Chris Patrick is an NBPA certified agent who has made a name for himself representing under the radar NBA players, such as Eric Moreland, Robert Covington, Ognjen Kuzmic, Tiny Gallon, Davis Bertans, Dexter Pittman, and Dwight Buycks among others. He is an attorney licensed in Washington, D.C., and a member of the American Bar Association and the Sports Lawyers Association. Chris received his JD from Western New England University, and his MBA from UMass Amherst. He recently left Relativity Sports, and is now a partner at The Sports Law Group, a D.C. based law firm that represents players, coaches and schools. To connect with Chris, follow him on Twitter @ChrisPatrickJr or email CPatrick@TheSportsLawGroup.com.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Chris about his career path and his new firm.
ZS: When did you realize you wanted to become an agent?
CP: Actually, I had not planned on being an agent. I never saw Jerry McGuire, or even knew what an agent’s job entailed – I sort of stumbled into it. Basketball has always been a huge part of my life. I began playing at five years old and finished my career at Division III Keuka College. I spent several years coaching AAU, one year as an assistant at the collegiate level, and knew that I wanted to stay involved in the game. At first, the plan was to become a high school history teacher and basketball coach. However, during my senior year of college, I was required to do an internship and ended up working at a local law firm. It was a great experience, and decided at that point.
I went to law school with the intention of being a criminal attorney and was passionate about the study of law. While in law school, I worked for an employment litigation firm and a real estate transactional firm. I really enjoyed everything that I was doing. During this time, a friend of mine was playing professional basketball overseas and needed help with his contract. I helped him, then a couple of his teammates, and decided that I would become an agent. I even pitched the idea, to the law firm I was working for at the time, of starting a sports & entertainment law division. They were not interested, so I decided to start my first agency, Court Vision XL. The agency grew over the next two years while I was in law school, until I joined Happy Walters and Relativity Sports. So this career was the perfect fit for me…it combined my love of basketball, with my passion for the law!
ZS: Was it difficult to finish your law degree while running your own company?
CP: Not really. I went to Western New England University, School of Law, and developed great relationships with my professors and the administration. They all knew what I was doing and were very supportive. Law school was easier for me than undergrad, because there was not all the busy work, such as tests, papers, etc. It is primarily about case study (with the exception of some legal writing courses), so I was able to pace myself, get ahead when needed, and always made sure to give myself two weeks off of work to prepare for finals. I was also able to start the school’s Sports & Entertainment Law Society, which became quite popular. It seemed like everyone wanted to be a sports agent.
ZS: How has your education (JD and MBA) helped helped shape your career?
CP: It has helped in quite few ways. Most agents aren’t attorneys, and it definitely is not a requirement. The contracts that we sign with NBA teams are boiler-plate, meaning that we just fill in the blanks and everything else is standard. So you really do not need to know how to create a contract. However, being an attorney allows for understanding of the terms in the contract, and most importantly, understanding of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is a very complex document which was written by attorneys, so the terms and language can get rather complex to the layperson.
The skills learned in law school are also beneficial, not just to being an agent, but to many different aspects in business and negotiations. Research, writing and putting together a “case,” all can help. When I am dealing with NBA teams, being able to articulate my position on my client, and then back it up with research on other players and comparables is very important to help me get the best deal possible for the player. Being an attorney also gave me some credibility early on with parents and coaches, because I was younger than most agents. There is definitely some validity to that.
As far as the MBA goes, there is a lot of similarity with that and a law degree. It requires research skills, collaboration, and articulation. I think that getting either one could be beneficial for someone wanting to be an agent. With an MBA program, there is a lot of focus on statistics and analytics, which I think translates well to all professional sports. For me, I decided to go back for this once I was already in the business, because I wanted to separate myself from the crowd. A lot of what I do with my clients is prepare them for life after basketball. The average NBA career is around 4 years, so the money they make today will have to last them the rest of their lives. So, we want them to utilize their star power now to help them build their business or businesses and have other streams of revenue once the ball stops bouncing. This could be purchasing a house or apartment complex, creating a non-profit foundation, investing in a startup company, or funding an idea that they have been trying to put together for years. Having a solid foundation in law and in business allows me to represent and advise my clients in more than just basketball. My goal is to build a relationship and work with these young men for the next 20+ years.
ZS: You were with Relativity Sports (Now Independent Sports & Entertainment) for over five years, what made you want to leave and start your own venture?
CP: Obviously, it was not an easy decision to leave one of the top sports agencies. I just felt like I had a lot of experience working under two of the top agents in the business, and anytime you start something new, you get to take the things you liked [from the previous company] and improve on them, while dropping the things that you did not care for or would like to do a different way.
My time at Relativity was amazing. When I first started, Happy Walters was my direct supervisor. I definitely would not be in the position I am in today if it was not for him. He has really been my go-to-guy and took me under his wing in many different ways. Besides being one of the best business minds in the sports and entertainment industry, he has represented artists such as Korn, Incubus and Linkin Park, and superstar athletes such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Jimmy Butler. He has also produced movies, created soundtracks, and most notably, he is the reason our company became the #3 Agency (according to Forbes) in the US. The thing I truly admire though, is that Happy is one of the nicest men I have ever worked with and showed me that character and success can go hand in hand.
A couple years later, Dan Fegan, joined our company and took over the basketball division. Dan, being an attorney himself, was a huge role model for me and has a reputation for being one of the best negotiators in the business and literally wrote several clauses in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Getting to work closely with him on a regular basis and see how he operates behind the scenes was a unique experience. In contemplating what my next move should be, it was really his support and encouragement that let me know that I was ready to make the decision I did.
During my time there, Relativity agents did some amazing marketing deals and maximum contracts for star players like Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, Deandre Jordan, John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Demarcus Cousins. None of these players were my clients, but there really is no substitute for being involved with guys like this, and it was a learning experience to be around when we did these deals. With all that being said, I felt like this was the best time to try something new. When you have that many superstars, and 30+ basketball clients, it is easy for the smaller guys to fall through the cracks. I really wanted to make sure this did not happen with my clients, and felt like a smaller environment with more hands on attention and a family atmosphere would be better for them. Also, being able to provide all-around legal services was something that I felt was important, for the reasons I mentioned previously.
ZS: Can you tell us about The Sports Law Group?
CP: Well, as I stated before, I wanted to create something special. We are a law firm. But we are a law firm that has years of experience dealing with NBA personnel and coaches, preparing and positioning players in the NBA draft, and negotiating contracts. Also, for me personally, I wanted to partner with people that I trust and who also are very experienced at what they do. Character and experience are the two things that are the most important to me. We look to expand in all sports, but right now, our strongest experience rests in the NBA. Between myself and my partners, we have represented 19 players in the NBA Draft…9 of them were 1st round picks, and 3 of them were lottery picks. We have also represented 6 NBA players that were undrafted and received guaranteed contracts with NBA teams.
One of the areas we are focused on is preparing European players for the NBA. The NBA game is becoming faster-paced, with more of a European style. This year, 26 of the 60 players drafted in the NBA were international. For this reason, I partnered with one of the top European agents, who consistently has had players drafted in the NBA, including many 1st round and lottery picks.
Our firm also has an NCAA compliance division, headed by Erskine McDaniel, who received his J.D., from Texas Southern University. Mr. McDaniel is extremely well versed and experienced on both the player, and the team side. He has represented several high profile athletes in their NCAA eligibility matters, and has consulted with several Universities in the Big 10, PAC-12, ACC, and C-USA in compliance and eligibility related matters. We look to expand on this, while also representing coaches and front office personnel.
ZS: Did you consider joining other, already established agencies?
CP: Yes. The phone calls started coming when Robert Covington made the Rookie-Sophomore All-Star game, but I did not take anything seriously. A few offers came a couple of months ago, and there were a couple of agencies that I pursued. I really wanted to gather as much information as possible while still contemplating the creation of the law firm. Ultimately, I decided this was the best approach for myself and my clients’ best interest.
ZS: How do you differentiate yourself from other agents?
CP: Honesty and integrity are very important to me, even if it is detrimental to signing a new player. I do not sugar coat it, or tell players what they want to hear – I tell them what they need to hear. Sometimes they do not like that and choose to go a different direction. But the players that stick with me tend to stay with me a long time. This is a very difficult industry to maneuver in, and for those that can do it the right way, I really admire them. I just try to be better each day, work hard for my clients and let my actions speak louder than my words.
One of the other things that differentiates me is my basketball background. I am not just an attorney that negotiates a deal. Having played AAU ball and also at the collegiate level, I really respect and understand the commitment to the game. I actually still play pickup ball 3-4 times per week, time permitting. Coaching and scouting at various levels has really helped me in my college recruiting and have developed eye for talent. A couple examples would be Robert Covington and Eric Moreland. Even from within my company I was told that both of these players should be overseas; that Covington would not be able to play on the perimeter at the NBA level and Moreland was too skinny. I really believed in both players and saw that their game would translate to the NBA. Now, Covington is in his 4th year and Moreland is in his 3rd.
ZS: Looking back to when you first started in the industry, what advice would you give yourself?
CP: Be a criminal attorney! Just kidding. I think this is a great profession. My advice to myself would be to believe in yourself, do not listen to the doubters, and work as hard as you possibly can. Never stop learning and asking questions. This job is ever-evolving. Relationships are extremely important thing in this business. Try to develop them and build upon them and the rest will take care of itself. Stay humble.
ZS: What words of wisdom can you give to our readers and others who aspire to break into the agent industry?
CP: Ask a lot of questions. Do your homework. This is not a glamorous industry like it is made out to be in movies and TV shows. It is really hard work. If you still decide that this is the path you want to take, surround yourself with good, honest people. Your reputation is extremely important. Starting off the wrong way or with wrong people can really hurt you. I was fortunate. But there are some really questionable people in this business. Stick with the good guys and do not try and cheat or buy your way to the top!