Agent Falk talks lockout, Jordan's brand, LeBron's mistake (cont.)
SI.com: In terms of agents separating themselves, I'd think that you of all people would see branding as playing a big part. Can't you separate yourself by landing marketing deals, etc.?
Falk: First of all, I think there's only one player in NBA history that has really been branded, and that's Michael Jordan. His brand has lasted from 1984 to 2012, is going strong, is over $1 billion. He's internationally recognized, is the second-most-recognizable person in China, and he truly has a brand that was cultivated.
But when he started, the intent wasn't to manage him to create a brand. It was to manage him to become a great player and the brand grew out of being a great player. I think today's generation of players are trying to skip that step. They're trying to create brands, but you can't create a brand. I think the brand is something that derives from your recognizability, your favorability, your performance, success, personality. It's a blend of different factors.
Michael Jordan developed a brand because it was something that developed naturally. It wasn't something that was manufactured, and I think today too many people are trying too hard -- in a faddish kind of a way -- and the fad things never last. In Michael's generation, there were people like Jim McMahon and Brian Bosworth -- they were fads. They were hot for a couple of years, but [Jordan's] brand lasted because it was built on a very strong foundation.
Everyone has been trying so hard for the last 20 years to find the next Michael Jordan. There will never be another Michael Jordan, and brands come along only occasionally. I think Tiger Woods is a brand. I think Muhammad Ali was a brand. Pele was a brand.
SI.com: Do you see LeBron James as a brand?
Falk: No. First of all, he hasn't won a championship. Second of all, I'm a big LeBron fan and like LeBron personally, but I think he's trying too hard to be a brand, like we saw with The Decision. If I represented LeBron and he told me that he wanted to do a show called The Decision, I'd say, "Great, after you win your first ring, let's do a documentary detailing why you decided to pick Miami. The reason you picked them is because you wanted to win a championship, but until that time The Decision has made you extremely unpopular."
The problem is -- and I like [LeBron's manager] Maverick Carter, as well -- very few players have capable management. I think most of the players are managing their agents, because the agents don't have the confidence or the courage to tell the players what they really think they want to hear. They tell them what they want to hear because they're afraid of getting fired.
SI.com: What about Dwight Howard? Considering his interest in New Jersey seems to be tied to his visions for his brand, how do you see a guy like that?
Falk: In 2012, I find that to be incredible that someone would think that. We live in a digital age, and I think people like Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant -- Kevin Durant is incredibly marketable in Oklahoma. He doesn't have to be in New York or L.A. I think he could be the best player in the league in two years, at the most. And if someone said to you, "If you represented him, would you move him to New York?" I'd say, "No, for what? I think he has a certain homespun credibility being in Oklahoma. It's like Brett Favre being in Green Bay." And I think these guys are being told by these agents who aren't very sophisticated in marketing that you have to be in New York or L.A. to be marketable. Maybe they've never heard of the Internet.
SI.com: You weren't the only getting some attention and scrutiny during the lockout, though. Jordan, as the Bobcats' owner, took a lot of heat for the perceived hypocrisy of his being among the most aggressive owners after having fought for the players back in his day. What did you make of that?
Falk: You know, let's take Kobe Bryant coming out of school. He wore Adidas. Then he got out of Adidas and wore Nike. Now, if you ask him when he started wearing Nike what he thought was a better shoe, Nike or Adidas, and he said, "Nike," does that make him a hypocrite because he used to be with Adidas?
Falk: Why not?
SI.com: Because it's a business deal.
Falk: So if a person bought a business for $250 million, where would you expect him to put his energy? Would it be in the business that you paid $250 million for, or the business he was in before? When he was a player, he pushed for the players. And when he was an owner, he pushed for the owners. That's his job. If he did anything else, it would be the height of stupidity for him to be pushing a deal that's better for players when he invested a significant amount of his money to own the team.
For me, when players of the intelligence of Nick Young make comments like that, if I were in [Jordan's] position, I'd laugh. I mean, where would you expect his loyalties to lie? When I invest money in companies, I expect the company to make decisions that are going to enhance the value of my investment. If they didn't, I would sue them. So I think that Michael, when he buys a team, owes it to himself, his partners, to the citizens of Charlotte, to do the best job he can managing the team. As an intelligent person who was extremely involved in the lockout in '98 at an extremely high level, I think he understands the issues very well. But I don't think Michael feels any differently than I do, and I don't think he necessarily believes that guys who are worth $2 million, $3 million should be making $6 million, $7 million.
If you had $160 million to invest on two funds, and one was called the LeBron James fund and one was called the Jerome James fund, how much money would you put in the Jerome James fund and how much would you put in the LeBron James fund? Under the rules, the league was forcing Cleveland to invest $40 million in the Jerome James fund or some other fund like Jerome James. That's the height of stupidity.
So if Michael Jordan comes out and says he doesn't agree with that, does that make him a hypocrite or does it make him a smart guy? It just makes it clear the people who criticized him don't have the faintest clue how business works in professional sports.
SI.com: What's your bottom line in terms of where the last lockout went wrong?
Falk: At the end of the day, the union is the collective bargaining agent for the players and the agents are the individual bargaining agents for the players. The rules that the union makes dictate how successful the individual agents can be in their individual negotiations. They have a total, 100 percent commonality of interest.
Now, why aren't they on the same team? Why are they on different teams? Because the union has put them on different teams prior to Billy getting the job, and Billy hasn't brought them back and I don't think Billy really even wants to bring them back. There's a very strong antipathy between Billy and the agents. It's got nothing to do with me. It's between Billy and the agents.
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