It was recently announced that the Los Angeles Media Fund, a finance and entertainment company led by Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman, have teamed up with four sports agents to launch Beyond Athlete Management (BAM).
LAMF was launched by Soros, the nephew of billionaire philanthropist and political activist George Soros, and Horsman in 2014. The fund produces feature films and scripted television, but recently ventured into unscripted television events.
The four agents behind BAM are no strangers to the sports representation industry. The quartet includes: industry veteran Mike Naiditch, former scout Daniel Poneman, former pro basketball player EJ Kusnyer, and former college basketball player Jelani Floyd. In a joint statement from the press release announcing the agency’s formation, the agents said:
“Beyond is here to disrupt the standard of athlete management. We not only want our clients to get the best deals but to have fulfilling lives during and after their athletic careers. We encourage our clients to be empowered by their windows of opportunity, capitalizing on their platform to better themselves and others. Together with Jeffrey and Simon we will offer fresh opportunities for our clients by leveraging LAMF’s existing platforms and relationships in music, film and television production.”
BAM is based in Los Angeles with offices in Chicago and Houston. Prior to joining forces, the four agents worked independently. BAM currently represents Detroit Pistons F Glenn Robinson III, Indiana Pacers F Ben Moore, Golden State Warriors F Alfonzo McKinnie and multiple players overseas in addition to Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton for his off-field work. The team at SAB was fortunate to conduct a Q&A with the agents behind BAM and get a little more information on their respective backgrounds. Check it out below:
SAB: What is the history of your relationships with your team members?
Dan Poneman: Of all the people in the group, I probably have the most interesting group of origin stories, since I sort of brought the team together. Before I was an agent, I spent about 10 years working as a college scout. At age 14 I started the (now defunct) website IllinoisHSBasketball.com and in the early-social media era I became a very influential source of information for college coaches who recruited in Illinois and Chicago. When I was 16 Sports Illustrated wrote a feature story about me called “The Boy Scout.” At 19 I was featured in the New York Times, and I gained a lot of notoriety for my work across the basketball world. I finished high school at 17 and became a full-time scout rather than attending college at Northwestern University. During those years I helped hundreds of players with their college recruitment, and when many of them went on to play pro, they would ask me for help picking an agent. I got to know agents from all of the firms, big and small, but the guy who I grew to trust and respect the most was Mike Naiditch. I met Jelani Floyd in 2006 during my early years running the site. In the past four years, Jelani and I have worked hand in hand and he has been involved in virtually every venture I’ve had my hands in, so it was only natural that he become a part of BAM. Jelani and I are both anti-agents. We don’t identify as agents. We are community leaders who are certified to perform agent duties. Being an agent for professional athletes is a privilege that comes with great responsibility to the communities that raised those athletes. We’re both people who love and embrace that responsibility. When I decided to become an agent two years ago, the first call I made was to EJ Kusnyer. I had been connected to EJ by a mutual friend, when I was searching for an agent for a friend of mine who had just graduated from college at Hampton. Though he didn’t sign with EJ, we stayed in touch, because I saw EJ as a rising star in the agent business and wanted to keep him in my circle.
EJ Kusnyer: Dan was the first member of the group that I met. He was always looking to help players coming out of Chicago and a mutual friend introduced the two of us as guys that should know one another. I was really impressed with all the work he had done in the city of Chicago and it was exciting to meet someone that truly cared about the well-being of players, regardless of their level. I met Mike when I attended TPG’s Sports Agent School run by [former director of scouting and player personnel] Pete Philo. Mike was one of the featured speakers at the event and I had the chance to interact with him over the course of the three day event. Agent School was one of the most influential experiences of my agent career because it really opened my eyes to the business and what it really took to be successful. One of the first people I talked to following Agent School was Dan. After some back and forth, he decided he was going to enter into the agent world and we would work together. Dan introduced me to Jelani who began working with us while he finished up law school. We spent most of those early days trying to figure out how we were going to do things differently and how we could really empower the athlete. We were constantly trying to prove ourselves and fill any holes that we may have had. It became evident that one thing we were missing was experience. Even though we were capable, we needed a mentor who had experienced things that we hadn’t. We all knew where to turn to fill this void – Mike Naiditch. Dan had known Mike for years. Jelani and him had cross over from their years associated with Whitney Young High School and I knew him from Agent School.
Jelani Floyd: I’ve known Daniel from his days of ranking Illinois high school basketball players. He covered my commitment to Brown University’s men’s basketball program in the fall of 2007. We got back in touch three years ago in my capacity as Evan Turner’s business manager. Dan was helping hundreds of unsigned Chicago seniors find places to continue their basketball career by using the sport as a vehicle to further academic achievement. Evan and I noticed this from afar and we reached out to see how Evan could help grow the event and donate financially. Since growing closer as a result of this we have long noticed many of the same things impacting athletes and we always worked together. Dan introduced me to Mike and EJ. He [Dan] is the mastermind in bringing us all together and he deserves credit for that. He is one of the best connectors in the world.
Mike Naiditch: I met Dan Poneman when he was in high school writing scouting reports on players. He was always extraordinarily confident, except for once he called me because he felt like his life was in danger, as agents were trying to use him to get to Anthony Davis. DP wasn’t cooperating because he didn’t want to betray his friendship. EJ attended the TPG Sports Agent School when I was one of the speakers. I remember interviewing EJ and thinking how funny it was that he was a player and agent at the same time. I didn’t really know Jelani until the Glenn Robinson deal. But it turns out we shared the Whitney Young connection (he as a student-athlete and I as an assistant coach).
SAB: At what point did you first think BAM might succeed?
DP: There has never been a doubt in my mind that with this collection of talent, we would ultimately be very successful. I feel like we’re the “Power Rangers,” we all were talented and had the strength individually, but now that we’ve combined we’re like a mega-ranger, unstoppable. We each complement each other perfectly, like the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The pieces just fit. I also truly believe in the power of wanting to do good and having good intentions. When you have a group of people who are not only talented, smart, driven and motivated, but also really want to do good in the world, that’s a hard combination to beat. Possibly the most important aspect of this team is our shared values. We truly are “agents for good.” Even in an industry as competitive and cut-throat as ours, I would like to think that the good guys will still always win in the end.
EK: As soon as we sat down with LAMF and realized we all wanted the same things and that we were stronger together than we were apart.
MN: I always thought Daniel would succeed at something. But when I introduced Daniel to Ryan Blake prior to the NBA Combine, I knew. That conversation floored me. It was hilarious. Two people with top level wit going at each other. I wish I had my phone on record. That would be the day I told myself I had to work with DP. But when we did Glenn Robinson’s deal with such seamless cooperation, it was clear that BAM was going to work.
SAB: What was it like to have four agents on a deal?
DP: It was actually really fun having four agents on one deal. Our client was entering free-agency and we wanted to do the best job possible for him. So rather than any one of us being like “I got this,” we teamed up and attacked it as a group. Each person played their role and worked together in harmony, and we ended up helping our client get a deal that he was really happy with. It was funny when some teams had different members of their front office call different members of our team, hoping that they could find a crack in the wall or a soft spot. But we stuck together, executed our game plan, and it worked out great in the end for all parties.
EK: It was great. It showed that when we put the athlete first and figured out where each of us could help the most, that the best results prevail.
JF: It was easy because we all constantly communicated including Glenn. He was actively involved in the process.
MN: It was surprisingly smooth. I worried that we would spend all our time fighting. It’s not like we don’t have egos. But it turned out more like four times the knowledge, effort, enjoyment and outcome.
SAB: Does the Soros name come up in conversations with clients or recruits?
DP: Obviously the Soros name is hard to ignore. I mean, Donald Trump tweeted about it (negatively) the other day, so it’s not like people aren’t going to ask about it. People obviously love to talk about George Soros, but our partner Jeffrey is a pretty incredible guy. It would be easy for someone of his stature to sit back and enjoy life, but he’s constantly finding new ways to use his influence to bring exciting ideas to life. With LAMF he’s financed and produced some outstanding films and TV shows, and now with BAM he’s helping us inject life and innovation into the athlete representation business. One thing that I really admire about Jeffrey is his philanthropic work. He is the chairman of the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation, a fund that has paid for graduate school educations for hundreds of first generation Americans. His father and uncle fled Hungary during the Holocaust and went on to have immense success because of the opportunities America provided them. That their family uses that wealth to create opportunities for other first-generation Americans to do the same is so inspiring, and I’m incredibly honored to be associated with someone like Jeffrey.
EK: It depends on the client and recruit. We’re really lucky to have partners like Jeffrey and Simon who have accomplished so much in their careers so its a big selling point to be able to say we’re fortunate to have a partnership with them.
MN: The younger basketball crowd isn’t so familiar with the Soros name. I just tell them to Google it. But from some of the peripherals (mainly reporters and money managers) I do get quite a bit of “Hey, it would be my dream to work with Soros.” Some are political activists and others come up from the financial world. We actually had to designate one of us to file all the incoming resumes.
SAB: Since the formal announcement of BAM, how has your life or business changed?
DP: Well, for starters, I’ve gotten a lot of new resumes in my inbox. I had no idea so many people in my network wanted to be sports agents. Aside from that, my life hasn’t changed. I’ve always been devoted to my family, my partner Amelia, and to my work. Outside of that, I don’t have many (any) interests or hobbies. I keep my head down and focused on the tasks at hand, and things seem to work out just fine for me. It’s nice that people are excited about what we’re doing, and seem to be interested in this venture, but we’re just focused on the work.
EK: It’s been exciting. We’ve known this was a reality for months but it’s nice to have it out there publicly. Just off the announcement, I have had an increase in people reaching out to ask more about what we’re doing.
MN: My daily routine is basically the same. I’m not in this for immediate return. Down the road, I’m convinced this partnership will present opportunities that I could not have anticipated. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to do a documentary on raising an autistic child.
SAB: Do you have any fun stories about your experiences so far with BAM?
DP: Honestly, every day with BAM is fun. I love being part of this team. I can’t think of any specific stories that stand out, though it was definitely a trip when I saw Donald Trump tweeting about George Soros. I can only imagine what that feels like for Jeffrey. Life can be a trip sometimes, but you just gotta roll with it.
MN: During July Summer League, at one of the Las Vegas hotels, Daniel told me a story of how he represented a rapper only to be caught up in a world that was hilariously unfamiliar to him.
SAB: Describe the company’s early successes and failures.
DP: I think it’s too early to really look back and analyze what we’ve done so far. I think one thing we’ve proven to be great at so far is helping put our guys in position – players who might be seen as NBA long-shots – to make NBA rosters. Just this season we had Ben Moore and Alfonzo McKinnie fighting for roster spots with the Pacers and Warriors, respectively, and both beat out a handful of others to make the opening day rosters. Both were undrafted and not household names, and when you see guys like Jamal Crawford sitting at home and our guys making teams, it’s cool to see. Another cool early success has been Taren Sullivan. EJ found out about Taren from an Instagram highlight video and signed him out of a D2 school (University of Findlay in Ohio). We knew Taren was an NBA talent, but coming from a D2 we also knew it would be an uphill battle. He initially got zero NBA pre-draft workouts and didn’t play in the Summer League. Teams heard “D2” and basically tuned the rest out. But with some creativity and perseverance, we were able to get Taren in front of NBA eyes at our pro day and at the G-League Invitational (which he led in scoring) and he ended up being pursued by a handful of NBA teams. He recently signed an exhibit-10 contract with the Sacramento Kings, and will play for their G-League affiliate this year. Maybe a small win like that wouldn’t seem like a lot to one of the huge agencies, but seeing a guy like Taren get an opportunity like that means everything to us. And Taren Sullivan will be in the NBA for a long time, I promise you.
EK: The early success has been the results of Glenn’s free agent deal, seeing Ben and Al make opening night rosters and watching Taren Sullivan ascend from a D2 player to signing an exhibit 10 with the Kings.
MN: Everything is a calculated risk. So I don’t really believe in failures. But I’m more than happy to accept the successes. Like GR3’s contract and amazing fit with the Pistons. Three of our young guys signed NBA deals and two stick! Alfonzo McKinnie’s story is so incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of a client.
SAB: In five years, what will be BAM’s space in the sports agent world?
DP: This business is always changing, the role of an agent is always evolving. Right now, there are certain titans of our industry, but as time goes on the old goes out and the new comes in. We are poised to become the industry standard sooner than later. Each of our agents is talented, intelligent, thoughtful, innovative, ambitious and motivated. With this group of guys and such incredible partners backing us, I can’t see how we wouldn’t exceed even our own expectations. As far as what that tangibly looks like, I don’t know. As long as we can look back in five years and say we did right by our clients and did the most for them that we could have, that’s all that really matters to me.
EK: I think we’ll be known as a group that truly cares about the people they are working with and a company that raised the bar in the industry as to how athletes are represented on and off their playing fields.
JF: In five years, BAM will be the agency known to have pushed this space forward for the betterment of all athletes. We exist to empower our athletes.
MN: I’m sure we will rise in the ranks, maybe right to the top. But more than anything, I hope that the result of our work is long lasting.
SAB: Anything else you’d like to add?
MN: Four agents are four times better than one.
About the BAM agents:
Prior to becoming an NBA agent, Daniel Poneman spent a decade as a scout and consultant for more than 300 Division I colleges, NBA teams and international franchises. Profiled in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated as he made his name on the grassroots scene, Daniel has risen from teenage scout to Chicago basketball mainstay. He’s helped hundreds of young men from Chicago’s inner-city earn college scholarships at all levels as the founder of the Shot in the Dark Foundation, and is credited with being the first scout to discover NBA talents including Anthony Davis and Jabari Parker. Most recently, Daniel partnered with Dwyane Wade and Chance the Rapper to produce Shot in the Dark, a Chicago basketball documentary that premiered earlier this year on Fox.
Ernest “EJ” Kusnyer III grew up in Pittsburgh where he attended North Allegheny Sr HS before doing a prep year at The Peddle School in Highstown, NJ. He went on to play collegiate basketball at Mercer University, where he finished second in NCAA D1 3-pointers made during the 2009-10 season. After his collegiate career, EJ played professional basketball overseas for five years and represented himself as a rare player-agent. He navigated his own career to professional leagues in five countries, ultimately starring internationally in the prestigious FIBA Euro Challenge. After a few injuries, EJ decided to hang it up and retire from professional basketball and pursued a career as an agent. EJ rose in the ranks quickly now representing players in the NBA and top leagues across the world. In addition to his work as an agent, EJ serves as the Vice President of the Be a 9th Wonder Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides student-athletes with education, sports development and life skills training at no cost. He has been married to his wife, Jennifer, for seven years and they have three children – Eva (4), Everett (1) and Eleanor (3 months).
Born and raised in Chicago, Jelani Floyd is a distinguished trailblazer in the fight for the empowerment of athletes and their communities. He was a standout student-athlete at Whitney Young HS (Chicago) and Phillips Academy (Andover, MA). He was also a student-athlete at Brown University and UC Davis, earning a honors Managerial Economics degree in 2011. Most recently, he earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law and became a certified NBPA Agent after years in an advisory and business manager role to some NBA players and their families. Before enrolling in law school, Jelani played professional basketball in Germany and Luxembourg. He became an agent to educate and provide resources to his clients by honestly showing them how they can use their NBA platform to empower their family, friends and community. He has dedicated his life and career to guiding athletes, working with them to use basketball as a vehicle to further achievement and not let basketball use them. Jelani is also the founder and chairman of the Atypcial Sports and Learning Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit based in Chicago.
Mike Naiditch previously founded NET in 1999 after spending 13 years in the field of finance, sharing time between the Chicago Board Options Exchange as a Specialist and the Banque de Gestion Privee in Paris as Director of Derivatives. In both ventures he successfully negotiated the trade of hundreds of millions of dollars of complex financial instruments. As former state chess champion, he applies the same disciplined and tactical approach to finance and sports contracts. He received his Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Real Estate and Urban Land Economics at the University of Wisconsin.