I remember years ago at the outset of my career having a conversation with an NBA All-Star and asking him what was the main driving factor in the agent he chose. This was a Top 3 pick who came into the league with a lot of fanfare and hype and went on to build a Hall of Fame career. I remember his answer at the time surprising me and sticking with me and always being somewhere in my mind as I deal with clients today.
He told me that the main reason he picked his agent was he explained things better than anybody else and gave him and his family a comfort level to navigate everything about the NBA – specifically the pre-draft process – that they did not know. He told me that the truth at the time is he and his family were completely overwhelmed by so many things coming at them so fast.
All that struck me in its honesty. As outsiders, you often take for granted all the life experiences and changes that all the kids and families are trying to navigate and you forget how completely overwhelming the situation is and should be.
With that in mind, it has always been my belief that what you really are trying to do during the pre-draft process is to (in a sense) pull back the curtain as quickly as possible for the people involved. I’ve found that you can make the pre-draft process as complicated or as uncomplicated as you choose for it to be. However you approach it, though, it must be anchored in the function that the first step in trying to give a player the tools to develop a career. The draft is the beginning point of all of this, it is not the point of all of this. In the upcoming draft, someone is going to go No. 1 and someone is going to go No. 60. As we have learned over the years, draft position does not guarantee a successful career.
In terms of the preparation for the process and the interviews specifically, everything that I do comes from the perspective of learning how to communicate and create a comfort level quickly with kids to allow them to get to a version of themselves that allows them to have authentic exchanges with teams. My main hope for players in every meeting is for the team to like them as people and feel connected to them and their story in some kind of way.
The NBA – and sports in general – is a people business. It is rooted in relationships and as such it is human nature to pull for people you feel connected to and do everything you can to assist them and yourself to have success. For young players entering the NBA, you want to get to a point where as many people as possible feel personally invested in your development as it gives you the biggest opportunity for success.
When we are preparing for an interview with a team, I’ve always personally found it cliché to overcoach. Instead, what I will do is make sure the player knows the names of every person they are going to meet from teams and what their backgrounds are.
I got this idea from having a client on the Dallas Mavericks some years ago. The Mavs were one of the first teams to hire a full-time sports psychologist (Don Kalkstein). On game days, they would give players brief pop quizzes and I noticed one of the questions my client got every time was about the names of the refs that night. It’s something that really made sense to me. One thing that NBA referees hate is when players attempt to address them during a game and they begin the conversation with “Hey, ref” – especially young players. This simple thing of making sure you know the refs’ name totally changes the tone of every interaction. I took this premise and have attempted to apply it to meetings.
If you are going to meet with the Miami Heat, obviously anyone who has been around basketball can walk into a room and know who Pat Riley is, but as a nervous 19-year-old… Do you know who Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon or Chet Walker are? In a lot of ways, those three have as much input on your future when you walk out of the room as Pat. Besides, if you are prepared for little things in the room it will help you relax, which will then help you get to your natural self quicker, which will hopefully allow for that connection to be made… paving the way for good things in the future.
Bernie Lee is an NBA agent