Show Them the Money: 8 Famous and Infamous Sports Agents
In addition to all of the stereotypically negative things you might be inclined to say about sports agents, you can say this: they’re an interesting bunch. Here’s a collection of agents who became famous for all the right, wrong, or unlikely reasons.
1. Josh Luchs
Luchs made news in October when the former NFL agent dished about the corrupt nature of the business in a Sports Illustrated cover story. Luchs broke into the agency business after working as a ball boy for the Los Angeles Raiders and learned the ropes from Harold “Doc” Daniels, who had a reputation for paying players. One of the estimated 30 players Luchs paid between 1990 and 1996 was quarterback Ryan Leaf, who received $500 a month at Washington State in a failed effort to land the future NFL disappointment.
While Luchs was never busted for paying players, his career came crashing down when the NFL Players Association suspended him for one year in 2007 for mishandling a commission check and thereby breaching his fiduciary duty to a client. With that stain on his record, Luchs decided his days of pursuing clients were over. He offered some insight in the article as to why he decided to come clean, claiming he doesn’t want his two daughters to Google his name and read only negative things about their father. “I was a good agent and I took care of my players,” Luchs said. “I don't want my career to be defined by that suspension.”
2. Charles C. Pyle
Pyle, who plied his trade as a theater owner and sports agent during the first half of the 20th century, never had to worry about his children Googling his name. Cash and Carry, as C.C. was sometimes known, represented University of Illinois football star Red Grange.
After Grange signed with the Chicago Bears in 1925, Pyle led the “Galloping Ghost” on a lucrative barnstorming tour of the United States. The tour, which featured 16 games in less than two months, earned Grange more than $100,000. When the Bears rejected the halfback’s contract offer for the following season, Pyle threatened to create a rival NFL team in New York City with Grange as the star. The NFL refused to allow it, so Pyle created his own league, the first American Football League. The AFL folded after one season, but Pyle’s New York Yankees franchise, led by Grange, was admitted into the NFL.
Pyle was a master of selling personality as much as athletic prowess. One of his main clients outside of football was French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, who played in 40 cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Cuba during a 1927 tour. In 1928, Pyle organized the Bunion Derby, a footrace from Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York.
3. William “Tank” Black
Black was an All-American receiver and assistant coach at the University of South Carolina before starting his own business, Professional Management Incorporated, in 1988. His first client was a fellow former South Carolina receiver, Sterling Sharpe, the seventh pick of the 1988 NFL draft. Over the next decade, Black’s list of star clients at PMI would steadily grow. In 1999, he represented a record five first-round NFL draft picks, in addition to NBA superstar Vince Carter. “What can I say?” Black told Sports Illustrated at the time “It’s a very financially successful business.”
While some agents may have suspected that Black was bending the rules, few could have predicted that he would be involved in one of the biggest sports agent fraud cases in history, and be the subject of investigations by the SEC, IRS, and FBI. When the dust settled, Black served eight years in prison on money laundering and fraud charges, and was accused of scamming his clients, including former University of Florida stars Ike Hilliard and Fred Taylor, out of nearly $15 million.
4 & 5. Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom
In 1985, Walters, a longtime agent in the entertainment business whose clientele included Janet Jackson, expanded his business to include sports representation at the suggestion of the younger Bloom, who had worked as a bouncer at New York’s trendy Studio 54. It turned out to be a bad decision. According to Chris Mortensen’s 1991 book about the infamous duo, Playing for Keeps, Walters and Bloom offered 58 college players $800,000 for the exclusive rights to represent them when they turned pro. Walters and Bloom were soon the subjects of a 17-month FBI investigation, after which they were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion, racketeering, and mail fraud. In addition to accusations that they offered college players money, the indictment alleged that Walters and Bloom threatened players who accepted money but ultimately didn’t sign. Bloom was accused of telling a client and teammate of former Texas standout Everett Gay, “We can get someone from Vegas to come down and see that Everett Gay doesn’t play football again.” The FBI’s investigation revealed connections between Walters and Bloom’s operation and organized crime.
Walters and Bloom were initially charged, but the verdict was thrown out one year later on appeal. Walters continued his career as an agent in the entertainment business. Bloom was shot to death at his Malibu home in 1993.
6. Mark McCormack
McCormack founded International Management Group in 1960 and pioneered the sports marketing industry. He was, by most accounts, one of the good guys in the business, no matter what the head of IMG’s golf division had to say in a 1990 Sports Illustrated article that dubbed McCormack the most powerful man in sports. “We're IBM, the 1927 Yankees, whatever. Everybody hates us.” While playing for the golf team at William & Mary, McCormack met a Wake Forest star by the name of Arnold Palmer. After McCormack earned his law degree at Yale, he met Palmer again at a tournament in Cleveland where he was working at a law firm. A handshake led to a business partnership and McCormack began setting up endorsement deals for Palmer on the side. In 1961, Palmer made an estimated $200,000 in addition to tournament winnings, which was unheard of at the time. McCormack signed Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, and later branched into other sports, signing the likes of Martina Navratilova and Pele. McCormack died at the age of 72 in 2003. Today, IMG boasts nearly 3,000 employees in 30 countries.
7. Leland Hardy
Hardy, a Wharton School graduate whose unique career has included stints on Wall Street and as a professional boxer, as well as 15 years as the business advisor to Serena and Venus Williams, is responsible for what is widely regarded as one of the worst rookie contracts in NFL history. While working for rapper Master P’s firm, No Limit Sports Management, Hardy negotiated the contract for former Texas running back and the No. 5 pick in the 1999 NFL draft Ricky Williams. The eight-year deal included a record $8.84 million signing bonus, but very little guaranteed money. If Williams had a tremendous eight years, the incentive-laden deal called for him to earn as much as $68.5 million. If Williams failed to perform, he could earn as little as $11.6 million over the course of the contract. Williams, who didn’t reach most of the benchmarks in his contract, fired No Limit Sports and signed with Leigh Steinberg in 2003.
Hardy is doing just fine, though. The entrepreneur and owner of thousands of domain names purchased newyork.com for a small fee in 1994. Today, experts estimate he could sell it for $6 million.
8. Dwight Manley
Dennis Rodman was reportedly $1 million in debt when he first met Manley at a Las Vegas casino in 1993. I saw “a diamond in the desert that just needed some polishing,” Manley told Sports Illustrated in 1997. “It was so obvious.” Manley, who sold his rare-coin dealing business when he partnered with Rodman in 1995, helped turn the controversial player into a marketer’s dream. After Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, he signed a book deal for an autobiography, “Bad As I Wanna Be.” In 1996, Rodman appeared in multiple ads, filmed the movie “Double Team” with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and earned $9 million in non-basketball income. Manley, who later represented Karl Malone among other NBA players, has also produced a History Channel documentary about California Gold Rush-era money and served as a consultant to the FTC and IRS in cases involving valuable coins.