Daniel Hazan still recalls how he found his favorite team. It all started with a bathroom.
He was 7, and his dad took him to Madison Square Garden to see the Knicks; and thanks to a family friend, he found himself in the Knicks’ locker room postgame … and had to use the bathroom. At the urinals, while Hazan was handling his biz, he says, legendary Allan Houston walked in. They peed next to each other. That’s the kind of thing that bonds a boy to his team for life.
Now that Hazan has grown up, basketball is more central to his life than ever before, and he to it. At 23, Hazan is the youngest certified agent with a full-time NBA player as a client. It’s been nearly two years since he founded his own joint, Hazan Sports Management, but the scrappy two-time entrepreneur is sure to stack up even more clients soon, having already snagged eight active players as well as a couple of coaches. As they say, what’s luck got to do with it? For Hazan, it’s more scrappiness. His first company: As an undergrad at New York City’s Yeshiva University, he started an online retail store called Java Ads out of his student apartment — eventually renting an office in the Empire State Building. He got bored but was sitting pretty with $5 million in his pocket, having sold his shares.
So he decided to fill many a little boy’s dream: to make a career on the back of his favorite sport. Except he had almost no credibility to his name, with the exception of a brief internship at the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). The solution? Get sneaky by logging on to eBay with his childhood friend and business partner Andrew Hoenig. “We had no idea what we were doing,” laughs Hazan, recalling the early days. He Googled NBA business cards, and “lo and behold, you’ve got signed cards of NBA general managers.” It was after relentless calls to general managers that Hazan landed his first NBA client — Utah Jazz’s Elijah Millsap, who spent the prior five seasons plying his trade in the NBA’s D-League. A team on board and a couple of short 10-day contracts later, Millsap earned a shiny three-year deal. Now Hazan’s focus is on securing Jherrod Stiggers and Russell Byrd workouts with teams — a chance to prove their worth. (If no one bites, then perhaps Europe beckons.)
Who wants a 90-year-old guy who has never heard of Twitter … that doesn’t know where all the cool places to go are?
Entering the world of agents in which the average value of an NBA team has reached more than $1 billion might be as hard as getting into the leagues themselves. Players want agents with proven track records. Being eligible to be one of the 120 or so agents with an active league player by paying the NBPA the $100 registration fee, passing a background check and sending $1,500 in annual dues is one thing. Succeeding is quite another. But Hazan has been able to trade on that youth — precisely because it’s a shared trait with prospective clients. Most agents are well-heeled older men with some distance separating them from the players they represent. Their lives are far from the young stars who live in a colorful vista of social media. Hazan’s pitch: “Who wants a 90-year-old guy who’s never heard of Twitter or Instagram, that doesn’t know where all the cool places to go are, you know?”
That’s what hooked Stiggers, a former guard at the University of Houston and a recent Hazan signee. “As soon as I met him … I was like, ‘Yeah!’ I could tell he was really young and into [being an agent] as much as I was into basketball,” Stiggers says. Indeed, Hazan looks his age — boyish, slight, with dark hair and fashionable glasses and a nice suit — and (of course) he speaks like a New Yorker, a wise guy, words oozing like streetwise treacle. Adds Byrd, a former Michigan State standout and another recent Hazan signee, “He’s one of the hardest-working guys that I know.”
But hard grinding like this might not be enough, in the eyes of legendary agent David Falk. In his heyday, Falk guided Michael Jordan to become the highest paid and most marketable athlete in the world. He feels the landscape has shifted, describing today’s world as “the Wild West” — with players going as far as even demanding payment from prospective agents just to meet. According to Falk, “you need some very deep pockets now just to make a start.” The financial picture stacks the odds even higher. Of the $2.1 billion in players’ contracts this season, $1.6 billion was represented by the top 10 agencies, with leader Wasserman Media accounting for an eye-watering $334 million. Smaller agents eagerly jumping to larger firms when they get the call is not uncommon.
At least Hazan has a bit of a cushion: He’s now pursuing a law degree at Touro Law Center, a common qualification for agents and a smart plan B if 4 percent commissions cease to be enough. When OZY caught up with him a few months ago, he was frantically squeezing in cross-country flights to catch Millsap’s games alongside his studying and taking law finals. A self-confessed control freak, he admits that “this is a bit nutty.” But maybe nutty is good. Hazan is doing OK — passing with flying colors both on and off the court.