Interview With The Agent: James Dennis
Last week, I was fortunate enough to interview James Dennis, Founder and CEO of Four Point Play Management. He is a NBA and FIBA licensed player agent as well as a member of the New York bar and a professor at St. John’s University.
James is a self-proclaimed life-long lover of the game of basketball. He started Four Point Play Management four years ago at the age of 31 and has made a name for himself by having every one of his clients over the last two years sign a professional contract – something that is unheard of in the representation industry.
Thank you to James for taking the time to speak with SAB. For more information on Four Point Play Management and James Dennis, visit the agency’s website. Our interview can be seen below.
Zach Seybert: When did you know that you wanted to be an agent and how did you get started?
James Dennis: Basketball has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I have always loved and been intrigued by the business side of the game. I knew my freshman year after completing my introductory courses that I wanted to couple business and law with my love for the game somehow.
I got started by studying and working with agents that had success in the industry, and then supplementing my knowledge with ideas that I believed would represent my clients more effectively.
ZS: Why did you start Four Point Play Management instead of trying to work for an already-established agency? How do you differentiate yourself from the bigger agencies?
JD: Well, I really believed I had something I could contribute unique to this industry. My business model is non traditional, however, I feel it benefits the agent, player, and basketball franchise tremendously. My agency is unique in that I don’t recruit every player that could possibly play professional basketball. I go after the guys that can be dominate or have a substantial impact on the professional level. I stick to a high or selective criteria while the majority of agents are just trying to sign guys that may have the potential of making a team. Year after year, the players I sign are able to matriculate through the leagues of Europe and play in better leagues at an extremely high percentage. Many players are done after one year because the agent isn’t selecting the proper players and the players are put into leagues that don’t coordinate with their level of play.
From day one, I have only signed high level, all-conference players that I felt can dominate. I’m certain basketball franchises are noticing the consistently strong impact my players have in their leagues, and players are noticing the high percentage we are able to retain contracts. I carefully craft a path that is certain to get my guys to the highest level of play. The high percentage in which my players are offered contracts is from sticking to our criteria during recruitment and my vision of the only having high level dominate players. This business model is efficient and leaves the basketball franchises with a consistently high level basketball player, while the player achieves their objectives as well.
ZS: What do you find to be the most challenging part of representing clients overseas?
JD: Managing expectations of players just making the transition to overseas professional basketball. The majority of players coming out of college really don’t understand how competitive things are on a global level. Players are literally competing with 32 conferences of players on the D1 level, which encompasses roughly 351 universities. Plus, some of the top D2 players now receive consideration at the professional level. Also when you factor in all the existing players from the last 10-15 years, you can see how limited opportunity really is. Some guys come in thinking they should start at an extremely high level, but sometimes they have to prove their value. It’s critical that players come in thinking I must show the world what I’m made of, and shed any feelings of entitlement. When you show the world what you are capable of its only a matter of time before you are on the radar of the top leagues throughout the world.
ZS: In addition to being an agent, you are also a practicing attorney in the state of New York. In your opinion, how has your advanced degree helped you along your career path? Do you recommend aspiring agents work towards a JD or MBA?
JD: I absolutely think a JD is essential. You’re sitting down with parents, you’re asking good players to give you their career. You’ll have parents saying that their sons have been working towards this their whole lives, ever since they put a Little Tikes hoop in the house when he was 2 or 3. You need to be able to sit across the table and convince them that you can handle multiple things, like reading contracts, etc. If anything, it [the JD] shows credibility to family members. In such a competitive industry, you have to separate yourself, so having the JD really puts you ahead of the competition. You want to make sure that everything you can do on your end is done, so one piece that you can control is your education. You want your guys to be confident on the court and have that same confidence in their representation. You want to be able to handle as much as you can, and you want parents to be comfortable with you representing their child. Typically, that entails having the highest level of education. You want to look at the top agents and sort of duplicate their background, but be able to add a twist to it in order to differentiate yourself. In a dog-eat-dog industry, you’re trying to use every advantage you have to separate yourself in your representation. Your education will only help you in the long run. Large agencies are able to offer a wide range of services, so being able to specialize as a boutique agency can only help you.
While I was in law school, I was still interning and creating my criteria for recruiting guys. So although I started my agency four years ago, it has really been 8 years in the making. You don’t need to have that time in school as being 100% theory, and no practice. You can still build your agency in school and learn and get your credentials so you can represent guys effectively. It doesn’t have to be a sacrifice of spending three years not representing guys; you can use that time as a way to build begin representing guys in the right way.
ZS: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself when you first set out in the sports industry?
JD: That’s a great question. I obviously knew things weren’t going to be easy, and I knew they were going to be competitive, but I would probably say being patient and also kind of letting your business grow organically instead of trying to push things. Sometimes you’ll think it is a matter of working hard, and wonder why you’re not recruiting certain guys. You’ve got to trust your process enough that if you do the right things and say the right things then you’ll get the right player. Every agent figures it out eventually. You have to listen to the player and really understand what their objectives are. I’d really try to figure out where they see themselves, and see if their objectives line up with yours. You have to be confident in yourself when you see the red flags and be able to go a different route. You have to build by value, not numbers. You have to make sure that your guys fit with what you’ve already developed.
ZS: For students and young professionals trying to make it in this ultra-competitive industry, what is the best piece of advice you can give?
JD: Another great question. Best piece of advice I’d say is, obviously it sounds really cliché, but find someone else who is doing it, and duplicate what has been successful for them. Take as many successful techniques you can from numerous agents. Its kind of like a great player that uses Hakeems’s post moves, Jordan’s fade away, Steph’s ball handling, and Kobe’s will. You want to recreate what agents have done and add to that to differentiate yourself to best serve your clients. Getting as much experience as possible is definitely the most important thing. Try to take advantage of opportunities and absorb. When I started (as an intern), I was writing letters to clients, but being in the agency setting provided so much experience of seeing how things are done. You have to be a student of the agency business, and at the same time gain experience, even if it is just through volunteering. The most important thing has got to be gaining that experience, not how much are initially getting paid.
ZS: Last question, and maybe the deepest, how do you want your clients to remember you once their careers come to a close?
JD: Oh man, I want them to know that I am a guy that can get the job done. A guy that worked probably harder for them than anyone they have worked with. I want them to remember that I was just as hungry as they were, but also I was able to produce great results for them. My favorite player was Kobe Bryant. He might have retired, but he left behind a diagram for what it takes to be a champion. His work ethic matched his success. It is not just that I want to be remembered as a hard worker, but I also the results I produced for my clients. I want to be remembered as the guy that took my clients to places they never thought they could go. I want my guys to know that I would’ve done anything to further their careers. The name of my agency, Four Point Play, comes from the idea of maximizing and getting the most out of a possession. I want to give the most amount of opportunity to each player during their career. I want to maximize opportunity and get them to the top.