After covering Rob Pelinka’s high school basketball career, the new general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers shared his thoughts about being a sports agent with me in 2004:
What prompted you to become a sports agent?
Funny thing is, when I was in law school, I had no plans of pursuing a career as a sports agent. As a matter of fact, I had a perception of agents as being slick and pushy. Those are both characteristics I never wanted any association with.
However, I had established some connections through my basketball playing days and Michigan law school days that led me down a path into the sports business. I have been pleased to find that you can become successful in this business without taking on the negative characteristics that are often associated with it.
The part of the business I enjoy the most is the mentoring relationship I have with my players and their families. When I can use the sum of my legal, business, basketball and life experiences to help guide and direct my players into making wise choices, that is a very gratifying feeling.
What’s it like being an agent for Kobe Bryant, one of the best-known basketball players on the planet? How tough has the last year been?
Kobe is one of the most focused and determined people I have ever met. I have incorporated a tremendous amount of strategy for how he approaches the game of basketball into how I approach business and negotiations. The model is incredibly successful, as he has shown by holding the mantle as the best player in the game. My relationship with Kobe has been one of the most rewarding relationships in my life — a true blessing.
The majority of people have an image of sports agents based on the movie “Jerry Maguire.” What parts of the movie accurately portrayed the life sports agents lead?
The part of that movie that resonates the most for me is the passion in which the title character poured into his clients lives and successes. I can really identify with that part of the movie. I think clients can tell when you have deep and real concerns for them. The lifestyle of an agent is very demanding, since you always have to be there when a client needs you. So sacrifices need to be made. But when those sacrifices are made for the betterment of another person’s life, it is worth it. As an agent, I am really there to serve my clients needs. That is what is all about — service. I think that part of the business was portrayed in the movie.
What are the pros and cons of working as a sports agent?
The pros are the lifelong relationships of trust that you build with your clients. You truly fight battles together and grow strong together. Those relationships have become very much like a brotherhood for me. I enjoy going through the hard times with my guys just as much as the times of prosperity. I think true character in a relationship is built when you face adversity with someone.
In this business, you realize that athletes are not invulnerable to the real trials of life. They need support just like anyone else. While it is always great to celebrate the headline, multimillion-dollar deals you get for clients, it is also great to support a client when he is going through a professional or personal hard time.
The cons are the unfair assumptions hoist upon you by outsiders that think all agents are fast-talking and greedy people. That is an unfair bias that comes with being in the business. But you come to realize that your true reputation is defined by what your friends, clients and those people you work with — those people who really know you — by what they think of you. That is really all that matters in the end.
You played on one of the most famous college basketball teams of all-time at the University of Michigan. What was that experience like for you?
It still amazes me to think that I had the opportunity to play in three NCAA Final Fours and to be a member of the 1989 NCAA Championship Team. Growing up in Lake Bluff, my dream was to always play ball for Northwestern. I was blessed with so much more. I will forever have great memories of playing for those teams. There is just nothing like March Madness, cutting down the nets in the Final Four and hearing that song “One Shining Moment” play. Those are some of the best memories of my life.
What’s your most prized sports possession and why?
You would think it would be autographed jerseys or championship rings. But really my most prized possessions are the hand-written notes I have got from my players, from college coaches, or NBA general managers that have let me know that I have made a positive influence on their life. I save those, and they mean the most by far. After all, I feel like when you can use your life to bless the life of another person or to make their life better or more understandable, that is the ultimate payoff.