David Falk has been Michael Jordan's agent and friend for 15 years. Together, they've negotiated deals for shoes, cologne, movies and the like worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Along the way, their relationship helped make Jordan one of the country's richest and best-known athletes and Falk one of the NBA's most powerful agents.
Now, their partnership is being scrutinized anew after the Washington Wizards named Jordan their president of basketball operations. Apart from the fact that the Wizards already have three Falk clients--forward Juwan Howard, guard Rod Strickland and center Jahidi White--some NBA officials worry that the team could have an unfair advantage if Falk decides to steer future free agents toward his most famous client.
However, Jordan's involvement with Falk--and his partner, Curtis Polk--seems to make it inevitable that the two men will sit across the bargaining table from one another. In fact, that possibility likely will become reality this summer when it's time to sign White to a new contract.
If that happens, some NBA officials and agents wonder if Falk will be as demanding of Jordan as he has been with the dozens of other owners and general managers with whom he has clashed the last decade.
"That possibility just doesn't bother me," said New Jersey Nets General Manager John Nash, who has had several highly publicized battles with Falk. "Falk can only do so much. If you do business with David, it's going to be costly. He gets market value. Actually, he usually gets more than market value. I don't think having Michael on the other side of the table is going to change that."
Others agree with that assessment. "People have always overestimated the influence of Falk and underestimated his players intellectually," agent Keith Glass said. "No one is telling these guys what to do. When you're talking about Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan, these are bright guys."
Asked if a player would want to send Falk into a negotiating session against Jordan, Glass laughed.
"Actually, that could be a big problem," he said. "I suggest all those players hire me immediately."
Turning serious, he said: "That relationship is going to be fraught with conflict, and it could be a problem. The way I look at it, it's a two-way street. David is not going to take advantage of Michael. Michael has always been his own man."
An agent who knows Falk and Jordan well added: "Listen, Michael is not going to be afraid to tell David to go to hell. Now, if you're asking what's in the best interest of the player, you have to think there's integrity on both sides."
Falk has no formal title with the Wizards and apparently won't have one. However, Jordan said this week that he hoped his long personal relationship with Falk would continue now that he's a team executive.
"I have always valued his advice," Jordan told John Thompson Wednesday on WTEM-980. "And that's not going to change unless the league says I can't talk to my advisers. Then I'll have to take another approach to it. But, contrary to what people may believe and what they may say, I trust these individuals with their advice to me, and I'm going to continue to use it."
Jordan said he already knows something about negotiating with Falk. One such instance occurred when Falk negotiated a shoe deal for Vancouver Grizzlies guard Mike Bibby. Jordan has wide-ranging authority in Nike endorsement contracts and was on the other side of the negotiating table when Falk delivered a proposal for Bibby.
"Mr. Falk came into my office . . . with some unbelievable [demands]," Jordan said. "I looked Mr. Falk in the eye and said, 'I know who you are. That's why it's not going to work on me.' That didn't sit well, but we eventually did a deal without any problems. [Bibby] was happy. I was happy. So I've had some dealings with David and don't have a problem saying no to him."
Falk declined to be interviewed for this article, but he told Thompson that he and Jordan "like to feel we've been a good team together."
Still, Falk and Jordan will face some restrictions in their partnership. NBA Players Association regulations prohibits player agents from representing coaches, general managers and most other top management officials. Based on those guides, Falk could not represent Jordan in basketball matters, but could continue to do the lucrative endorsement deals.
Meantime, an NBA official expressed concern about the Jordan-Falk relationship, but said it was not unique because several players--Jerry West, Doc Rivers, Mike Dunleavy and many others--have become involved in coaching or management once their playing careers ended.
As for the players, they seem unbothered by the Jordan-Falk relationship and how it might impact them.
"I'm not concerned about that," Howard said. "Michael will do what's best for his team. He wants to win as much as anyone. If I'm not doing my job, he'll ship my butt right out of here no matter who my agent is."
Wizards forward Tracy Murray is in a similar situation because his agent, Arn Tellem, is part of a firm that recently was acquired by SFX, the sports and marketing conglomerate that also bought Falk's firm.
"I'm not uncomfortable with it at all," Murray said. "I understand those questions will be asked, but you have to trust your agent to do the right thing."
Some wonder about Falk's influence stretching into other areas. Two Falk clients--Howard and Strickland--have had their differences with Coach Gar Heard, and Falk told at least one executive that he would like to get his clients out of Washington or get Heard fired.
"I'm sure he has told Michael about this," the executive said. "Now if Gar Heard gets fired in the next few days, it might be a sign that Falk is wielding large influence."