Superagent days in past, Falk looks ahead

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Twenty-five years earlier, Jordan inked a groundbreaking endorsement deal with the company. Falk insisted Nike give Jordan his own product line - an unheard-of honor for any player in 1984, let alone a rookie who wasn’t even the No. 1 pick.

Also packaged in the deal were royalties, a requirement for Nike to spend $1 million marketing the shoes in the first year and stock options for Jordan and his parents. Nike sold $130 million in Air Jordan products in 1985 alone.

Falk and Jordan forever changed the standard for shoe deals.

“It’ll probably be the greatest deal I ever made as far as creativity and insight,” Falk says.

“It was brilliant,” says Robert Boland, a professor of sports law and economics at New York University.

Still, no one - not even Falk - could have guessed Jordan’s power as an endorser. After all, he had yet to play a game in the NBA, he played a team sport and he is black - all of which, Falk says, presented marketing obstacles.

Falk knew after the 1984 Olympics, during which the United States won gold and Jordan established himself as a top draft prospect, that Jordan would be a special player. But a transcendent global icon? That realization came years later.

Falk decided to align No. 23 with American companies, hoping to capitalize on Jordan’s early exposure at the Olympics. The result: partnerships with Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and McDonald’s. Years later, as the brand grew with his power as an endorser, Jordan started his own fragrance line and in 1996 starred in his own movie, “Space Jam.” Falk was the executive producer.

“Michael Jordan is a very good player. Is he the first best player in basketball history? That’s arguable,” Boland says. “Is he the first best endorser in basketball history? That’s not even a question.”

Agents and marketers have copied what Falk refers to as the “Jordan blueprint” - a strategy Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have tried to replicate. For all that Falk did to launch Jordan’s career off the court, the agent says, “Michael Jordan not only made my career, he made my life.”

Building an empire

Falk began his career at ProServ, a D.C.-based sports agency, in 1974 as an unpaid summer intern. After the summer ended, Donald Dell, ProServ’s founder, hired Falk as a part-time clerk. Soon, Falk was working 60 hours a week while he finished up his last year of law school.

He graduated and was hired as a full-time associate, making $13,000. A year later, Falk, then 32, was given his first basketball client: John Lucas, who would become the No. 1 pick in the 1976 draft. Falk didn’t recruit Lucas or negotiate his contracts, but he was tasked with overseeing everything else.

“What I remember was that it was so important for me to try to do a good job,” Falk says. “If he had called me up and said, ‘I need to get a new tire for my car,’ I’d call four or five tire stores in Houston and see if I could negotiate like $10 off the tire.”

In 1992, Falk, feeling underpaid and underappreciated, started Falk Associates Management Enterprises - taking his stable of clients, including Jordan, Ewing and Thompson, with him. At the height of FAME, Falk represented 40 of the game’s best players and coaches.

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