David Lee, Shunned by Many, Liked by Few

Bill Bridges —  July 3, 2009

The art of negotiation is one of mankind’s most evolved skills. Humans evolved into our present relatively properous state because of our ancestors (for the most part) realized that bartering and trading increases overall wealth and welfare and the means of maximizing ones welfare is via negotiation. Reasonable discussion to reach understanding, history has shown, and all of us agree, is preferable to fisticuffs.

So it is not surprising that negotiation has evolved into a discipline, a science. Taught at the finest of higher learning establishments, fueled by gurus such as Bill Ury, most people agree that superior negotiation skills is an important corner stone to career success. Unless you are a sports agent.

Bill Ury’s seminal work “Getting to Yes” speaks of reaching common ground with your adversary. Ury espouses quite common sense concepts such as:

  • Treat your opponent with respect
  • Put yourself in their shoes
  • Don’t deduce their intentions from your fear
  • Don’t blame them for your problem
  • Discuss each other’s perceptions
  • Face saving: make your proposals consistent with their values
  • Be patient
  • Speak about yourself, not about them
  • Speak for a purpose
  • Build a working relationship
  • For a wise solution reconcile interests, not positions
  • Ask “Why?” Ask “Why not?” Think about their choice
  • Realize that each side has multiple interests

Unless you are a sports agent.

If you are David Lee, and your qualification as “training” as sports agent is repeated watching of “Jerry MaGuire” on late night TV, you eschew any serious study of the science of negotiation.  After all, didn’t you take audit “So you want to be a Sports Agent, Intro” class at your junior college? Instead of learning from the master negotiators and teachers, you adopt the Hitlerian techniques of:

  • Denounce your opponent in public
  • Paint your opponent in a corner
  • Threaten your opponent with consequences and repercussions
  • Complain about lack of appreciation from your opponent (Boo hoo, my feeling is hurt)
  • Blame your opponent for the lack of agreement

Especially since you saw that when Shaq publicly called out Jerry Buss (“Pay me”, “Pay me”) he caved and paid Shaq whatever he wanted….. wait, maybe Jerry and the Lakers didn’t cave. In fact, the Lakers have demonstrated time and time again that they will not be bullied, like to handle matters in private; and when you treat them the right way, they always treat you fairly.

In John Belushi’s immortal words, “But Noooooo….”

If the failure to learn from history is a sign of stupidity, then consider yourself labeled. It takes a special sort of skill to achieve what David Lee has been able to achieve.

Your client is a role player one year removed from a season ending foot fracture. (There are well-reported fears of a congential foot defect). Your client was a bench player for half the season and his highest points per game was not double digits. Yet he has certain advantages:

1. His team has just won the championship and the GM has stated publicly that his intention is to re-sign your client (You sneered at such weak negotiation skills)

2. Your client is a native of the city, with family and friends.

3. The system the team plays is a perfect fit for your client, who cannot create his own shot

4. Your client is part of a tight community. His teammates and coaches love him and vice versa

6. Your client wants to continue to play for the team

7. The team is the marquee team in the league, playing in a top 2 market, for the champion. Your client will never have more chances to maximize his celebrity into endorsement money.

8. Contrary to how you are spinning it your client, not the burly guy with the words in his hair, was option A , not option B.

Thus, even during the worst bear market for free agents – a buyer’s market – the team is willing to pay your client more than any other team.

And you still can’t get the deal done. Instead, your client has to sign for a team out of contention in now his fourth state (you know that it is hot and humid in Houston right?) for less money than he was offered by the Lakers. This takes a special skill. Your client should have stayed home with family and friends, playing for a champion, in the spotlight, and for more money. But you blew it.

The only reason David Lee does not take the “Worst Sports Agent” in history is because in 2003, Anthony Carter’s agent, Bill Duffy (now gainfully unemployed as a mortgage salesman) failed to file papers with the Miami Heat that his client was exercising his option to remain with the team for $4.1 Million. Surprised at not finding such paperwork, Pat Riley immediately cut Carter and signed Lamar Odom with the increased cap space.

So in the pantheon of worst sports agents in history the standings are as follows:

Gold: Bill Duffy

Silver: David Lee

Bronze: Everybody else.

Don’t worry David, you have plenty of time to catch up to Duffy. Or maybe not.

—Bill Bridges

Bill Bridges