“You know, Mike Krzyzewski and John Thompson are two of the strongest personalities… in all of sports - they are that big and that ubiquitous,” says Kevin Harlan, the longtime NBA announcer for TNT who worked with Thompson for four years. “The fact that they would deal with David - I don’t really know what more needs to be said in terms of validating the guy and where he stands.”
Falk parlayed his independence into huge paydays. In 1996, some of Falk’s biggest clients - Howard, Jordan, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Kenny Anderson - were free agents. In six days, Falk negotiated $335 million in contracts. There was a one-year, $30 million deal for Jordan that still hasn’t been topped in any sport. And then there were $15 million-a-year deals for Mourning and Howard at a time when Chris Webber, the league’s highest-paid forward, made $9.5 million.
“We changed the salary structure overnight,” Falk says.
In 1998, Falk cashed in, selling FAME to SFX Entertainment for $82.9 million in cash and 1 million shares of stock. In his book, Falk wrote that the stock price rose to nearly $80 a share, and certain incentives in the agreement were reached, leading the deal to be worth close to $200 million.
Falk took his clients with him and was named the chairman of SFX Sports Group, which had anywhere from 900 to 1,100 clients from various sports under its umbrella. Falk signed Brand, the most coveted rookie in 1999. He was drafted No. 1 by Chicago, giving Falk the sixth No. 1 pick of his career.
“[Falk] has got to be one of the most important people in sports when you take a look at the last 25 years,” Harlan says. “I think his place in history is set.”
From 1999 to 2007, Falk didn’t sign a single rookie. Maybe his newfound wealth deterred him. Maybe he had too many responsibilities at SFX and not enough time for the personal interactions that drove him.
It almost seemed like he had retired with $100 million and his legacy intact. Falk says he simply “stopped feeding the pipeline.” He still worked with clients like Jordan, Thompson and Krzyzewski, but he wasn’t looking for new clients.
In 2007, SFX Sports Group, which had been acquired by Clear Channel and then by Live Nation, was dropped from the company. Falk relaunched FAME on his own and quickly signed Green, the former Georgetown star who was drafted No. 5 in 2007.
Falk says he now has around 10 clients - Atlanta’s Mike Bibby, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and New York’s Toney Douglas among them - and that he isn’t focused on signing more players or trying to becoming a major force in the NBA again.
“I think I look at myself at this point in my career [as] probably more of a teacher,” Falk says.
He donated $5 million to his undergraduate alma mater, Syracuse, to start the David B. Falk Center for Sports Management, where he teaches once a month.
“Having watched the Jordans and the Ewings and the Worthys for years, [I] can share with the younger players their approach, their training habits,” he says. “That gives me endless satisfaction.”
Falk says he finds it amusing that many of the people who criticized him for having too many clients 10 years ago now are trying to build mega-agencies and merge them with entertainment companies - a plan Falk admits didn’t work “in practice as well as people thought it would on paper.”