The following interview was conducted by Zakari A. Kurtz, Esq. Zak received his undergraduate degree from Roanoke College and his J.D. from Michigan State University. Zak is licensed to practice law in New York.
Adam Kessler is an NBPA and FIBA certified player representative and the president of D2R Sports Media Group, a firm that represents professional basketball players. Before he launched his own practice, Mr. Kessler worked for NBA agency Wasserman Media Group, IMG, and played professional basketball overseas in Europe. At only 25 years of age, he is quickly starting to make quite a name for himself. Adam was nice enough to answer some questions for us at SportsAgentBlog.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @adamd2r.
1) When did you decide you wanted to become a sports agent?
I worked for Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles during my summers in college. I was brought in to help basketball trainer Rob McClanaghan work out their pre-draft clients in the gym. At the time, I had no intentions of becoming an agent. As the summer went on, I became more interested in what was going on in the office on the business side of things. I came back the next summer and primarily worked with the agents, helping them with their clients throughout the pre-draft process. This was my first taste of the business.
During March of my senior year in college, I was approached by an Israeli agent who was interested in representing me. At the time, playing basketball overseas was everything I thought about, so I was extremely excited about the opportunity. I ended up signing a contract in Israel, and spent one year over there after college.
While playing in Israel, I became obsessed with helping other smaller school players play professionally overseas. I myself went to a Division III college, and knew how much of an uphill battle it was to get noticed by agents and teams, much less attract any real interest. The dream to play professional basketball overseas absolutely consumed me for years, and I knew I wanted to give back to other under-the-radar kids with the same goal, so I started my company. It initially was a way to help lower level players get connected with agents. I saw so many players go to these ridiculous exposure camps every year with hopes of finding an agent and getting a job overseas. Very rarely do these kids have success doing this, so I wanted to find a better way. Although I wasn’t representing players as their agent, I was still managing to get D2 and D3 players jobs, basically by referring them to partner agents I had developed overseas. I took a step back one day and realized I had developed a great network around the NBA by working at Wasserman and IMG, and now overseas. It was then that I got certified, starting signing clients, brought on a great team, and that’s how it came together.
2) How old were you when you started D2R Sports Media Group?
I was 22. At the time I was still under contract with a professional team in Israel. I developed a greater passion for D2R than actually playing basketball. When I realized that, I knew it was time to end my playing career, and put all of my energy into this. The fact that I was the worst pick-and-roll point guard in the history of Israeli basketball also made my decision to give up basketball a little easier.
3) What gave you the confidence to start your own agency at 22?
My Israeli agent. Even before Israel, I understood how the NBA worked, and had plenty of contacts through my previous work experience, but not many 22 year olds are going out and signing NBA 1st round draft picks. You have to prove yourself with clients overseas first.
My agent used to take me out to eat once a month while I was playing just to check in, and all we would talk about is his clients, partners, stories he had, etc. I absorbed it like a sponge, and really learned the ins and outs of international basketball through those conversations.
This knowledge helped me build D2R, and currently our clients are playing in well-respected leagues overseas. We have guys who have played on NBA summer league rosters as well. The next step of course would be to sign an NBA player or two, and hopefully that will happen in the near future.
4) It must be tough competing against larger agencies for clients. What makes your agency unique?
D2R stands for “dreams to reality”, and that is exactly what I envisioned to help players do when I first started out. I believe that me being younger works to my advantage in that the dream of playing professional basketball is still fresh in my memory. I know how big it is to these players, and when they sign with D2R, they are truly entrusting me with one of the most important things in their lives. It’s a very serious commitment that they’re making, and it absolutely consumes me to come through for them.
As far as what makes me unique, I believe that having this approach combined with the experience of working for a power agency helps me a lot. I can offer similar aspects of a larger firm to our clients, yet there’s a much more personalized feel at D2R, which all of our guys appreciate. They know that they’re not going to be one of 70 names on a spreadsheet that goes out to teams. For that reason, they’re really getting the best of both worlds. On top of this, I played professionally overseas, so I can relate to what a lot of our guys are going through as situations arise. This helps me deal with problems better than someone who has never experienced life as a professional athlete firsthand.
5) What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
There are basically two ways into this business: work for a huge agency or start your own thing. It’s very competitive to work for a large agency. If you go this route, get ready to do a lot of free work just to get your foot in the door.
If you are starting your own agency, be prepared to fail at the beginning. Early on, it seemed like everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Guys getting cut, getting hurt, turning down good offers; it was unbelievably frustrating. You just have to stick it out, and if it’s something you are truly passionate about, you’ll find a way.