I’ve told you how I’d start a playing career if stating today; now let’s talk about hooking up with agents.
In my professional basketball experience, basketball agents have been both a wildly overrated and wildly underrated entity when it came to the advancement of my career (read: “whether I got a next playing opportunity or not”). As with anything, there were positives and negatives.
Being that I hear from so many pro-basketball-hopeful players, I know that many of you are actively seeking out agents to represent you.
The goal of this post is to explain to you what I know about agents from my own experiences, as well as what I would do today, as an active player, to get an agent to represent me and actually get me a job (the only thing, at least initially, a basketball agent is necessary for).
Some things you should know about me as context for what you’re about to read:
- I played NCAA Division 3 college basketball, and most D3 players don’t go pro. An NCAA Division 1 player, by contrast, would have an easier time landing an agent, as in the agent’s eyes, because of your higher-level background, you’d have a higher perceived chance of being signed.
- I’m an entrepreneur and salesperson, and was both even while pro hooping. I know how to promote and sell myself — better, in my humble opinion, than most athletes. When it comes to selling yourself, what came/comes naturally to me may not be as easy for you — but you will need this skill to keep your career afloat, especially if you’re coming from a less-than-D1 background, and because anyone can freely promote themselves online these days.
- I am not affiliated with any agents or agencies, and don’t have any to recommend to you/you to.
I’ve written several related posts on playing professional basketball, which can all be found here under the “Pro Basketball” heading. I’d strongly suggest that you bookmark that page and visit it frequently (or send your ballplayer friends there for the info they need on playing pro).
Also see these posts which are specifically about agents:
- Overseas Basketball And Money: What You Should Know
- How To Find An Agent For Playing Overseas Basketball
- 7 Ways To Make Money In Basketball Outside of Playing, Coaching or Training
- Should You Pay Any Fees Before An Overseas Tryout?
- Why A Basketball Agent Doesn’t Need You
NOTE: There are deeper, more detailed reasonings for every single point in the bullets below; read the full post to understand the context. Do not take any of the below points at face value without understanding the context. Read the whole post, and you will have said context.
Where Agents Helped Me In My Career:
- My first agent got me my first paying job in Lithuania.
- That same agent got me a “tryout” (though I knew I’d be on the team) with the Harlem Ambassadors — not the best basketball job, but better than the overnight at the supermarket I’d been doing before that.
- A different agent shared valuable advice with me on what leagues would be a career advancement, and which ones were a step backwards for me, based on where I was playing at the time we connected.
- Years later, another agent took me around a country and shopped me to multiple teams via workouts and participation in practices. He even got me a hotel to stay in and directed me to the town’s Internet cafe (extra points for the Internet cafe directions).
- This same agent advised me on how coaches and agents looked at American players, and how I needed to play if I wanted to impress them and earn a contract offer (his advice for that situation: play more selfishly and score more points, which I was happy to do).
Where Agents Were Useless For Me:
- The most powerful, highly-connected agent I ever signed with helped me get… zero playing jobs.
- The best (read: most active and most-jobs-created) agent I ever had: Myself!!!
- One agent was notoriously difficult to get in touch with; I called the guy at least 25 times one Summer-Fall before deciding it wasn’t worth it anymore. Ten years have passed and I still have not spoken to this guy.
- Many agents I contacted treated me like a peasant who should be happy getting a response from them. Perhaps it’s my ego that perceived the situation as such, but I hated that feeling. They were the ones with the power after all, at least at that moment.
- It was hard to tell how much or how hard an agent was really working for me. Being that there was only one metric to judge them by — signed or unsigned — this isn’t really their fault. But I wanted some damn control over my career. It got to the point where I stopped seeking agents and handled my own business.
All that said, here’s what I would tell myself about agent-landing in basketball today.
Getting Signed Is A Marketing Job: Yours (And Your Agent’s).
No team can sign you if they are unaware of your existence.
By marketing, I mean: Building and cultivating your relationships with pro basketball teams and agents.
While you can play for only one team at a time, you can maintain favorable relationships with as many movers and shakers — agents, managers, coaches — as possible, even while you’re under contract elsewhere. Teams often change out players year-by-year, and we all prefer doing business with people we’re familiar with, to someone we’ve never heard of.
The key to staying hired and paid, in any industry, is keeping your name circulating, with good reports around it, as much as possible. As they say in showbusiness, keep your name in the news.
So, when you sign a deal with Team A, continue to communicate with the coach of Team B, the management of Team C, and with Agent D: Your current contract will one day end, and you will need (or want) a new/better contract/team to play for. If these relationships are already in place, even better for you.
If you go and get a deal on your own, without an agent, it’s SUPER important that you continue contacting agents while you’re playing out that deal: an already-signed player who’s currently overseas (assuming the USA is “home”) is 100x more valuable to an agent than an unsigned player in the USA who’s waiting on a call. This is double important — 200x — when you’re playing really well under your current deal and have proof of it (i.e., game film and verifiable stats).
Know That You Don’t Need An Agent.
There are professional basketball teams who deal only with agents; they would not sign a player directly who was representing himself. One reason for this would be that the team has relationships with agents and trusts that these agents will send suitable players who can play at the level the team needs.
On the other hand, there are teams who prefer to sign players directly, without dealing with agents. One reason for this: Agents are known to negotiate for higher pay and more overall contractual commitments than what the team initially offers; players themselves are known to blindly accept what the team initially offers (though not always).
You can get yourself signed to play professional basketball without agent representation. Just understand that it will be a grind on your part, as you are the only person out there working for you. So every minute you’re not promoting you, no one is (see previous point).
What you need to do: Commit to a schedule and plan of when and how you’ll do your marketing work.
Your Resume Is Your Best Product.
Talk is cheap. In pro basketball, talk is less than cheap; it costs you money to talk about what’s unproven.
The best thing you can do for your career: play somewhere and play well, and have proof of doing so.
This is the #1 thing an agent needs to get you signed, and the #1 thing you need to get anyone to pay attention to you.
This is why a D1 player has more healthy pro basketball prospects than a D3 player: The very fact of playing D1 ball elevates that player, while the “D3” on the other player’s resume hurst more than it helps. Neither of these is to say it’s impossible — remember who’s writing this — just filling you in on what you’re going into.
On that note…
Film. Film. Film.
This is your proof: Game footage.
The clearer the video, the better.
The bigger the crowd, the better.
The higher the level of the competition, the better.
And, of course, the better you play, the better.
Stats can only say so much, especially if they’re not posted on some official league/team website. An agent needs to see who he/she’s working with to take you on. Would you sign a player who you’d never heard of or seen play, who played at some college or semi pro league you had also never heard of?
Get film. Get the best you can get, then get something even better. Be ruthless about getting everything recorded. Period.
Stand Out From The Crowd.
You’re not the only hungry player trying to get an agent to help them out. Agents are getting emails and calls from players just like you every day. What are you gonna do to stand out? What skill/achievement on your resume makes you unique? What experience do you have that proves you can hold down a job in pro basketball?
Why would someone notice you, what with all these other players around?
If you don’t have an answer, keep asking yourself this until you get one.
The Direct Effect.
The best way to get any human being’s attention is to deal directly, face-to-face. We can ignore emails, silence phone calls, and take our time with texts. It’s hard not to notice a person who is physically right in front of us.
Of course, you can’t physically show up tp every agent’s doorstep and make your pitch… actually you could, but that probably wouldn’t make sense logistically. What being direct means, then, is to know the hierarchy of what we pay attention to (from most effective to least):
- Physical contact (face-to-face communication)
- Phone calls
Angle your communication to be as direct as possible to better your chances of getting someone’s attention. And when you get the attention, have something useful to say.
Be Where The Game Is At.
Agents make money by placing their players in playing jobs; the more players placed and the more money those players are making, the more the agent makes. A good agent is always looking for new, signable players to represent.
Key word: Signable.
Not just any player, but a player who, based on his resume, appears to be a contract waiting to happen. If you think you’re that, you need to utilize the Direct Effect and be where those agents are.
Where would that be?
Imagine you were an agent. And you’re looking for players to represent. Where would you go?
Exposure camps. Team tryouts. Pro player workouts. Go to where they’re already looking.
Be Ready To Put Yourself On.
It is possible that you could do all of the above, and there still would be no agents interested in representing you (this happened to me).
Now what? Are you gonna give up on the dream?
Now it’s time to put yourself on. You can be the best agent you’ve ever had. Your enthusiasm about yourself is the best marketing strategy you could possibly employ, agent or no agent.
Ok, now you know what you need to know regarding agents. Best of success to you.