For the next few years Falk worked for several clients, even developing what he calls a "Dennis Ralston serve," because he spent so much time with Ralston. It was Falk, though, who moved the firm toward signing more basketball players. Dell kept his hand in Falk's ventures—it was he, not Falk, who negotiated Jordan's initial contract with the Bulls ($6.3 million over seven years)—but gradually basketball became Falk's game.
Because of a confidentiality clause in their separation agreement, neither Falk nor Dell (who did not return phone calls for this story) will comment on the reasons for, or the financial specifics of, what Falk calls their "company restructuring." But there was clearly a schism. In the 18 years that Falk and Dell were together, an animosity arose between them. ProServ was primarily Dell's company, but did Falk get too much credit for its success? Or not enough? Were new clients attracted by Dell's tennis background or by Falk's basketball contacts? One source close to Falk believes he left "to get out of Dell's shadow."
The break may well have had something to do with the contrasting personal styles of the two men. Dell is smooth, Falk is abrasive. Dell is country club, Falk is publinx. Dell is the charmer in the parlor, Falk the backroom schmoozer. Dell is Dean Smith, Falk is John Thompson.
Indeed, Smith is quick to point out that he "knew Donald Dell before I knew David Falk." Smith is hesitant, however, to call what happened between him and Falk a falling-out. Smith intends to invite Falk to campus next spring when he presents a group of agents—screened by Smith—for his pro prospects to consider. Falk is hopeful. "I believe I will get another North Carolina client someday," he says. "I really do."
This is the closest Falk will come to sounding wistful. To be sure, Smith still seems leery of the butcher's son, and were it not for Jordan, it's highly unlikely that Falk would purchase a plane ticket for Chapel Hill.
In October of last year Falk overextended himself during a weightlifting session in the basement of Jordan's suburban Chicago house and found himself in intensive care with a blood clot near his collarbone. From his hospital bed he ordered out for Chinese food and conducted a meeting with a prospective baseball client, the Cincinnati Reds' Hal Morris, who subsequently did not sign with ProServ. Falk's five-day hospitalization had a lot to do with his decision to strike out on his own. Like many intense and highly successful men on the north side of 40, Falk talks about "taking stock" and "mellowing" and "mending fences" and maybe even "kicking back" a little bit. Starting a new venture in a cutthroat business might not seem the way to achieve those goals, but Falk and Polk refer to their new venture as "somewhat boutiquey." Says Falk, "We want fewer clients and to take better care of them."
The image of Falk—oval-faced, balding, intense dark eyes, surgically attached at the ear to a telephone—operating a boutique is a bit incongruous. But there you are. "I think about it a lot," says Falk. "Do I want to be 60 years old, chasing after Patrick Ewing Jr. at Georgetown, or trying to sign Marcus Jordan? I want to be known as an artist rather than a mere mechanic, someone who did deals creatively and didn't sign a bunch of players just to sign them.
"Do I worry about whether people like me? Sure I do. Contrary to popular belief, I don't like the heat, and I don't like being unpopular. It bothers me, for example, that Dave Checketts thinks he was treated unfairly in the X deal. I realize that in a small environment like the NBA, I have to deal with the same people over and over, and it would be stupid of me to constantly burn bridges with teams.
"My job is to get a great contract for the player. I do not have loyalty to the team; I have loyalty to the player. It would be great if everyone liked me and respected me. But if I had to take one or the other, it would be respect."
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