Jay-Z isn't your father's sports agent

Posted: June 12, 2013

SPORTS AGENTS should be afraid, very afraid.

If reports are true and NBA superstar Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is about to the sign with Roc Nation Sports, a new playa has entered the field of sports representation, and he might be the best hustler of them all.

Agent Rob Pelinka, of Landmark Sports, confirmed in a statement last week that Durant, the 24-year-old four-time All-Star, four-time first-team All-NBA and three-time scoring champion, has parted ways with him.

Now it's just a matter of seeing whether the other sneaker drops and Durant signs on with the fledgling Roc Nation Sports agency created in April by Shawn Carter - aka Jay-Z.

A few weeks ago, I blogged on PhillyDailyNews.com how Roc Nation had added New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith to its small base of clients, which includes New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz and WNBA rookie Skylar Diggins.

I pointed out how the potential for Jay-Z as a budding sports agent could skyrocket if he could land major deals for Cano, a free agent to be, and Smith.

Apparently, Roc Nation didn't have to show its mettle before a legitimate superstar decided to climb on board. Durant is an NBA megastar. Besides LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, perhaps no NBA player has a higher global profile than the charismatic Durant.

This could be a game-changer for Roc Nation Sports. Think about it.

David Falk was a solid NBA agent with a client base that included such No. 1 picks as John Lucas (1976), Mark Aguirre (1981) and James Worthy (1982). But in 1984, Falk signed the No. 3 overall pick and altered the landscape. Powered by the Michael Jordan brand and with such successive clients as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson, Falk was the dominant agent through the 1980s and '90s and trailed only commissioner David Stern as the most influential person in the NBA.

Similarly, NFL agent Leigh Steinberg didn't become an inspiration for agents until he had negotiated the landmark deal for Steve Young with the USFL and Troy Aikman with the NFL.

Drew Rosenhaus was a 22-year-old soon to graduate from Duke law school when he used his connections as a Miami graduate to tap into the Hurricanes' pipeline to the NFL. He has negotiated over $1 billion in contracts.

Scott Boras' first big breakthrough came in 1983 when he negotiated one of the biggest contracts ($7.5 million) in baseball history for closer Bill Caudill, of the Seattle Mariners. He would go on to negotiate the first $50 million contract (Greg Maddux), $100 million (Kevin Brown) and $200 million (Alex Rodriguez).

As a hip-hop music and business mogul, Jay-Z has a leg up that those super agents didn't start with.

His presence, first as a performer and now as an entrepreneur, precedes his foray into sports representation. He doesn't have to sell himself to athletes, because they already know what he can do.

"[Durant] doesn't want a traditional NBA agent anymore," a league source told YahooSports. "He wants Jay-Z to handle his branding . . . He had a chance to be with his idol and couldn't say no."

It's as much about the branding as it is the game.

Athletes today are individual corporations with a goal to maximize their financial potential on the field as well as off it.

Pelinka, who also represents Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers, and James Harden, of the Houston Rockets, helped Durant become one of the NBA's most marketed players in terms of national television spots.

Durant had national spots with Nike, Degree, Sprint, Gatorade and others, but I doubt anyone believes he won't be presented with even more national and international marketing campaigns if he taps into the vast entertainment industry created by Jay-Z and his Roc Nation conglomerate.

But before Jay-Z can represent anyone, he has to sell his stake in the Brooklyn Nets. NBA rules stipulate that agents can't both represent professional athletes and own part of a team.

Whether anyone over age 35 likes it or not, Jay-Z has a powerful presence with athletes who are in the prime of their careers. His position in the world of music, fashion and entertainment would be a lure to any athlete looking to expand his brand beyond just his sport.

The threat that Roc Nation Sports presents to the sports representation hierarchy is why I believe the NFL Players Association has accused Jay-Z, who is not yet licensed to be an agent, of acting in the role of a runner in the recruitment of Smith.

NBA agents should be just as leery.

After the 2013-14 season, superstar players such as James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade and John Wall will be in some sort of renegotiation position.

Those players will be paying attention to what Roc Nation does to raise Durant's profile and fatten his bank account.

If they like what they see, a lot of agents could have more than 99 problems as they watch clients jump ship for Jay-Z.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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