Basketball / B. League

Sports agency Wasserman enthusiastic about finding players spot in B. League

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Diante Garrett made a big impact with Japanese hoop fans in the B. League’s inaugural season last year, showing them flashy perimeter techniques and moves they had never seen before.

The guard, who is represented by one of the world’s largest sports agencies, Wasserman, wound up leaving Japan to play in Italy after just one year. But the Los Angeles-based Wasserman still considers Japan an important market that has significant potential going forward.

Wasserman has star clients in the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and soccer, and according to Forbes, the company’s commissions are estimated at $135.5 million as of September 2017.

In fact, Wasserman has sent four players to the B. League this year: Branden Dawson of the Sunrockers Shibuya, Greg Smith and David Wear of the Osaka Evessa, and Josh Hawkinson of the second division’s Fighting Eagles Nagoya.

Former Chicago Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong is the lead agent for Garrett and Dawson.

George David, vice president of Wasserman’s basketball operations, spoke highly of the Japanese league to his American clients and said he wants to continue to have players there.

“We went from one player, last year with Diante, to now a handful of players in many different cities here,” David, who visited Japan to check out his players last week, told The Japan Times in an interview at a Tokyo hotel. “I’d like to go from five players to seven or eight or nine players next year.”

David continued that Wasserman wants to “bring good players” to Japan because it feels like “this is a very, very good market, for players to enjoy playing.”

David, a former Detroit Pistons assistant general manager, was also confident that his players are embracing their time with their respective clubs and being in Japan.

“I can honestly say that with every player I visited with, every single one, would love to return here and likes it here,” said David, who joined Wasserman in 2015. “And you don’t always see this in nother countries where American players play. But 100 percent here, so for me that’s very, very encouraging and it drives me to bring more players here.”

Though he was in the country for just a year, David said Garrett was “speaking so fondly” of being in Japan.

“To say that he was saying positive things would be a drastic understatement,” David said. “We talk maybe once a week to this day. He never says he liked it here. He says he loved it here.

“Diante was a very unique situation, because he was one of the few import players who was a perimeter player, and that doesn’t happen very often. So he recognized that it may be a unique opportunity for him with Toyota (Alvark Tokyo) last year. But Diante absolutely loved Japan as if it was a second home for him.”

Historically, Japanese clubs have wanted tall import players who could play near the basket and make up for the lack of height among Japanese players.

From a basketball standpoint as well, David believes the league is doing a good job.

“The league continues to make some changes here and there within their rules,” David said. “But I think overall, the league is getting better and better.

“For a lot of those reasons that I mentioned, not only our players there, but I want to continue to place better players into this league from our company.”

David visited Tokyo exactly a year before his most recent trip. At that time, he met with some league officials to find out things such as league regulations and what the B. League was trying to accomplish. He visited league officials this time as well and expanded on their talks.

“For me, to get a better understanding of some of the new rules, maybe coming in, as well as they wanted to talk a little about some of the marketing that they had coming up with what they hope to do with increasing marketing opportunities for the clubs, for the league, so it was very good, it was very genuine, and I enjoyed it very much,” David said.

And David has also broadened his outlook on Japan and its league, as he now has multiple players competing in different cities.

Since its inception last year, the B. League has gotten off to a good start in terms of attendance, media exposure and business, and it has set a grand goal of eventually putting the circuit on a par with the country’s major professional leagues of baseball and soccer.

China is currently the biggest basketball presence in Asia, having signed former NBA stars such as Stephon Marbury and Brandon Jennings.

While he gives credit to the Chinese Basketball Association for having signed those players, David does not think the B. League is trying to do the same and is instead doing “a sensational job equalizing the opportunities for the import and domestic players.”

“In Japan’s case, based on the way the rules are, based on the way the system is run, I think it’s a very, very enticing league that’s on the rise for the American players,” David said. “I think CBA in China has kind of been set as to what it is a long time now. I don’t think there’s any changes.

“I think the league over here is somewhat still developing and growing. (The CBA) is more established.”

Some American players in Japan have left their clubs early, not even completing their first seasons.

David said it “hasn’t happened to us.”

Wasserman was founded by one person — Casey Wasserman — and David said that has given the company “a human, personal touch.” He added that as an agency, working for its clients to get them what they personally want, which is not always the money, is “one of the strongest trademarks” of his company.

Casey Wasserman successfully led Los Angeles’ bid for the 2028 Summer Olympics and will be the head of the city’s Olympic organizing committee.

“We are very, very proud of the relationships that we have with our players beyond what we feel is a very good expertise in negotiating our contracts, and making sure that they get the most money they can,” said David.

“It’s very, very important to us, especially with the way our company was founded, that there is a human personal touch to that, and we take pride, a lot of pride in that touch.”

David said that Wasserman and its players have prepared well to play in Japan, knowing what the league and the competition are all about.

“I can very, very honestly tell you that in every conversation with all of my players in Japan,” David said, “if they could sign up to come back right now for next year, they would do it. They love it that much.”