Michael Jordan's possible involvement with the Washington Wizards has raised eyebrows among NBA officials about what role, if any, super agent David Falk would have with the team. The NBA Players Association prohibits player agents from holding managerial positions with teams, and while Falk might not have a formal title in Jordan's front office, the two men are so close that Falk surely would become a formidable presence in the team's operations.
"That's a concern," an NBA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said yesterday. "That's one of the many things we have to work through on this matter."
Falk and Jordan declined to comment on the matter yesterday. Pollin and other Wizards executives also declined to comment.
Under the union's regulations, agents also are prohibited from representing members of management. Thus, Falk would not be allowed to represent Jordan in future negotiations with Wizards owner Abe Pollin. However, Falk likely would be able to continue representing Jordan is his lucrative endorsement deals, a union official said.
Steve Kauffman, a Los Angeles-based agent, was forced to give up his representation of longtime client Doc Rivers when Rivers was negotiating to become coach of the Orlando Magic. Kauffman disagreed with the union stand, saying: "When you have a long-term relationship, you should be allowed to continue it. . . . You have to believe in the integrity of Falk and Jordan until proven otherwise."
NBPA spokesman Dan Wasserman said that all agent regulations are under review. Asked about the one that would prevent Falk from representing Jordan in any NBA management role, he said: "It's possible that this rule might be modified or it might stay the same."
Falk has long been one of the NBA's most powerful agents, with a distinguished client list that includes Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and others.
But he's more closely aligned with Jordan than all his other clients combined. He's widely credited with helping Jordan become the highest-paid sports star on earth, with a string of huge endorsement deals with Nike, MCI WorldCom, McDonald's and others. It was Falk who coined the phrase "Air Jordan" for his line of Nike clothing.
Falk's involvement with the Wizards would be an odd marriage for another reason. Perhaps no other NBA team has had a worse relationship with an agent than the Wizards have had with Falk, who, ironically, lives in Washington and is a season ticket holder.
Falk and the Wizards have clashed several times in recent years while negotiating contracts for Howard, Strickland and Rex Chapman. Last winter when negotiations regarding Strickland's deal were stalled, Pollin said of Falk: "I don't think he likes me, and as a matter of fact, I don't think I like him, either."
Pollin said he did not know how his relationship with one of the NBA's most influential agents went bad. "A couple of years ago, I made an attempt to have a personal relationship with him," he said. "But for some reason, he has negative feelings toward me."
Falk responded, saying: "I'm frustrated we haven't had a much more symbiotic working relationship in this town since he represents management and I represent labor. It doesn't make me dislike him. It makes me frustrated. He's been very pleasant to me personally, but I think the team clearly has not had friendly dealings with Rex, Juwan and others. . . . The Wizards have not been fair in our dealings."
In one interview, Falk said his negotiating experiences with the franchise were "distasteful" and "highly unprofessional." He called the Wizards "arguably dishonest."
Falk's most contentious dealings with the franchise concerned Howard. The sides first clashed in 1994 when Howard missed all of training camp and the first two weeks of the regular season in a contract dispute. They had another public dispute two years later when Howard became a free agent.
In the first round of negotiations, then-general manager John Nash admitted the Bullets were offering a deal that was below the NBA's market value. But Nash said the time had come for a team to take a stand. In the end, that stand hurt the Wizards (who were then known as the Bullets) because while Howard eventually agreed to a deal for slightly below market value, the Bullets agreed to let Howard become a free agent after his second year in the league.
When he became a free agent, Howard struck it rich, eventually signing a seven-year, $105 million deal with the Wizards.
In 1995, Falk had a public disagreement with the Wizards over Chapman, a Falk client who accused the franchise of reneging on a promised $16 million contract extension. Chapman eventually was traded to the Miami Heat.
Last winter, the Wizards and Falk had another very public disagreement over Strickland, who eventually settled on a four-year, $40 million deal.
CAPTION: If Jordan joins Wizards, agent David Falk, left, couldn't represent him in dealings with Abe Pollin.
CAPTION: Agent David Falk, second from left, is the man who created the "Air Jordan" moniker for Michael Jordan.