Like a lot of people in basketball, I had the news of the upcoming AmeriLeague catch my attention over the summer. As an agent, my background over the years is working with players that would be prime targets of such league if legit. I have had numerous NBA players who started their careers and proved their talents and values by playing in places other than the NBA. I kept seeing the headlines and made a mental note that at some point I would either hear from the people or should seek them out myself.
Over the years, I have dealt with every possible basketball entity and personality imaginable. There was the team owner in Ukraine who, after months of falling behind payments and promises, told me this when I talked about getting lawyers involved: “OK, Bernie let’s do this. Let’s have you send your lawyer to see me here in Kiev and I’ll be very happy to meet him at the airport and put him in the trunk of my car.”
Or there was this ABA team owner of a team in Chicago who had trouble paying for the bus to the first regular-season game.
If I have learned one thing in this business, it’s that on the fringes of professional basketball if something sounds too good to be true unfortunately it often is.
So I waited until one day I got a call from an 818 area code and had a very polished gentleman who identified himself as Cerruti Brown on the other end. I had asked some other people questions about Mr. Brown prior to this call and no one knew anything of substance. It seemed to be by design, which raised some questions… But I was open to hearing the story.
We had a very nice and pleasant conversation and I agreed with many of the points Mr. Brown was raising in reference to creating an alternative and offering a better paying option than the D-League or overseas for American players who were not in the NBA. If the most important question involved – financing – was in place, clearly the concept was a home run. After we had established the genius behind the concept, it was my turn to ask questions that I knew would tell me everything I needed to know.
1. How do you plan to market the league and how are you going to make money?
Answer: “We are going to broadcast the games online and try and raise interest to a point through fan attendance and engagement to entice sponsors and try to sell the league at some point.”
Seemed fair enough.
2. What have you done to secure signage, balls and uniforms? How are you going to make this look like a professionally-run league as opposed to a bunch of recognizable players playing pickup basketball?
The answer I received to this question let me know right away that the AmeriLeague would unfortunately never exist in real life.
“We haven’t thought a lot about that yet, but I am sure we will figure something out. We haven’t ordered uniforms or signage yet but that should be the easiest part.”
From my experience working with the NBA, the D-League and some of the best-run foreign leagues is, I know the true genius and true beauty of competitions is in the fine details.
For example: Whenever trades or signings happen in the NBA, what fans see is the end result. Player A was in City B, gets the call and 24 hours later said player is in uniform playing for the new team. The logistics behind these transactions is where the genius and glue of the league actually exists.
Last year I had a client in China, John Lucas III, whose season was coming to a close. At the very same time, the Pistons had a player sustain a season-ending injury and it opened an opportunity for John in Detroit. All that remained was the really simple human element of getting a player located in Fujian (China) to Detroit, Michigan ready to play basketball against the best players in the world. Oh, and the timeline to complete this task is 24-48 hours. Cue the scene in the Wizard of Oz where you are not supposed to look behind the curtain.
John played a game on a Saturday in Fujian and was on the practice floor in Detroit Monday morning, cleared, contract signed, in shoes that matched his team’s uniform and wearing a uniform that actually fit and had his name and number.
I had another client years ago that signed with the Chicago Bulls while in Erie, Pennsylvania at 1 pm who needed to be in Chicago for a 7 pm game. What took place to get him there was nothing short of amazing. It included great moments in sports history such as Randy Brown navigating Chicago traffic at 4 pm and making it from O’Hare to The United Center in under 50 minutes.
The only task we didn’t accomplish was my client’s uniform, as he had to check into the game with a uniform with no name on the back. The consolation was the last Bulls player that ever had to do that was Michael Jordan because someone had stolen his jersey. It was good company to be in.
Being in situations over the years where I have either been tasked with or had to watch a team execute these fine details has given me an extreme appreciation for the machine the NBA and now the D-League have created.
Now I don’t tell these stories to display how smart I think I am or how vastly experienced I am or even to discount the idea or concept that whoever this person is came up with. The truth is, it was and remains a great idea and because of that it sucked in so many notable players, media and in some ways got past the spider senses of what I am sure are some very intelligent agents. If anything, the fact that this scam made it this far points out an opportunity in North American basketball for a mid-point between the NBA and the NCAA.
To me the answer is the D-League and the construction of a business model that better compensates players of all stages of their careers to stay and participate in a league that gives them the opportunity to showcase themselves for the NBA and also allows younger players to be trained specifically to play in the NBA with these veteran players. That might be a rant for another day, but from the players’ perspective it should be very clear that the NBADL and its business are firmly on the radar and its planning of today and where it is going in the future is something that we should all be investing in and paying attention to.
The aspect of this debacle that I can’t seem to understand is what was the end game for Mr. Brown (or whatever his actual name is). Where was the profit? Where was the pay off? And why did this person go through the trouble of creating such an elaborate lie?
The more I have thought about this, the more I think sometimes there simply is no clear answer and it’s mostly just best to move on.
Bernie Lee is an NBA agent. His website is www.leebasket.com.