SBJ/June 30 - July 6, 2003/Labor Agents

Agent Walsh remembers the game when top pick Fleury made his leap

It was on the last day of 2002, during a game between Canada and Finland at the world junior championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that agent Allan Walsh realized that he might be representing the No. 1 pick in this year's NHL draft.

Walsh's client and Canada's starting goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, sick and weak from the flu, had planned to sit out the game, much to the dismay of the country's hockey fans. But after Finland scored three goals in quick succession, Canada's coach asked Fleury if he could play.

"Fleury put on his mask and hopped over the bench," Walsh said. Fleury stopped Finland from scoring again that night, and Canada won 5-3 as the crowd chanted the 18-year-old goaltender's name.

"A legend was born," Walsh said.

On June 21, at 5 a.m., Walsh got a phone call and found out that Pittsburgh was trading up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the draft.

"That is when we knew for sure," Walsh said. "It was a pretty dramatic moment. We sat down with his family and told him he was going to go No. 1. He just smiled and said, 'That's great.'"

Last week, Walsh was fielding calls from both sports and non-sports companies interested in Fleury, who has a clean endorsement slate.

"We have waited until after the draft before we do anything," Walsh said. "Already, it's the Monday after the draft, and so many people have called and so many are interested."

Having a client picked No. 1 was a thrill for Walsh and his partner, David Schatia, who started their agency in 1995. First called Can-Am Sports, they joined the sports division of Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz's Artists Management Group in 2000. Walsh and Schatia left Ovitz's company in early 2002 before AMG folded.

They resurrected Can-Am Sports and then formed a joint venture in late 2002 with successful baseball agency Beverly Hills Sports Council.

Beverly Hills Sports Council-Hockey now represents 35 players under NHL contract, including stars Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, Scott Hartnell and Richard Zednik. The company also represents 25 minor league hockey players and NHL prospects.

The hockey business boasts 15 employees and offices in Beverly Hills, Calif.; Montreal; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; the Czech Republic and Russia.

Hockey agents probably travel more than agents in any other sport. Walsh recently figured out that he spent 220 days on the road last year, and logged more than 250,000 air miles.

Last week, he was just enjoying it all.

"It's great to see the business grow the way it has the last several years," he said.

NBA LABOR DISCUSSIONS UNDER WAY: Officials of the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have held three meetings in the last few weeks to discuss extending their collective-bargaining agreement.

"No written proposals have been exchanged," said NBPA spokesman Dan Wasserman. "The conversations have been very preliminary and very general."

Wasserman characterized the tone of the discussions as "cordial."

The current agreement expires after the 2003-04 season if the NBA owners do not exercise their right to extend it. The owners must decide by Dec. 15 whether to extend through the 2004-05 season.

BRANION APPEALS NFLPA SUSPENSION: Football agent Joby Branion, an executive with agent David Dunn's company, Athletes First, earlier this month appealed the NFL Players Association's decision to suspend him from representing players for one year.

The NFLPA disciplinary committee voted in February to suspend Dunn for two years and Branion for one, based on testimony during a trial last fall that the union said showed that both agents violated its agent conduct regulations.

A federal jury last year awarded Dunn's former employer, Leigh Steinberg, $44.66 million, finding that Dunn breached a contract and engaged in unfair competition when he left Steinberg's agency with Branion and others to form Athletes First. Dunn and Athletes First have both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wake of the court judgment.

Both Dunn's and Branion's suspensions were intended to take effect after an NFLPA arbitrator ruled on the agents' appeals.

Bankruptcy judge Robert Alberts, who is overseeing Dunn's personal bankruptcy case, has denied the NFLPA's request to suspend Dunn. The NFLPA appealed the decision. U.S. District Judge Nora Manella is expected to hear the union's appeal this summer.

A decision on Branion's NFLPA appeal is also expected later this summer.

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

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