Coach's Corner

I'm going to take up for arguably the most unpopular person in the world of sports: David Falk. Sports agents are the lawyer jokes of today. If you see the words "sports agent," be sure "sleazy"will follow pretty quickly. I can't think of a subgroup within the population who's been more univer-sally negatively stereotyped. If you asked a group of 10 folks who didn't know a hockey puck from a mouse pad to use three adjectives to describe a sports agent, you can be certain words like good, beautiful, and true wouldn't appear. On the contrary, almost everyone, with the possibleexception of the mother of the sports agent, thinks he's a greasy, slimy sleazebag. Even the agent's clients probably think the guy representing them is a crook though they're not sure exactly how that is.

And for all I know, maybe they are but to be honest, to the best of my knowledge I've never met an agent. I've never actually seen one, except on television, where I religiously watch the HBO series Arlis, which is about, you guessed it, a sleazy, quasi-crooked, amoral (albeit charming) sports agent.

So why do we all hate sports agents? Are they different than, say, Bruce Springsteen's agent? Do you have anything against him?Not me. Why such enmity for a guy doing a job? I suppose it's commonly assumed these are rich and tricky fellows probably all lawyers, too who make a living stealing from athletes. No, no, that's not right. There's one of those pesky stereotypes again. We see an agent negotiating a very public, multimillion dollar contract for some athlete whom we don't like either and they're usually self-importantly talking on a cell phone,leaning on their Mercedes. (At least that's what Arlis does.) I guess I don't really know why we don't like agents except that management always says bad things about them which is an outstanding reason right there to reconsider our opinion, but that's another story.

Which brings us back to David Falk, aka (inside NBA offices) "That Filthy Bastard Falk." By virtue of being Michael Jordan's and Patrick Ewing's agent, Falk automatically vaults to the forefront of agent target practice. Aside from causing the war in the Balkans, Falk's been whispered responsible for everything from defrocking the Easter Bunny to the current state of affairs in the NBA, whatever that means.

Falk recently came under extraordinary fire for his role in engineering two franchise-killing or -making, depending on your point of view midseason trades. The key figures well-respected Minnesota point guard Stephon Marbury and Glen Rice, the best shooter in the game are both Falk clients. The germane facts are these: both Rice and Marbury would be free agents this summer; both were unhappy with their current teams.

Minnesota Timberwolves GM Kevin McHale dripped the venom of a twice-scorned lover. (He was, in fact, twice scorned, losing star forward Tom Gugliotta to free agency last summer and Marbury now.) "When Falk said 'I'm going to help you,'" McHale noted, "that's when I knew we were in trouble. When an agent says those five words, cover your wallet and run like hell."

McHale's bitterness is understandable. He's seen a beautifully crafted master plan to build a basketball team from nothing to something special get blown over like the house of Piggy #1. He took a huge chance with the Wolves' #1 pick in 1995, choosing 17-year-old high school student Kevin Garnett. Next, he snookered Golden State out of Gugliotta. In 1996 he picked up Marbury. With a rock-solid nucleus, Minnesota seemed like a team with a bright future. McHale was a genius. Then it all went to hell and he blamed Falk.

Falk claims he did McHale a "favor" in forcing this trade. No trade and Marbury would walk away this summer. The Wolves get zilchola, just like with Gugliotta. Instead, they received a serviceable guard in Terrell Brandon. Of course this wasn't an even trade, but it's a whole lot more than Chicago got for Scottie Pippen.

Falk may be the most obnoxious man alive, but he does have a job to do, and in this case, if he wanted to destroy McHale, or Minnesota (as he's been accused of), all he needed to do was hold Marbury out until next summer. He helped his client. Minnesota got screwed for sure, but not by Falk. For whatever reason, players don't want to play in Minnesota. Maybe McHale ought to look in a mirror before assessing blame. The agent was doing his job and doing it responsibly.

The Rice deal's a no-brainer. The Charlotte franchise is in total disarray. A team filled with potential a few years ago has been dismantled because of the owner's personal peccadilloes. Rice deman-ded a maximum contract extension, which he knew he wouldn't get. As a free-agent-to-be, Rice was in just the same situationas Marbury. Except in this case, the trade engineered by Falk brought Elden Campbell and Eddie Jones from the Lakers to the Hornets. You could even make a good case that maybe the Hornets got the better of this one. Jones is one of the league's best young players. Campbell's a decent pro. Both will be around a long time.

Truth be told, I wish I were a sports agent.

Write to Coach

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