Boozer latest exhibit in ethics hall of shame

July 14, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

AS KOBE AND SHAQ headed to the most stupid divorce in NBA history, it turns out that they had nothing on Carlos Boozer and his sports agent, Rob Pelinka.

Gather round, friends - if you revel in scenarios that plummet the reputation of sports agents further down the food chain.

By reneging on a good-faith deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers for $41 million and instead accepting a $68 million deal with the Utah Jazz that they were only in position to negotiate thanks to Cleveland's trust, Boozer and Pelinka have done the unimaginable: They've made Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras look like poster children for Athletes for the Ethical Treatment of Sports Team Owners.

"It's a tough situation," said Calvin Andrews, an agent with Bill Duffy Associates, who represents Carmelo Anthony.

"We want to be sure there's a level of integrity in our industry. If we don't, we won't get anything done with owners and general managers. This is definitely a big black eye on the whole industry," Andrews said.

It upset my sense of world order when it was later revealed that the so-called demands Boras made to the New York Mets during the notoriously soured free-agent negotiations for Alex Rodriguez turned out to be bogus.

Boy, it was fun to cluck over the spectacular greed, ruthlessness and single-minded pursuit of the almighty dollar Boras displayed in demanding everything under the sun for A-Rod from the Mets.

When it turned out that Boras was a little less boorish than adamantly portrayed by former New York general manager Steve Phillips, that Boras did not demand billboards and a private office and jet trips for A-Rod, things just did not make sense.

You mean a team official can lie and manipulate events better than a sports agent? What was the world coming to? In an attempt to capitalize on Boozer's surprisingly good value after two years in the NBA, Pelinka and Boozer met on June 30 with the Cavaliers, getting the team to agree to not pick up the Boozer's $695,000 option for 2004-05.

Instead, Pelinka got the Cavs to allow Boozer to become a free agent, at which point he would sign the long-term deal with the Cavs.

Surprise! Pelinka didn't stop there. He didn't stop until Utah made Boozer the recipient of one of the biggest salary spikes in the history of the NBA.

For that, the Cavaliers look like idiots - for taking an agent and his client (one of their players!) at his word. Boozer's reputation and Olympic dreams are DOA.

Pelinka, meanwhile, has been forced to sever ties with Boozer, at the frantic request of his company, SFX Sports, which will now scramble and attempt subterfuge in its role as representative to a talented, 22-year-old pawn (Boozer) in a monster money game between several giant corporations. Quick, someone call Cameron Crowe. Tell him the perfect script for his Jerry Maguire sequel has materialized.

Not that sports agents across America aren't speed-dialing each other, assessing the damage from this ethical meltdown.

"I fault them [SFX Sports, Pelinka's company] 100 percent. If you make a deal in good faith, you do not put yourself in a position where you are tempted by other deals. No, no, no," Aaron Goodwin said yesterday.

The Oakland-based agent who represents LeBron James and Dwight Howard, the No. 1 picks in the last two NBA drafts, has many reasons to cast aspersions on rival sports agents.

"Everyone's looking to be king of the jungle," said Goodwin, who prides himself on handling fewer clients so he can give maximum attention to them.

This could be the main reason why Boozer is in the kind of jam he's in. SFX Sports Group is a leading talent management and marketing agency that represents over 500 athletes, including Tracy McGrady, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Jerry Rice, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.

SFX is the No. 1-ranked sports company based on number of clients and amount of contracts it has negotiated, according to Sports Business Journal. It's also a subsidiary of Clear Channel Entertainment, which bought SFX in 2000.

There's reason to suspect that in this vast culture of sports entertainment as big business, Pelinka, a former Michigan shooting guard-turned-lawyer, was over-aggressive.

Boozer clearly was due to be underpaid, and Pelinka coupled that with Cleveland's desire to keep Boozer. That's where the trust and mutual benefit was rooted - or so the Cavs believed when they gambled and did not exercise the option.

Boozer could get his money now, start his free-agent clock toward the next contract and the Cavs could lock him up at less money than it would probably cost next year, when he turns into an unrestricted free agent.

But after the handshake, Pelinka violated the rules of the jungle.

"[SFX] thought they were going to drive [Boozer's contract offer] up, go back to Cleveland and let them match it," said Goodwin, who thinks this bum deal will lead the NBA to do away with the 14-day "cooling off" period between declaring free agency and signing.

"They went to Utah, Denver, Atlanta - all the teams with cap room. But Utah said we're not going to play that. So [Utah] front-loaded the contract so Cleveland would have to have to dump players in order to match it. So [SFX and Pelinka] got themselves into a pickle," Goodwin said.

"It's a very interesting case. We're just [annoyed] that it makes things harder for us," Andrews said.

And we thought ethical violations by a sports agent were almost impossible.

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