During a very lopsided Game 1 of the NBA Finals, we texted back and forth with Jimmy Butler‘s agent Bernie Lee, who’s had a much better 2019-20 season than most following a rich contract for his main client in free agency and a big deal with a Canadian company.
Anyways, here’s the transcription of the conversation:
What’s the most nervous you’ve been watching a client play a game? Does this rank high?
Bernie Lee: You know what? In this case, the work is already done, so I’m good. I really believe in both Jimmy and this team’s work and ability to grind this out. Also this is nothing like watching Mike James on Chicago 10 days hoping he played his way into 10 more days or something like that. That’s gotta be the most nervous I’ve ever been.
Mike James was one confident man. I sense a pattern in the Bernie Lee clientele.
BL: Mike taught me everything I’ll ever need to know. Without him, there is no me.
More on him later. But for now, do you like the court?
BL: It’s so amazing what they’ve been able to pull off with the game experience. It’s pretty cool. It’s neat that this is the first time we’ve seen the Disney branding.
The whole bubble operation… man. They the real MVPs for sure.
BL: They did something here beyond words. Michael Levine, if you are reading this, you are one of the real MVPs.
Have any idea how many agents will be there?
BL: Honestly, I don’t know… I’m sure we will all get coffees together. I know a place…
What’s up with that? Is that going to turn into something serious with Starbucks or something? Because the branding is on point.
BL: Honestly it’s beyond words. He’s a genius. The possibilities are endless, literally. It happened so organically too and it’s a true labor of love for him. I think that comes through and that’s why it’s hit.
Has anybody reached out already about doing something coffee related?
BL: Anyone who has anything to do with coffee anywhere in the world has reached out in the last 2-3 weeks. It’s truly amazing. It’s a whole world I knew nothing about. I’m about to buy a donkey like Juan Valdez. Me and my burro walking the earth. That’s about to be me. LOL.
Always amazes me how huge LeBron is. Like he’s basically the third-largest person on the court right now!
Who’s the most physically imposing player you’ve been around?
BL: Yao. I was on an elevator with him once and it’s beyond comprehension. Shaq was something as well, obviously, but Yao.
I was in a bus with him once. A kid asked for an autograph and he passed. He was massive.
One of the best human beings I’ve ever met.
I read the Yao-Ewing-Mutombo piece every once in a while.
BL: I went to a Chinese food restaurant in Toronto with Yao and Deke. In Toronto, Chinese food places are numbered like it’s easier for you to point at what you want than to say it. Deke kept pointing at whatever No. 13 was and saying in the Deke voice: “I want the Yao Ming.” And he thought it was the funniest thing ever. He said it about 15 times.
Well… Miami 23, Lakers 10.
BL: I think you are ahead of me in the feed. So don’t say the score again or I’ll kill you. I live in Canada and I swear, man. This is my chance to get something done about it. We have the worst cable ever. Justin, if you’re reading this: “This is Bernie from the parade last year. I know you got a lot going on right now, but throw me a lob here.”
Did you meet prime minister Trudeau at the Raptors parade?
BL: I did meet Justin at the parade. It was crazy because in Toronto about a year ago, they legalized weed. Two million people in this square they did. At the end the parade, I’m shaking Justin’s hand and all I could think was, “Man it really smells like weed.” So bizarre.
Did you get to talk?
BL: Really quickly. It was a lot going on. Haven’t got a parking ticket since, though. So was time well spent, I guess.
Paul Pierce predicted a Lakers sweep. That’s when I knew Miami may have a chance here.
BL: You know what? I think everyone says the same thing, but I don’t get Paul’s deal. One of my retired Euro clients is his best friend Jason Crowe. (The only guy I’ve ever sent somewhere who averaged a triple-double for an entire season). I tell him all the time, “What’s up with Paul? Why is he so old and angry almost?” We saw Paul at the All-Star and he couldn’t have been nicer. It’s weird that some guys get on TV and they feel like they have to be so controversial. Like Skip or other people they’ve seen.
Perhaps they see that’s rewarded.
BL: Tony Romo in the NFL has the highest contract of anyone doing TV. He doesn’t crush everyone, he gives nuance to the game. Go be Tony. Explain the game. Like Paul could have talked about how big of a moment playing in your first finals game is. He’s been there. Instead, he doubles down because he took an aggressive position months ago. It’s tired.
My guess is Draymond will be the NBA’s Romo.
BL: Vince. Vince can explain some shit. Or Matt Barnes. Matt Barnes is a TV rock star. Have you seen him do an interview. It’s unreal. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t see that coming from Barnes, to be honest.
By the way, your guy might be Finals MVP 11 minutes in.
BL: Sssshhh, don’t jinx it.
But AD’s size doing a lot of damage too.
BL: Miami plays in spurts sometimes. But when they have needed it, they string together stops and maximize possessions
This is a good start for them. My thing was wondering if the moment would get them. As long as they don’t turn the ball over, they will play really well. They are so well-coached
Spoelstra is a genius. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever spoken to and he learned his trade and found his voice under a crazy set of circumstances. And he is 1,000 percent his own person. I respect him so much. He’s amazing.
He is. 31-28 at the end of the first quarter. That’s been pretty decent.
BL: Watch this interview after the first quarter. He’ll be calm yet direct. That’s how he is with the team. And they reflect it.
I’ve learned in the NBA teams adopt the personality quirks of their coach. Both good and bad. And you can’t BS an NBA player on anything.
When Butler joined Miami, which teammate was he most excited about? Did he expect THIS from Adebayo?
BL: For sure Bam. But who could have seen this from him outside of him and his people? I thought defensively he was Ben Wallace and offensively who knew? He’s about to be the prototype of what a center is in the NBA for the next 10 years. It’s amazing.
In our meeting, they didn’t talk a lot about any one guy, though. They talked about having a great young core they felt needed a leader. They were right. The guy who has surprised me the most is Goran.
He’s been under-the-radar good for quite a while. He was an All-Star, All-NBA and Eurobasket MVP before this season, remember that.
BL: He has an uncanny ability to make shots and break runs. He is such a gamer. As a teammate, he has an astute ability to say the exact right thing at the exact right time. He’s special.
I remember some of the takes about Butler’s free agency. “Oh, he says he wants to win, but goes to Miami?” That didn’t age well.
BL: That was just stupid. I didn’t see a lot of that until way after. But it was dumb. I get the comparison they were making but you can’t knock him for wanting to take a challenge and to see what he was capable of. Like I said the other day, one thing I really respect about him is he will accept outcomes. He’ll take on a challenge and if he comes up short, you won’t see any excuses. Just a head nod and run it back. That’s in anything you compete with him on. He never talks shit. Doesn’t gloat. He just lives to compete and figure things out.
How big of a relief was to get that deal done personally? I’ve seen so many quality players dump agents from smaller agencies for the large ones just before their big payday.
BL: Don’t you put that on me, Ricky Bobby. I’m taller than most agents I’ve met and at that time I was built like a sumo wrestler, so I’m not sure what you were referring to. But honestly, I never thought about it in reference to me. This isn’t about me at all, I know what my job is and I knew I would do it. His deal was a bit complicated as I knew we would need a sign-and-trade but I never doubted it at all.
What was the celebration like?
That’s almost generational wealth right there with the commission from that contract. It’s life-changing.
BL: How many real estate agents and money managers are you trying to get to email me the next few days, Jorge?
How much did you get when you sold the site? Let’s talk about!
Actually can’t disclose, per the contract
BL: What was the first thing you did?
I remember my co-worker and BFFL Raul made “I’m rich, b*tch” Rick James tees and we partied and people kept asking us for drugs. We were having such a good time that they thought it could only be drugs, I guess.
But we didn’t have any, sorry.
Lakers up 12 with just seven points from LeBron, who’s been amazing with the playmaking. But still troubling for Miami.
BL: It’s actually a good start for Miami, I’d say. The guys who have made shots for L.A. won’t over the long haul. And Miami is figuring out the length issue that L.A. presents.
Oops, Butler hurting. Left ankle.
BL: He has an uncanny ability to walk off ankles. That didn’t look good, but he’ll be OK.
Hope that’s true. For him and for the sake of the Finals.
BL: For sure. He’ll be OK. He has Wolverine ankles.
Let’s go back to Mike James for a minute. Do you remember the first time we got in touch?
BL: I think a mutual friend intro’d us. Who will freak if either of us says it haha.
The first interaction I remember is after a Mike James interview.
BL: Ahhh yes!
I post the interview, then he goes on Twitter and says I made up a quote about Flip Saunders not giving him an opportunity. I’m like, “WTH?” So I upload the audio of that part of the interview to Youtube to much acclaim from NBA media on Twitter. And that’s when you come in That was a bad start for a relationship.
BL: LOL. I think I tried to like clean it up, no? Like we are here now so it couldn’t have been bad.
Yes, you cleaned up his mess. But I left the audio out there for a few hours.
BL: You definitely clapped back I remember now. It’s funny I’ve never gotten guys taking an adversarial relationship with media.
Like in my 16 years, I’ve literally only met like one or two media people I felt just didn’t like or I felt like had a mean-spirited agenda.
Name names. Or we can switch and talk about your new deal with an agency?
BL: I am super lucky and excited, man. About 5-6 months ago, I met these people who ran a concierge company that was essentially targeted at supporting agencies. It was like I invented in my mind a company that would ideally help me in my business and then someone made it. I met with these people and they happened to be based in Montreal and five minutes in I realized they were geniuses. Their story is they ran a family office for this really awesome Canadian business person named Lino Saputo Jr. Lino had an interest in hockey because of his son and his son’s best friend who played in the NHL and he noticed a gap in his representation. So he went to his family office and said, “Can we do this better?” All driven at improving his son’s friends experience. So they started buying hockey agencies and they became one of the biggest hockey agents.
The partnership we entered is essentially joining together and building out our companies together. I get access to some amazingly smart people and great back office and Lino, who is a leader beyond words. And they can a really great friend in me, LOL. I’m really excited about it, our new entity is Quartexx Basketball and it’s the vision I always had of creating a boutique-styled firm with big-firm amenities.
Congrats. Better week for you than game for Miami.
BL: They will be OK. Sometimes you gotta take a punch to know you are in a fight.
Oh, they are taking all the punches.
BL: Just keep watching. One really good thing Spo does is adjust.
That would be for another game because at 78-54 you might want to think about resting guys.
Game 2 will be more contested, I’m sure. But they better win the close ones or this could be over quickly.
BL: For sure, for sure. That’s any series, though. Anthony Davis is really good.
“The Lakers gave up a lot”. That’s another take that didn’t age well.
BL: Yeah, that’s insane. There are like 13 franchise guys in the NBA. That’s it. Once you get one of those guys or can, that’s it. That’s everything. He’s one of them.
Since there’s not much to talk about the game… Let’s talk more things Butler. Back story of the Jimmy Butler-Rachel Nichols interview.
BL: We just set the day for the interview to give him a forum to speak. It just worked out that that day they had the practice they had.
So he didn’t practice like that with the subsequent interview in mind?
BL: No, not at all. He practiced like that because that’s what needed to be done that day. It wasn’t contrived or anything. Also, there was no way to know someone within that team would live-tweet the whole thing. That part really surprised me.
Does he stay in touch with many people from that Timberwolves team?
BL: I haven’t asked. But no one on that team has ever not supported him. I felt like they all understood his perspective and knew it wasn’t about them.
You’ve done a bit of writing. What do you think about these agents who are doubling as media personalities like Rich Kleiman and BJ Armstrong? Is that a trend?
BL: They are a bit different because they have way different backgrounds. And it seems like everyone has a podcast now. BJ is awesome, though. Like his perspective is really cool. You think normally role players have a great top side view to some really monumental things. He was part of the greatest dynasty of all-time maybe. Rich has a music industry background, so his perspective is cool.
I’d get myself in trouble, so I’ll write if you edit but that’s about it.
Twitter ever got you in trouble?
BL: No, never. Should it?!?
You’re not coy at all there. Especially compared to most in the business. Has having a presence there helped you recruit?
BL: Not really. I think for me it’s a forum to express myself. And in all areas, I try and be pretty genuine
Well, the injured Heat guys better come back healthy because there’s no Spo magic that can get them to compete against L.A. without the guys at full force.