The Ask: Negotiating an NBA Contract

I just ran across an interesting article from the Pomona alumni magazine about the night agent Jason Levien met with Pat Riley and Randy Pfund to demand the maximum for Udonis Haslem (which he ended up getting). These stories are far too rarely told in public.

Tom Nugent writes:

Levien’s high-adrenaline game plan: Sit down with the second-winningest coach in the history of the game and his general manager, the wonderfully named Randy Pfund, and then demand the maximum possible payment (under NBA salary rules) for his client—a cool $6 million a year over the next five years.

In a scene that looked as if it might have been lifted directly from the screenplay of Jerry Maguire, the 1996 Hollywood blockbuster about the moral struggles of a high-octane sports agent on the make, the young lawyer and Pomona political science major had come to this meeting with a clear-cut directive from his client: Nail down the maximum payday, and don’t let Riley jawbone you into settling for a lesser amount.

An intimidating assignment?

“I grew up in New York City as a fan of Pat Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers during their ‘golden era’ in the 1980s,” recalls Levien. “As a seventh- and eighth-grader, I admired Riley and read and watched just about everything about him. And there I was, two decades later, getting ready to ask for more than $30 million from the man who’d coached Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“It didn’t take me long to get down to business. Right before the meeting, as I was mentally preparing for the negotiations, I told myself: ‘OK, Riley was a great coach, a true legend of the game—but at the end of the day, he’s just another human being. Go in there and do your job!’”

I also noticed that Levien and I have the same favorite book: My Losing Season, by Pat Conroy.