What would Ari do?
According to the latest news, 6-11, 19-year old Yi Jianlian still has no plans to play for the Milwaukee Bucks, despite the fact that Former China national team coach Qian Chenghai supports Yi’s playing with Milwaukee, and that most objective observers and league-pundits feel that, from a pure basketball standpoint, the Bucks would provide Yi with an ideal playing environment in which to develop and mature as a player.
However, Yi’s rigid stance on the matter thus far may have nothing to do with his best interests as a player, and everything to do with the best interests of his “brand.” Yi was the sixth player picked in the NBA draft and is represented by Dan Fegan, described recently in Sports Illustrated as “the Ari Gold of the NBA.” (Is that a compliment or not?) According to reports, Fegan has aggressively pushed Milwaukee to trade Yi, and wants his client “in a city with a large Asian influence — or at least a larger city. (Milwaukee currently has roughly 1,200 Chinese residents). For those not familiar with Fegan, he works out of Los Angeles, California at Fegan & Associates, Inc. providing “contract and marketing representation services to players aspiring to maximize their career opportunities in the National Basketball Association,” and boasts an impressive client list highlighted by Shawn Marion.
Interestingly enough, according to Sean Deveney, Senior Writer for the Sporting News, “Yi did not pick his own agent — instead, [his former team] the [Guangdong] Tigers did what the [Shanghai] Sharks tried to do to Yao Ming and pick his agent for him. Yao resisted. Yi did not (or, at least, if he tried to resist, he was not successful). The Tigers picked Fegan and he became Yi’s agent…without ever having met Yi.” Deveney opines that perhaps the only reason Fegan landed Yi was by making some sort of under the table, wink-wink type deal with the Tigers, by “[promising] to deliver Yi to a big market with a large Chinese community, where he could make serious endorsement dollars,” which his former team (and Fegan of course) would skim (or slice) a percentage from.
So what are the odds that Yi will end up playing for the Bucks, a team Fegan wouldn’t even allow to work Yi out in the pre-draft run-up? Both Sports Illustrated and Sporting News seem to think that despite their tough talk, Yi’s camp doesn’t have much leverage against the Bucks, who know that the last thing Yi wants to do is sit out the year. In that event, the Bucks would retain his rights (and those overseas), and Yi would be forced to negate his contract with the Tigers and sit out an entire season, whereby he could enter next summer’s draft. But even that is no guarantee (i.e., that he’d go to a major market), and in terms of what’s best for one’s “brand,” sitting out and making no headlines at all is theoretically the absolute worst case scenario of them all.
So you’re Dan Fegan. What do you do? Have you already done a disservice to your client? Or should your number one priority in this case (i.e., with a player with ties to such a huge market in Asia) always be to maximize the marketing revenue in a major U.S. market (i.e., not Milwaukee?) And do ethics even have a place in this discussion? How “ethical” was it for Fegan to “sign” Yi in the first place, and especially in the manner which he allegedly did?
–Jason G. Wulterkens