary discrimination against Ivy League types. Obviously it takes all types, but one of the questions you might ask about a player who grew up wealthy is whether that player is hungry enough to do what it takes. The need to achieve doesn't always come from pure economics. With the background I had, I knew I never wanted to make a living with my hands.

After I graduated, Donald finally hired me as a full-time associate for the princely sum of thirteen thousand dollars a year to work eighty to one hundred hours a week. I eventually became Donald's assistant, or chief of staff. I read his mail, attended many of his meetings, and received great exposure to the various parts of the business, from marketing to legal. But we were very different people. Donald operated by seat-of-the-pants instinct and intuition. I am extremely logical. I wanted to have a well thought out argument when I presented my position. Donald preferred to leverage his power. He would read and think for five minutes on the plane flight to a negotiation. From my perspective, he would wing it while I was always a nut about preparation. I loved the intellectual stimulation that came from trying to change an existing model, or making an impact on that model by analyzing the research and applying a measure of creativity to the results. That approach eventually defined groundbreaking deals for Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Juwan Howard, Danny Ferry, Alonzo Mourning, and dozens of others in the 1980s and 1990s.

John Thompson had been an all-American at Providence College in 1964. He ended up playing two seasons for the Boston Celtics, backing up Bill Russell in one of the more racially divided cities in America at the time. When John became Georgetown's coach in 1972, I was finishing my first year of law school.

Because salaries were so modest, even for the world champion Celtics, John lived in the home of a Boston couple named Harold and Mary Furash. They had no children and John became the closest thing they had to a son. I had met Harold a few times through Leon Frank, my future father-in-law, and Harold had told John about me.

John and I met for the first time in 1980 when John Duren was going to be his first player selected in the NBA draft. We made a presentation for ProServ to represent Duren and his teammate Craig Shelton. Both of them selected us, and we got the next big Hoya star, Sleepy Floyd, who became the No. 13 pick in the 1982 draft.

The Georgetown connection became a cornerstone of our basketball practice. Donald Dell and Frank Craighill had a longstanding relationship with Dean Smith at North Carolina, but I was never going to have a power position in that dynamic. Smith wanted to talk "CEO to CEO" and he insisted on Donald doing the deals for North Carolina's rookie players. For me, Georgetown represented an opportunity. Not only had John turned the program into a major college power, but the connection allowed me to move away from tennis. While I liked working with tennis players like Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith, I loved basketball. It also felt more comfortable because I grew up in an environment much closer socially and economically to basketball players than to tennis stars.

John boosted my career at ProServ by viewing me and promoting me, even to my boss Donald Dell, as an asset and talent independent of the company. But he also challenged my assumptions about people, race, success, and just about every other aspect of life. You always know exactly where you stand with John. He is wont to say "I'd rather have a good enemy than a neutral friend." This is one of the many lessons I have taken from our friendship. Only the depth of compassion and loyalty he extends to friends matches John's unshakable integrity.

Our personal histories no doubt helped John and I connect. My mother was the youngest daughter of immigrant parents and she became a teacher. She constantly urged me never to settle for second best: "Always shoot for the stars."

John's father was hardworking but uneducated, and his mother, though educated, could only find work cleaning houses in their segregated Washington, D.C., neighborhood. In his book Big Man on Campus, Len Shapiro writes that John's mother had a similar message for her son: "You can do anything you think you can. It's all in the way you view it. It's all in the start you make, young man. You must feel that you are going to do it."

The fact that we were both outsiders may be what drew us together -- John, a black man in the very white fraternity of major college coaches, and me, a Jewish kid with a mutt's pedigree. In any case, unlike Coach Smith at North Carolina, John Thompson preferred dealing with the underdog. At the time, we had a policy at ProServ that we would not represent coaches. I effectively created the rule because I was uncomfortable when coaches came to Donald asking him advice on their shoe deals or coaching contracts. Donald, either out of friendship or ego, really wanted to help them, but I was concerned it could adversely affect our ability to recruit players. My emphatic position was that if we helped the coach at Maryland, then the coach at Virginia might get upset. I thought we had to be neutral. Donald reluctantly heeded my advice and it became corporate policy.

That all changed in 1982 during a lunch with John. Like other coaches, he would ask me questions about business matters. While I was happy to provide some insight, I told him, "John, I would love to help you with these things, but you know we have a policy against representing coaches." Typical of him, John said, "I don't give a damn about your policy. I'd love you to represent me." He said this with such vehemence that I was floored. For one of the first times in my life, I had nothing to say. I was tongue-tied and all I could get out was "Well, okay. I'd love to do it." After my impassioned argument to Donald against representing coaches, I broke the policy.

The arrangement also allowed John to break from the rest of the Big East coaching fraternity. Dave Gavett, then the Big East commissioner, negotiated group deals for the coaches for product endorsements. A coach might get $3,000 to $4,000 as part of supporting a Big East official basketball deal, or something similar. I signed John with Wilson for $25,000 a year, which infuriated the other coaches and in turn delighted John. He wanted to be his own person and fel...

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