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My past life as a sports agent: The 2006 NBA Draft

My past life as a sports agent: The 2006 NBA Draft

BasketballNews.com's Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock presents a series that will peel back the curtain from his time as a sports agent, giving a glimpse at some of his personal experiences working in the sports agency business for over a decade.

In the second entry of the series, Babcock outlines his summer internship at high-powered sports agency Wasserman Media Group before the 2006 NBA Draft.

When I was 22 years old, I was an intern at Wasserman Media Group's sports agency in Los Angeles, California. The internship not only had me doing typical intern-type tasks, but most importantly to me (because I had ambitions of being a coach), it had me working on the court daily with the company's newest clients — Shelden Williams, Brandon Roy, JJ Redick (who guested on The Dunker Spot this week), Jordan Farmar and Joel Freeland — as they prepared for the 2006 NBA Draft. It was an exciting summer!

At that time, I was admittedly horrible with basic tasks in the office that were typical responsibilities asked of interns. Besides being a ball boy, working basketball camps and helping out at the NBA Draft Combine a few times, I had never had a real job before, as I'd always been busy being a basketball player. Anyway, my low-point while at Wasserman as an intern was being made responsible to send basketballs via FedEx for the agency's players and designated coaches to use at a pro-day workout in Florida that NBA scouts would attend.

I sent the basketballs out just fine. However, I sent them "ground," and they didn't arrive until days after the workout had happened. Greg Lawrence, who was in charge of managing the interns at Wasserman, had every reason to let me have it on that one, but fortunately for me, he didn't — thanks, Greg! In all honesty, I had some growing up to do. Luckily I did, eventually.

Despite my challenges in the office, I was right at home on the court, which was the main reason I was there from my perspective. I assisted Dave Joerger in working out and preparing all of Wasserman's new clients for the NBA pre-draft process. (Joerger was a D-League head coach at the time and eventually became the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings. He's currently an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers).

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Former NBA player and current Wasserman agent BJ Armstrong (who was recently a guest on The Rex Chapman Show) also worked with the players occasionally. Darren Erman volunteered to help us with the workouts as well. (Erman, a corporate lawyer at the time, went on to have a successful career as an NBA assistant coach, and he is currently an assistant coach for the New York Knicks). An impressive group of coaches — I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them.

I worked on the court with the coaches and players a lot, but I spent a lot of quality time with the players off the court too. We routinely had lunches and dinners, and watched NBA playoff games together. I became close with Shelden, "B-Roy," and JJ; I got along with Jordan Farmar too, but because he had already lived in L.A. — being from there and attending UCLA — he wasn't around as much as the other guys, so I didn't get to know him quite as well. But, all in all, we had a great group of guys, and we had a good time together.

After 15 seasons in the NBA, JJ concluded a successful career and is now a rising star in the media. But in 2006, his fame was at its peak. A star at Duke, JJ generated a ton of media attention and was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was treated like a rock star anywhere he would goShelden (JJ's teammate at Duke) once told me that fans would regularly avoid getting autographs from him and his teammates if JJ had already signed the item. Supposedly, if anyone else would sign the memorabilia, it would decrease the value. Think about that for a minute. Shelden was a consensus first-team All-American and one of the top NBA prospects in the country while at Duke!

While in Los Angeles, JJ and I had a couple of nights out on the town (with the approval of his agents and my bosses, of course). One night, we went to an exclusive nightclub in Hollywood. We stood in a long line just like ordinary people; me, who was not famous, and JJ, who looked like the typical college frat boy. After standing in a hopeless line, I decided to talk to the bouncer to see if I could somehow get us in; I told him I was with JJ Redick. Within moments, we were taken into the club and seated at a table next to reality TV star Kristin Cavallari and former boxer and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

Hanging with JJ was a lot of fun.

After a month or so of us establishing a steady daily routine with the players, agent Thad Foucher let Coach Joerger and I know that he had a client named Joel Freeland from England who would be joining our workouts. Thad decided to have Joel enter his name in that year's draft. We needed to get him polished up for a showcase workout that we would be hosting the following week — every team in the NBA would be in attendance.

Every player we worked with up to that point was well-known. Joel was from England and played for a small team in Spain, so he was virtually unknown by NBA folks. However, at 6-foot-10, Joel was athletic and skilled for a player his size. After working with him, Coach Joerger and I agreed that he was a worthy prospect. Thad knew this already, of course; he wouldn't have signed him otherwise. We thought Joel might make a big splash at the showcase workout, and he did.

Following the workout in front of the entire NBA, Thad called me into his office and explained that Joel's draft stock had suddenly erupted, and he had more teams wanting to bring him into workout than days left until the draft. Therefore, he needed to be aggressive in organizing his schedule. It was the first time Joel had visited the United States, so Thad asked me to accompany him as he traveled around the country visiting different NBA teams. I essentially served as Joel's manager from that point until draft night. I remember vividly walking out of Thad's office to call my dad to tell him the good news. I was so excited to get that opportunity.

Before I knew it, Joel and I were off to Portland for his first team workout with the Trail Blazers. Joel and I shared a hotel room, and the team gave him per diem to cover his dinner. We ate at the hotel that night and had breakfast there the following day. While Joel was at the Blazers' practice facility for his workout, I stayed at the hotel killing time because the team didn't allow me to attend. Following his workout, we flew back to L.A. for one day so Joel could work out for the Lakers. Altogether, the trip to Portland was pretty uneventful for me. However, our journey was just getting started. Our next stop was Phoenix.

When we landed in Phoenix, we were greeted by a car service: a gentleman in a black suit and tie with a fancy black car. He took us to the hotel, where Joel and I were given our own rooms at The Ritz Carlton. I felt like I was big time. Upon settling into our hotel rooms, the Suns' director of player personnel at the time (and current executive vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans), David Griffin, called to invite Joel and I to dinner at a steakhouse within walking distance from the hotel. He also asked me to attend the workout the next day. I must say that I am very appreciative of the first-class treatment David and the Suns gave me considering I was just a young guy trying to find my place in the business. "Griff" is undoubtedly a class act.

After a terrific trip to Phoenix, Joel and I continued our hectic travel, making stops in Houston, Dallas and Memphis. Aside from the Suns, no other teams allowed me to attend the workouts. Although it was perhaps a bit overzealous, it didn't stop me from trying.

While we were in Memphis, I casually walked into the practice gym with Joel and quietly took a seat, hoping no one would take too much notice of me where I could watch the workout. Shortly after I sat down, Ryan West, a scout with the Grizzlies and the son of the general manager and Hall-of-Fame player Jerry West, told me he wasn't sure if I'd be able to stay for the workout, but that he'd check.

Ryan and I were friends, and his dad and my uncle Pete had a close relationship, so I thought maybe I'd get the Griff/Suns treatment. The next thing I knew, Jerry was making his way toward me. My heart began to race; it wasn't that big of a deal to me whether I watched the workout or not, but the fact that "The Logo" was about to speak to me — that was a big deal!

As he approached me, he stuck out his hand and introduced himself; a really classy man with such an incredible presence. I'm not even entirely sure what I did or said. I'm not even sure if I responded at all initially. Ironically, I choked when meeting "Mr. Clutch." Anyway, the rest of our brief conversation went something like this:

Jerry West: Matt, would you like to watch the workout?

Me: Yes, I would like to, but it's not that big of a deal if it's an issue.

Jerry West: Do you speak to your father? (My dad worked for another NBA team).

Me: Well, of course, I do but...

(And before I could finish…)

Jerry West: It's nice to meet you, but we will have to ask you to wait for Joel in the locker room.

And that was my experience meeting Jerry West.

Following the Memphis trip, we made our way to New York so Joel could work out for the Knicks the morning of the NBA Draft. Because I planned to pursue coaching jobs for the following season, the NBA Draft was when my internship would wrap up, as I prepared to attend Summer League in Las Vegas to hunt for coaching opportunities in July. 

So just like that, my time with Wasserman was suddenly coming to an end — but first, we needed to see how the draft unfolded.

Although I was just an intern who had only known these players for a few months, we collectively put some real work together and created a bond. I cared about those players — I was invested. I especially cared for Joel, who quickly became like a little brother to me during our travels together as he chased his dream to play in the NBA.

So, our moment of truth was upon us. NBA Commissioner David Stern approached the podium, and the NBA Draft began. I anxiously watched, waiting to hear our guys' names called. Here's how it played out:

  • Shelden Williams — drafted No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Hawks
  • Brandon Roy — drafted No. 6 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and traded to the Portland Trail Blazers
  • JJ Redick drafted No. 11 overall by the Orlando Magic
  • Jordan Farmer drafted No. 26 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Joel Freeland drafted No. 30 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers

All of our players were selected in the first round (yes, even my "little brother," Joel Freeland)! I couldn't have been happier for all of the guys, especially for Joel, who played in the NBA for several years and had an incredibly successful career overseas.

The night of the 2006 NBA Draft, Shelden Williams, Brandon Roy, JJ Redick, Jordan Farmar, Joel Freeland, their families, the Wasserman agents and I celebrated the fruits of our labor. It was undoubtedly a great night and a terrific summer, which I will never forget. 

Little did I know at that time that it was just the beginning of my involvement in the sports-agency business.

Stay tuned for the next entry of this series: "My past life as a sports agent: The 2006 NBA Draft."

Read the last entry of this series: "My past life as a sports agent: "Going to California."

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on BabcockHoops.com.

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