Recently, I wrapped up my second year of teaching Sport Agency Management at Indiana University Bloomington. It has been a true blessing to have been given the opportunity to teach driven, intelligent students, which is something I hope to continue doing for the rest of my life.
The Sport Agency Management course is intended to provide students with a greater understanding of the current issues and laws related to the sport agent profession and focuses primarily on the legal and practical way to act in the capacity of a sport agent and/or operate a sport agency. In particular, the focus of the course is on NCAA, state, and federal rules and regulations, players’ association regulations, collective bargaining agreements, client services, and various duties involved in the representation of athletes.
My Fall 2012 students’ term papers required them to solicit practicing sports agents who had not formerly been interviewed for an article on Sports Agent Blog. Students were told to interview their chosen subjects and provide a write-up based on their discussions. With permission from the interviewee and the student, I will be publishing some of the results that were submitted to me for review (and grading). The following is a submission from Mitchell Kaplain, who profiled agent BJ Armstrong.
Benjamin Roy “B.J.” Armstrong was born on September 9, 1967 in Detroit, Michigan. Armstrong attended Birmingham Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield, Michigan, and upon graduating, went on to play for the Iowa Hawkeyes during the 1985 through 1989 seasons. In his 130 game career as a Hawkeye, Armstrong put up some impressive numbers, including a .492 field goal percentage and an .831 free throw percentage. Additionally, he was named Iowa’s all-time leader in assists. Armstrong described his experience at the University of Iowa as eye opening, exposing him to a side of life that he was not previously exposed to growing up in Michigan.
Upon graduating from Iowa, Armstrong was chosen in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls as the 18th overall pick. Armstrong, in reflecting upon that experience, noted that as young man, he had always dreamed of playing in the NBA. He recalled all the hard work and people who helped him achieve success. Armstrong believes that being drafted into the NBA was a minor achievement, as his paramount goal was to become part of a championship team.
BJ’s take on the journey of NBA players is particularly interesting. Mr. Armstrong’s transition from the NCAA to the NBA can be viewed as the quintessential achievement of a basketball player. BJ indicated, however, that many players born in the states grow up with the notion and dream of playing in the NBA with a set path of playing at the NCAA level and continuing on to the NBA. Often times, when this “set path” goes astray, many players become disheartened and close-minded. BJ explained that there is no set path into the NBA because there is no single formula; each player must pursue his or her own journey. He elaborated on this perspective by explaining that each step and opportunity in a player’s unique journey should be appreciated for what it is. Players who embrace each opportunity and appreciate the journey without sticking to a perceived path usually become the success stories.
Armstrong played in the NBA for 11 consecutive seasons and began and completed his career as a Bull. Armstrong played for the Chicago Bull organization from 1989 to 1995 and was then drafted as the first pick in the 1995 expansion draft by the Toronto Raptors. He was then traded by the Raptors to the Golden State Warriors in 1995 and, again traded to the Charlotte Hornets in 1997. Armstrong was then traded to and waived by the Lakers in 1999 and signed with the Orlando Magic just days after his wavier. The following season, he was picked up by the Bulls, where he finished his career.
When probed about the benefits his experience as an NBA-All Star has had on his career as an agent, Mr. Armstrong explained that it certainly helps to have that experience and prior exposure to the NBA. His involvement in the NBA for a number of years in various positions, has allowed him to grow and evolve as an agent. Mr. Armstrong also noted that he feels fortunate to be a part of the game for so many years and has truly experienced the business of sports. His career has assisted him in his role as an agent and provided him with a “been there, done that” mentality.
As a Bull, Armstrong played for the renowned coach Phil Jackson and with the legendary Michael Jordan. Armstrong explained that both of these men were all about professionalism and focused on performance on the court. They emphasized that everything personal should be left off the court. BJ offered some interesting insights when probed about the recent hiring by the LA Lakers of Mike D’ Antoni over previous coach Phil Jackson. Although he seemed indifferent to the decision, he noted that coaching decisions must address the needs of the current team in terms of style of play, fan and team expectations, and more importantly realism. BJ’s assessment of the Lakers decision is based upon his belief that the LA Lakers management and owners felt that Mike D’ Antoni was a better fit for the Lakers than Phil Jackson.
As an NBA player, Armstrong played in a total of 747 games over the course of his career and averaged 9.8 points a game, putting up double digits in each season between 1992 and 1996. He was also a 3-time NBA champion and an NBA All-Star.
Until his retirement in 2005, Armstrong worked as the assistant General Manager for the Chicago Bulls, and then broke into broadcast media at ESPN. Armstrong worked as a basketball analyst for the NBA Fast Break series until 2006, and explained that he left ESPN and NBA Fast Break, believing that there are those people who talk about things and those people who do things. He did not merely want to be an individual who offers his opinion on television, but rather an individual who actively contributes to finding solutions to problems. In 2006, Armstrong left ESPN and joined Wasserman Media Group, a marketing and media group based out of Los Angeles, as a sports agent. Armstrong currently represents 9 NBA players including All-Stars Derrick Rose and Al Horford, and is ranked the 11th best agent based on cumulative client salaries.
When delving into the success of Mr. Armstrong’s career as an agent, it was interesting to hear what he believed to be the most important aspect of the sports agency industry. Mr. Armstrong articulated that the most important aspect of the industry is cognizance of change. He went on to explain that adaptability is a key component of the business, whether it encompasses a collective bargaining agreement, the needs of an athlete, or the way in which the game is played. He went on to state that the agent, along with the profession as a whole, must be flexible, adjusting to the needs of clients. BJ felt that in order to be successful in the sports agency business, you have to be prepared to work in an environment where there are many unknowns.
When asked about an average day in the life of an agent, Mr. Armstrong related his response back to the concept of change. He noted that there is no set routine for a sports agent, as each and every day is different. One day, Mr. Armstrong may be on the phone with various doctors trying to evaluate a second opinion about a player’s health issue, and the next, speaking to a team about a trade or legal language in a contract. As an agent, he knows he is going to be on the phone a good deal of his time at all hours of the day and night. It’s not a nine to five job, as you need to be available to your clients and be able to address their concerns at just about any time.
BJ also offered some advice to individuals trying to break into the industry. One of his main recommendations is to always be persistent and flexible, because as he mentioned earlier, agents are presented with different issues and situations, which must be attended to at a moments notice. If an individual is interested in becoming a sports agent, he or she must be committed, persistent, and always keep on grinding.
When presented with the question “Do you have any dreams or aspirations of starting your own agency or business some day?”, Mr. Armstrong provided insight into his life and some of the reasons for his success. He has always surrounded himself with amazing people and feels very fortunate to work for a company like Wasserman Media Group. It is very rare in BJ’s opinion that someone gets a chance to work with a great team of individuals. As a high school athlete, an NCAA player, an NBA All-Star, and a successful agent at Wasserman Media Group, BJ has always been part of successful teams. He thinks the mentality of surrounding himself with great people will follow him in other endeavors in his life. He always strives to be part of a great group because he feels that it only enhances an individual’s performance. In general, BJ feels that Wasserman has been a great fit for himself and his clients, and provides him with the ability to give clients the best that the sports agency business has to offer.