Headline Interview With The Agent

Interview With The Agent: Tony Dutt

Tony Dutt is the President of Dutt Sports Services, Inc. (DSSI), a basketball agency based in The Woodland, Texas.  DSSI’s website’s catchy phrase states, “With Dutt, it’s a done deal.”  Dutt has negotiated deals for many NBA players, including Marcus Camby, Rashard Lewis, Raymond Felton, and Brandon Bass.  Throughout his career, Dutt has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts on behalf of his clients.  Dutt represents three players selected in the 2011 NBA Draft – Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and Tyler Honeycutt.  Interestingly, he represents them in conjunction with a new company named Rival Sports Group.  I recently interviewed Dutt about his relationship with Rival Sports Group, his start in the industry, and many more topics.  The result of that interview is below.

Darren Heitner: What enticed you to become a basketball agent, and where did you originally get your start?

Tony Dutt: I started in 1985.  I worked with Bill Blakley in Dallas.  We signed Karl Malone, Joe Dumars, and Spud Webb.

Darren Heitner: At what point in time did you create your own agency, Dutt Sports Services?  What has been the most rewarding and toughest part of running your own company?

Tony Dutt: I started Dutt Sports Services, Inc. (DSSI) in 1990.  A really good friend of mine and one of the founders of DHL, Bill Robinson, was discussing what I did and he asked me how much money I would need to start my own company. We agreed upon an amount and he loaned me the money to start DSSI, and I’m proud to say I was able to pay him back. Bill Robinson is still a very close friend and is the Godfather to my two kids.

The most rewarding part of building a company for me is the relationships with the clients and their families, and watching the clients grow not only as professional athletes but as good citizens.  I tell every client that you may be a great athlete and make a lot of money, but you can’t buy respect of your teammates, family, etc. – you have to earn it.  The hardest part of running a business is finding people who you can truly trust.

Darren Heitner: Have you ever represented any professional athletes in anything other than basketball?  Do you have any future plans to expand your agency to include other divisions?

Tony Dutt: Yes, with the first firm I worked with I was able to do football and baseball as well.  Mark Adicks was an offensive tackle from Baylor who we worked with.  He told us he wanted to be a surgeon.  Fast forward to about a year ago and I was talking to a doctor friend of mine, and he told me about an orthopedic surgeon that was working in the medical center.  Well it was Mark Adicks, who is now the person I use for myself and my clients.

I am working on expanding DSSI.

Darren Heitner: I noted that you are working in conjunction with a start-up agency titled, Rival Sports Group, to represent the Morris twins from Kansas and Tyler Honeycutt from UCLA.  How did you form a relationship with Rival Sports Group?  What does the relationship entail?

Tony Dutt: I am working with Rival Sports Group as a Consultant.  I handle all basketball contracts for the company.  I must say that so many people try to get into this business and spend alot of money and usually do not succeed for one reason or another, as it is extreamly competitive.  I have spent 25 plus years building relationships with owners, general managers, coaches, etc., and I go back to TRUST – it’s developed over time. Rival Sports Group has a lot of business success along with really good people working with them, and I’m really excited about the relationship going forward.

Darren Heitner: Marcus Spears of Yahoo! Sports first reported that the Morris twins were close with a man named Jason Martin.  Who is Jason Martin, and how are the two of you connected, if at all?

Tony Dutt: Jason Martin works for Rival Sports Group and has been involved in basketball his whole life.  He truly cares for the clients he works with, and has been successful in business outside of working with players.  Jason and I are getting to know each other better as we spend more time together.

Darren Heitner: Let’s talk about another one of your clients – Rashard Lewis.  A lot of people are talking about how he has the worst NBA contract (which means that you actually did a great job in the negotiation).  What do you say to anyone who is calling Lewis’ contract atrocious?

Tony Dutt: First let me say that I really feel Rashard is worth every penny.  In doing any deal, the one thing that I try to do find is a “fit,” meaning, where can a player have the biggest impact if a free agent is considering leaving his current team, and I do a really in-depth calculation as to where a client will fit.  Rashard was a perfect fit in Orlando.  If you look back, when you have someone like Dwight in the middle, they needed someone to spread the floor and someone who could shoot the three and drive to the basket and create his own shot.  Orlando had given up two first round picks to Detroit for a big man, so I knew I had to be well prepared to give them an option in Rashard.  And don’t forget, they did get to the finals.  I think sometimes teams forget the importance of keeping a team together, but it’s also hard for GMs under the cap to keep players together. And I personally would rather be overpaid than underpaid.

Darren Heitner: Other than Lewis and the 2011 Draft class, you have a lot of big name players with very large contracts.  Do you also handle your clients’ marketing in-house or do you work with particular marketing agencies out of house?  What are some of the more creative deals you have negotiated?

Tony Dutt: I would like to think that all my deals are creative.  We do a lot of marketing in-house, but we also use outside marketing groups as long as it benefits the player.

Darren Heitner: Are any of your clients considering playing overseas based on the presence of an NBA Lockout?  If so, which players and where are they thinking about playing?

Tony Dutt: We are always looking for jobs overseas, again by having years of experience, we know the market, but there are so many issues overseas that have to be considered because of players having problems getting payed, the city, etc.  You have to look at it as a case-by-case situation.

Darren Heitner: What piece(s) of advice would you give to someone who is looking to break in as a basketball agent or break into another part of the basketball industry.

Tony Dutt: It has always been a tough business to break into.  Getting an internship or working in a certain area like local marketing deals – anything to get your foot in the door – is important.  And it’s important to know that it’s a lot harder than people think, but if you have the right game plan and are willing to work long hours and do it the honest way, you can succeed.  There are no shortcuts.

A lot of new agents might have one or two clients, and I know are afraid to give up any possible income.  But I will say I have spoken to a lot of agents when I hear a certain player might be looking for a new agent.  I would go to the agent to try and help, but they always say, “my guy is not leaving me.”  Then, prior to a kid’s free agent year, he leaves and the small agent/friend of the player does all the work for nothing.  So young agents should remember that in the end, players want to get paid.  Rival Sports Group is an example of doing it the right way and everyone wins.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.