Terps star, NBA stalwart, trial lawyer and now agent to today's pro athletes: Is there any challenge Len Elmore can't meet?

THE BALL'S IN HIS COURT

February 07, 1993|By Tim Warren

It was June 1975. Summer school had just started at the University of Maryland, and Len Elmore had a problem. He was enrolled in an English course, but couldn't make the first couple of classes on the College Park campus because he was in Indianapolis, playing for the Indiana Pacers against the Kentucky Colonels for the American Basketball Association championship. So he sent his girlfriend, Gail Segal, to sit in for him in the class until the season was over.

Mr. Elmore had been a star player for the Maryland basketball team in the early 1970s, a 6-foot-9 center with ferocious rebounding and defensive skills. He had helped the team rise to the highest levels of college basketball, and was on his way to a promising professional career with the Pacers. He had been a big, big man on campus. But not everyone was impressed.

"The professor pulled her aside," Mr. Elmore says now, recalling the situation with a smile. "He said, 'You're here for Len Elmore? Well, you tell Len Elmore that he's not going to breeze through this class. I'm not going to give him a grade. He's got to work his a-- off just like anyone else.'

"Well, I had two reactions. One, I took his remarks as a challenge: I wanted to do well because I needed to, because I was short 18 credits for graduation. Secondly, it was like, 'Hey, what do you think -- that I'm just a dumb jock?' Or worse, racially sensitive -- a dumb black jock? That was the challenge I took. I just can't stand it. It raises every hackle on my back."

Just days after his Pacers had lost the ABA championship, he dug in to his studies. Mr. Elmore looks almost triumphant now: "I wound up getting an 88 and just missed getting an A." And by going back to school every summer, he got his B.A. degree in English in 1978.

Everywhere Len Elmore has gone, there have been challenges And every time it seems someone has told him he can't do something, Len Elmore has shown that he can.

A late bloomer who had preferred baseball as a child, Mr. Elmore took up basketball only when he started sprouting up in his midteens. He was a streetwise young man from a working-class family who had grown up in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y. An awkward, gangling teen-ager, he became a star high school player after honing his skills on some tough proving grounds, the New York City playgrounds.

"I was terrible, just terrible," he concedes readily. "I'd fall for the littlest fake, and most of the time I had absolutely no idea what to do. But there was that old word -- challenge -- again. I was determined to be a good player." He became good enough to be named All-City his senior year in high school. Many colleges came to recruit Mr. Elmore, but Maryland got him.

He came back from a serious knee injury as a freshman at Maryland to become a top-flight college player. Another knee injury, in his third year with the Pacers, severely limited Mr. Elmore's mobility and jumping ability, but he revamped his game, becoming a solid, respected reserve known for intelligent, team-oriented play.

"It hurts a little, to this day, that because of injuries I did not have the kind of career I had hoped for," says Mr. Elmore, who averaged 6.0 points a game for five teams during his nine-year professional career. "When you're 22, you never expect to finish out your time in the NBA on the bench with two bad knees."

But when his career was over, Mr. Elmore, at age 32, was not just another ex-pro athlete with no life to turn to.

He went to Harvard Law School, getting his degree in 1987, and became an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn for three years before forming his own law firm in Washington. He also began doing television commentary on college basketball games in the mid-'80s, and within a few years was a rising star in that field.

That's a full life for almost anyone, but not for Mr. Elmore.

At age 40, he's taken on another challenge.

As president and chief executive officer of the Columbia-based Precept Sports and Entertainment Inc., he's entered the notoriously competitive and pressurized world of player representation ("don't say I'm an agent," he says, half-seriously).

In its first year of operation, Precept attracted two top clients, Harold Miner of the University of Southern California and Walt Williams of the University of Maryland. Each was a first-round draft pick in the National Basketball Association -- Mr. Miner by the Miami Heat and Mr. Williams by the Sacramento Kings -- and Mr. Elmore helped each of them negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts.

In a life characterized by performing under pressure, Mr. Elmore again is competing, seemingly against high odds: According to the NBA Players Association, there are more than 200 active player agents registered with the NBA. By contrast, there are just over 300 NBA players.

Still, his early success in landing two top players as clients has given Mr. Elmore a strong start. Among those impressed is super-agent David Falk, whose high-visibility clients include Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing.

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