Profiles in MHS Sports

Agent Steve Kauffman

By Seth Rubinroit / Special to The Malibu Times

With more than 30 years of experience as a basketball agent, Malibu resident Steve Kauffman has seen it all.

With more than 30 years of experience as a basketball agent, Malibu resident Steve Kauffman has seen it all.

“Steve is a brilliant guy. He has done everything except playing in the basketball world,” Mark Warkentien, one of Kauffman’s clients and the Denver Nuggets’ vice president of Basketball Operations, said. “He is very thorough, been on both sides of many negotiations, and knows the law and the [NBA’s] collective bargaining agreement inside and out. There is nothing he cannot do.”

Kauffman is both an attorney and a certified public accountant. He started as an accountant, and prepared tax returns for several NBA players. He then served as the commissioner of the Eastern Basketball Association, which became the Continental Basketball League. As a player agent, Kauffman represented some of the biggest names in basketball, including Dominique Wilkins, Ben Wallace and Doc Rivers.

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In February of 2008, Kauffman transitioned from representing professional athletes to focusing on coaches and front office personnel.

“Steve always impressed me when we were advocates on opposite sides of the coin, when he was a player agent and I was in the front office,” Warkentien, who won the 2008-2009 NBA Executive of the Year Award, said. “Steve was a guy who made me think, ‘I could hire him as my attorney in a personal manner.’ That is a pretty good benchmark.”

You recently transitioned from representing players to representing front office personnel, coaches and sports broadcasters. What inspired this change?

The front office people I was negotiating against [as a player agent] kept telling me I should represent them and coaches. I listened to them, but I did not seriously consider it. Then, at one point, I decided I would be more comfortable representing coaches and general managers. After 30 years, I have a good perception into what makes a good coach and general manager, and that is not an easy thing to learn.

What is the biggest difference between representing players and those you represent now?

When you are representing players, you are involved with more than negotiating player and endorsement contracts. If you are doing a good job, you are involved with most aspects of their lives. With the coaches and general managers, you sometimes serve a little bit as a matchmaker. You try to see a good fit where an assistant general manager of one team can step in for a struggling general manager of another team. You try to anticipate these things a year or two in advance.

You are known for being creative in your negotiations. Describe some of the innovations you are credited with.

I created the opt-out clause. I was negotiating with a team, and we could not settle on a fair number, and one of the ways to compromise the situation was to let the player terminate the contract after every year of the six-year deal if he chose to. I also created “Summer Basketball Injury Protection.” It used to be that if a player wanted to practice basketball or lift weights in the off-season and he got hurt, his entire contract could be voided. I ensured that players could condition and practice without worrying about getting hurt and losing their contract.

What is the best and worst part of being a basketball agent?

If you love sports like I do and you realize you will not be a professional athlete or coach, then this is as close as you can get to the sport. You are very involved, and it can be exciting. The worst part is the aftermath. You see too many athletes who make a lot of money, but spend a lot of money, and they are bankrupt or divorced within five years of retiring.

How has being a basketball agent changed in your 30 years of experience?

A lot has changed as the money has changed. The big money brings out certain characters, as in any field. In the beginning, I saw a lot of agents that really cared about their clients. Now, I see too many that only care about their bottom line.

If your son were about to become a professional basketball player, which basketball agent would you suggest he use? Which basketball agent would you tell him to avoid?

He would never pick me, so we do not have to worry about that. He would have to know he is getting good, personal service. The best agent might be someone who has a little experience, about 35 years old, who is still growing his practice, so my son will be an important client to him. There are absolutely agents I would tell him to avoid.

What advice do you have for prospective basketball agents?

If someone wants to be a basketball agent, they have to go to college, and probably emphasize business courses. You do not have to be a lawyer, but it sure helps a lot. Once you graduate and you get that elusive first job, you have to work your way up and pay your dues.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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