SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/Labor Agents

Longtime agent Reich chooses Lemieux over union

Mario Lemieux was Steve Reich's first client. When they linked up, Reich was 27 and just out of law school, and Lemieux was only 22.

Reich has been with Lemieux through Lemieux's back surgery, his cancer, the birth of his dangerously premature son (now 4 years old and doing fine), the financial reorganization of the Pittsburgh Penguins and his acquisition of the team.

So when NHL Players' Association officials told Reich that his relationship with Lemieux violated bylaws prohibiting agents representing players and owners, there was only one thing to do.

"I have resigned from the Players' Association and their certification program and I have left our firm," said Reich, who was a partner and the second Reich on the letterhead at Reich, Brisson, Reich and Theofanous. He has formed Reich Publishing & Marketing and will handle all of Lemieux's off-the-ice endeavors.

Reich is widely known in agent circles as one of the Reich (pronounced Rich) brothers. But the truth is that Tom Reich — the other Reich on the letterhead — is Steve's uncle and mentor.

"Mario needs a business adviser for his business and marketing, and I didn't think it was fair to him to walk away and find someone new," Reich said.

Reich told the about 50 hockey clients of the firm that he was leaving. He added that he feels comfortable that his former partners, Pat Brisson, Paul Theofanous and Tom Reich, will do a great job representing his former clients.

"We always represented guys as a committee," Reich said. "It wasn't like I had 10 [players] and Tom had 10 and Paul had four."

As president of Reich Publishing & Marketing, "I am as busy as I have ever been," Reich said.

He has signed Lemieux to a career-spanning equipment endorsement deal with Nike Bauer thought to be worth $500,000 a year. His new company also will co-publish a coffee-table book featuring Lemieux that will be out in September.

"We have a lot of licensing and merchandising opportunities, and I think we will have something major to announce in the next 30 days," Reich said.

Today's Lemieux is much more interested in endorsement work than he was as a young player, Reich said. In his first years in the NHL, Lemieux was "a reluctant star" who was happy that Wayne Gretzky was playing and taking the spotlight off him, Reich said. But since taking over as owner of the Penguins, Lemieux has grown into a polished businessman accustomed to speaking before large groups and to CEOs of companies.

"The biggest difference is we have a person who is more receptive and confident about being in the public eye than he was the first time around," Reich said.

TELLEM: KOBE DIDN'T MAKE THE CALL: Agent Arn Tellem dismissed as "utterly ridiculous and totally false" a report on espn.com that Lakers star Kobe Bryant had called a top executive at another NBA team and begged the exec to trade for him.

But other sources among agents and the NBA told the same story, with an interesting twist: They said the team was the Washington Wizards and the executive was Michael Jordan.

Tellem acknowledged that his client is friendly with Jordan. "Kobe has talked to Michael off and on for the last few years," Tellem said.

The idea that Bryant wants to leave Los Angeles is untrue, Tellem said. "There is no way he is leaving the Lakers."

A spokeswoman for David Falk, Jordan's agent, had no comment.

Maureen Lewis, spokeswoman for the Wizards, said she was not aware of the story and had no immediate comment.

SCUDDER ADDS ENDORSERS: Scudder Funds will be endorsed by five professional golfers — including Karrie Webb and Steve Stricker — through headwear deals this year, said David Brenner, president of Halo Sports and Entertainment, which represented Scudder in the deal.

IMG represented Webb in the renegotiation of a previous deal with Scudder's predecessor company, Kemper Funds, and IMG also represented Stricker in working out a new deal with the company, Brenner said.

Three other golfers, John Cook, Bob Estes and Glen Day, are in the middle of long-term deals that were first negotiated for Kemper and have been transferred to Scudder, Brenner said.

Brenner declined to comment on the value of the deals. But he noted that the market has recently turned up for the top golfers. "It is more of a buyer's market for the players than it has been in the past," he said.

  LONG BALL, HIGH RATINGS: After better-than-expected television ratings last year for the Major League Baseball Players Association's home run hitting contest, ESPN will broadcast the finale of this year's Big League Challenge live next month.

The semifinal and final rounds of the event, which is owned by the union and benefits the Players Trust for Children, will be broadcast on ESPN on Feb. 11, beginning at 5 p.m. EST. Earlier rounds will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2 at later dates.

Judy Heeter, the union's director of licensing, said the union was pleasantly surprised last year when 14 million viewers watched the first Big League Challenge as a taped series on ESPN.

DISSON ADDS WEISS TO ROSTER: Disson Skating signed champion Michael Weiss to an exclusive contract for representation for marketing, endorsements and skating.

Disson Skating is owned by veteran sports marketing executive Stephen Disson, who recently sold his corporate consulting business to IMG. He still retains ownership of the skating company.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@amcity.com.

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