Hardy has his share of less affectionate detractors. He says he first became acquainted with Richard Williams, Venus and Serena's father and manager, a decade ago and became a "business adviser" to the Williamses. But a source close to the family says that other than helping to set up Serena's endorsement deal with Puma, Hardy was "just a guy who hung around—carrying bags, being a bodyguard, whatever."
Says Hardy, "I remain a factotum—a jack-of-all-trades. I'd show up at Venus's matches wearing a business suit and a bow tie, and a lot of people thought I was a Farrakhanist bodyguard. And if anyone had messed with Venus, I'd have gladly taken them on. Hey, Richard has had me out at practice for eight hours picking up balls."
Still, even Hardy's critics praise his imaginative approach to the Puma deal, a high-risk venture with a huge upside if Serena cracked the Top 10, which she did. "He's a very creative guy," Richard Williams says. "He has worked like a dog. He's honest, and he donates a lot of time to underprivileged kids. He earned this opportunity."
After attempting to hook up with rap giants Sean (Puffy) Combs and L.L. Cool J, Hardy finally got his chance with No Limit. "I've always wanted to be in a hip-hop empire and retain my nerd status," he says, "to be the only guy wearing a suit while everyone else is wearing Fubu."
It's debatable whether Hardy is the most interesting young man in America, but he certainly is among the most reachable. He carries his mobile phone everywhere. He stunned Ricky Williams by taking calls during meetings with NFL coaches and team presidents and even while sitting on the podium during the May 14 press conference announcing Williams's signing with the Saints. "You never know when that all-important call could come," says Hardy, laughing. "I'm trying to create my own cell phone etiquette for the '90s."
How's this for manners: Garries says Hardy answers his phone during romantic dinners. What if they're in bed kissing? "He'll get the phone," she says, sighing. Surely that's as far as it goes? "At the most tender of moments," Garries says, "yep, he'll get the phone."
Yet Hardy chose not to talk about a story in Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal late last month reporting that he faced an indefinite suspension by the NFL Players Association because he had failed the unions take-home, open-book test on the collective bargaining agreement, which is required for agent certification. A source familiar with Hardy's situation says he will appeal the test results to the NFLPA's executive committee, citing the numerous written explanations he submitted with his answers to multiple-choice questions. The source also noted that Hardy was the only agent named in the story, which said a number of agents had failed the test.
Even if Hardy clears his name, many of his competitors believe that the Williams contract is proof enough of his inadequacy. The debate began immediately after the announcement of the eight-year contract, which is worth anywhere from $11.1 million to $68.4 million. Hardy characterized Williams's deal as potentially the richest ever signed by a rookie, hailed the $8.84 million signing bonus and chided those who had assumed that the player's signing with No Limit would lead to a prolonged and acrimonious dispute with the Saints. Meanwhile, New Orleans officials privately glowed over the outcome, as did front-office executives of teams with draft positions in the immediate vicinity. Several of them placed congratulatory calls to the Saints.
Rival agents ripped the deal, especially given Williams's extraordinary leverage. Because New Orleans had given up so much to draft Williams, the NCAA's Division I all-time rushing leader, a drawn-out contract dispute would have been a public-relations nightmare for the club. Saints owner Tom Benson told his chief negotiator, salary-cap consultant Terry O'Neil, that he wanted Williams signed promptly. Happily for Benson, Williams too wanted to be signed quickly, so he could begin the Saints' off-season workout program on time, on May 16, and Hardy pushed to complete a deal before then. "When you have a team by the balls—and no agent I can think of has been in that situation for years—for you to get a deal like [Williams's] makes a mockery of this business," says one NBA agent.
Among other things, Hardy was criticized for agreeing to such a long-term deal: Given the short playing lives of most NFL running backs (an average of 3½ years), this could be Williams's only contract. When negotiations began, in Philadelphia, Miss.—spilling into daily rounds at the Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, where Saints coach Mike Ditka is a member—O'Neil said the team wouldn't agree to a contract with voidable years, which would have allowed Williams to get out of the deal several seasons early by achieving easy-to-reach statistical plateaus. Hardy quickly acceded. Then, playing on Hardy's old-school values, O'Neil persuaded him that an arrangement jacking up Williams's salary if he satisfied relatively soft requirements, such as the Arizona Cardinals gave No. 3 pick Andre Wadsworth last year, "would be disrespectful to Barry Sanders, Walter Payton Jim Brown and the other great backs in NFL history."