Chris Webber signed the richest deal in NBA history last week because he had no agent. At first glance the value of the seven-year, $122.7 million contract Webber signed with the Kings ranks behind Kevin Garnett's landmark six-year, $126 million contract with the Timberwolves in 1997. However, Garnett owed his agent, Eric Fleisher, $5 million, at the going rate of 4%, while Webber avoided that fee: He fired his agent, Fallasha Erwin, last October, saying he wanted someone who could take him to "another level."
Instead, Webber farmed out phone calls and meetings to family members, including his aunt Charlene Johnson, who is a lawyer. (Erwin was rehired as a "consultant" early in July and became a spokesman for Webber's team.) By forgoing formal representation, however, Webber may have cost himself a shot at the same deal elsewhere, not a small consideration for a player who had bemoaned Sacramento's remoteness. During the season Webber also spoke of his fondness for potential teammates like Latrell Sprewell of the Knicks and fellow Michigan alum Jalen Rose of the Pacers. Given those signs, fans and the media prepared for a Webber sweepstakes.
But how serious could he have been about leaving Sacramento if he didn't have a high-profile agent to shop him around the league, someone who might have bullied or bluffed the Kings into talking sign-and-trade with other teams? When the NBA instituted salary ceilings for veterans in 1999, it was fashionable to predict that agents would be rendered unnecessary. In reality, while agents aren't essential for star players intent on re-upping with their teams, representation is as important as ever for those looking to move. Patrick Ewing's wish to be traded from New York last summer probably would not have been fulfilled if he hadn't had David Falk to broker a complicated four-team trade involving the Knicks, the Sonics, the Lakers and the Suns.
This year, while agent Bill Duffy was generating interest among seven teams for blue-collar power forward Antonio Davis (who resigned with the Raptors for five years and $64 million), the buzz surrounding the All-NBA Webber in front offices was that you couldn't get a phone call returned from his camp. When San Antonio briefly became a candidate for his services early in July after a spat with free agent David Robinson, the Spurs didn't hear back from Webber's people until July 12—the very day Robinson agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal. "A free agent needs somebody beating the bushes for him," says Sacramento co-owner Gavin Maloof, who adds that the Kings received no sign-and-trade proposals for Webber.
In the end Webber signed for the max with the most talented team in the running. Still, his approach doomed his chances of finding happiness elsewhere—mat is, if he was interested in going elsewhere. "Staying here was a sign mat I'm mature," said Webber at his press conference last Saturday. Depending on what you believe, mat's either an accurate assessment, or the sound of a man spinning.