Falk concedes that he overstepped on the Dantley matter; in fact, he calls it his biggest disappointment. He insists, however, that Jordan's challenge to NBA marketing policy was important and valid, and that in the long run it will not unduly damage Jordan's image. He might be wrong, but he will argue the point ad infinitum.
This much can be said for Falk: He steps up to the plate, digs in and sticks his chin out. Other agents may agree with Falk's tactics, but they sit back and let him take the heat.
Falk's relentless style can be better understood in light of his middle-class upbringing in Seaford, N.Y. His father, Martin, who owned two butcher shops, is a no-nonsense man to whom Falk was not close. His mother, Pearl, was a teacher who earned two master's degrees and spoke six languages. Falk calls her "a driven woman." When he came home with an excellent combined SAT score of around 1,400, she was disappointed. "You should've done better," she told him.
He is a by-product of what he calls "their oil-and-water marriage." Falk admits that, like his mother, who died in 1988, he is a "compulsive perfectionist." He gets an attack of indigestion each time he is referred to as "Jordan's agent," reminding everyone that he is a lawyer. His personal life is inseparable from his business. He and his wife, Rhonda, have two children: Dantley is godfather to Daina, 9, and Esiason is godfather to Jocelyn, 4.
When Falk starts to work the telephone, the time of day becomes virtually meaningless. All he's looking for is a dial tone. Trying to make contact with Falk at his Rockville, Md., home, says Polk, is like trying to get through to a talk-radio show. "I just keep dialing and dialing and getting that busy signal," says Polk. "Eventually I fall asleep."
Falk has an excellent memory, which he keeps fine-tuned by memorizing facts like all the Heisman Trophy winners for the last 35 years, "I have no reason to know that," he says. "I just do."
He is his father's son, too—a blue-collar, dirt-under-the-fingernails lawyer who still remembers to dump the fat buckets from the butcher shop every night. To make his point, Falk distinguishes himself from two men he respects in the business: Bob Woolf of Boston, who is Larry Bird's agent, and California-based Leigh Steinberg, who is best known for his NFL clients. "Whenever Leigh and Bob are asked how they get clients, they always say, 'Oh, we get calls,' " says Falk. "Well. I've been in this business for almost 20 years, and I represent some of the best-known basketball players in the game, and I never get a call. You have to work at it."
Jordan likes to razz Falk about what he sees as a certain sartorial deficiency. "You wouldn't know David has a lot of money by the way he dresses," says Jordan. "And he still has a great belief in getting things for free."
Jordan's favorite Falk story concerns the time that Falk was in Portland, Ore., with Bill Strickland, a former ProServ associate who today heads up IMG's basketball division. A thief broke into their rental car, went through the bags and took everything except Falk's clothes. "Think of it," says Jordan. "Even a thief did not want David's wardrobe."
After graduating from Syracuse in 1972, Falk set his sights on the burgeoning held of sports representation. As a third-year law student at George Washington University, he was steered toward Dell, whose firm—which at the time was called Dell, Craighill, Fentress & Benton—handled a number of tennis stars, including Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe, and a few basketball players. Although Falk can laugh about it now, it has stuck with him that he called Dell dozens of times just to get him on the phone to set up an interview. Falk finally came aboard as an unpaid law clerk, and after graduating he persuaded Dell to hire him (starting salary: $13,000).