SBJ/July 14 - 20, 2003/Labor Agents

NBA union chief tells agents he wants to address problem of client stealing

NBA players union chief Billy Hunter told NBA player agents gathered in New York last month that he plans to crack down on the practice of client stealing.

The subject came up when a number of agents, gathered at the National Basketball Players Association's annual agent meeting, complained of what they say is a growing problem of rivals soliciting their clients, according to participants at the meeting.

"Billy said he would address those concerns, and he did indicate he would consider convening a group of agents to provide some input into rules and regulations affecting the poaching issue," a union source said.

One agent at the meeting said he got the impression the union would convene what he called "a cross section of agents" to study the problem — not just ask the most powerful agents for their input.

"[Client poaching] has been a problem for a long time, and we all know it," the agent said.

Agents currently are prohibited from offering inducements for players to switch agents, but they are not prohibited from having discussions with players about switching agents. That compares with the NFL Players Association, where agents are prohibited from soliciting other agents' clients except at certain limited times.

Accusations of client stealing have rocked many an NFLPA agent meeting in the past. The NFLPA has an arbitration mechanism for agents to bring grievances against other agents who sign their clients, and there was talk at the NBPA meeting of adopting a similar procedure, sources said.

NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen has previously told SportsBusiness Journal that although complaints of client stealing are common, accusations are difficult to verify. In most cases players must testify against agents in order to prove solicitation, and many are reluctant to do so.

PROGRESS IN MILICIC TALKS: Marc Cornstein, agent for No. 2 NBA draft pick Darko Milicic, said that although there is no agreement, he has made significant progress in talks with Milicic's former team, KK Hemofarm.

Prior to the draft, it was reported that Hemofarm officials were demanding $10 million to let Milicic out of what they claim is a contract to play for them through the 2008-09 season.

Cornstein declined to talk numbers but said Hemofarm representatives "have come down significantly" from their original asking price.

"We are still not on agreeable terms, but we are in the ballpark," he said last week.

Meanwhile, Cornstein said the fact that he represented three international players taken in the first round of this year's draft and one player selected in the second round may help his company, Pinnacle Management Corp., recruit both foreign and U.S. players in the future.

"To get your foot in the door, you have to have a tremendous record," he said, "and I think off this draft we can say not just to international players, but to any player, that we are a big player in the industry today."

Buccaneers receiver Keyshawn Johnson is becoming a political player in the L.A. area.

JUST GIMME THE DAMN BILL: Could Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson enter politics after his playing days are over? Johnson will host a $1,000-a-head cocktail party fund-raiser at his Bel Air, Calif., estate this week for the Democratic National Committee, said Jerome Stanley, Johnson's agent. About 150 guests are expected, Stanley said.

Stanley was coy in answering whether Johnson, a Los Angeles native, planned to run for office when he retires from football.

"You never know," Stanley said. "Keyshawn certainly has the qualities to be a successful elected official."

SFX SIGNS GOLFER: SFX Sports Group has signed two-time All-American golfer Simon Nash to a multiyear management and marketing deal. Brad Buffoni, who will be Nash's primary agent. 

ENSLOW SIGNS DEAL: Freestyle motocross rider Seth Enslow has signed a deal to be the featured rider in a Fluent Entertainment video game. Enslow is represented by Newport Beach, Calif.-based McClellan Sports Management Group.

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

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