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Midas touch aces tricky relationships

Sports agent Dan Fegan started small, and now he's at top of the game

LOS ANGELES Ñ Dan Fegan doesn't play golf, but he appreciates the view of Los Angeles Country Club out the 10th-floor window of his office on tony Santa Monica Boulevard. It is a long way from where he started.

Ten years ago, Fegan was a fledgling sports agent with one client Ñ college buddy Chris Dudley Ñ working out of his apartment in Santa Monica, with little income. Today, Fegan, 40, has a client list that includes 24 NBA players, including Trail Blazers Dudley, Mitchell Butler and Ruben Patterson.

An agent's commission is 4 percent to 6 percent of a client's salary; Fegan won't be on a bread line anytime soon.

In client numbers, Fegan is in an elite class of NBA agents such as David Falk, Arn Tellem and Bill Duffy.

'There are agencies that have more players than I do,' says Fegan, who wears his hair close-cropped and his clothes stylish, more dressy than casual. 'As far as individual agents, I think I'm in the top five.'

Fegan helped land Dudley two huge contracts, including a six-year, $24.3 million deal with Portland in 1993. Within the past two years, Fegan has garnered major deals for Hakeem Olajuwon (three years, $17.4 million), Moochie Norris (seven years, $22 million), Shandon Anderson (six years, $42 million) and Joe Smith (six years, $34 million).

A year ago, Fegan sold his solo practice to Assante, an integrated financial services firm that has penetrated the North American market. Assante serves the business needs of high net-worth clients, including a number of professional athletes. Fegan is Assante's director of basketball. The firm's other agents Ñ Jeff Moorad, Leigh Steinberg and Eugene Parker Ñ handle baseball, football and hockey.

People come first

'I never expected this,' Fegan says, and he laughs. A New Haven, Conn., native, he played hockey at Connecticut College, a small liberal arts school, where he majored in government. He attended Yale Law School with the intention of going into business law or working on Wall Street.

Becoming a sports agent never entered his mind.

Then he struck up a friendship with Dudley, Yale's 6-11 center who had pro basketball aspirations. After Fegan moved to Los Angeles to join a law firm, Dudley stayed with him while participating in the Southern California Summer Pro League.

Dudley was drafted in 1987, and shortly thereafter Fegan began handling some business and investment responsibilities for him. 'I soon realized I enjoyed working more with individuals than I did corporations,' Fegan says.

Fegan became Dudley's agent in 1991, while the player was in the last year of a contract with New Jersey. The Nets offered seven years and $20 million, which would have been the biggest contract in franchise history. With Fegan's help, Dudley moved on to Portland for six years and $24.3 million. In 1997, Dudley went in a sign-and-trade deal to New York, eventually reaping $28 million over four seasons there.

Fegan's second client, James 'Hollywood' Robinson, got a five-year, $12 million deal with the L.A. Clippers. From there, Fegan's reputation grew, and so did his list of players. Now he has a client services staff of three, including one-time Blazer guard Byron Irvin, who is in charge of business development and helps him recruit the rookie market. Fegan says he is adding three to five young players each year.

'I can't be as close to everyone as I was before,' Fegan says, 'but I think I do a pretty good job. I have learned this job from soup to nuts.'

Deflecting scams

Fegan performs a variety of services for his clients.

'I would never have guessed what it would be like to be a sports agent,' he says. 'There are so many facets to the job. You are like a concierge to the players and their families.

'You are a manager more than just a lawyer or an agent. You build a relationship between yourself and the player; you build bridges between the player and his team and the community. You help the player understand what it is like to be a professional.'

Contract negotiations take up about 20 percent of his time. Career management consumes most of the rest.

'I consider young pro athletes an at-risk group financially,' he says. 'Every client I have represented has been approached about bad investments, sometimes well-intentioned. What's worse, people out there target them to live off them and scam money off of them. I have worked off litigation and criminal investigations where players have lost millions of dollars. Many of the people coming to (his clients) for financial interests have been indicted.'

Fegan doesn't manage his client's money. He prefers to serve as an adviser.

'I like to be involved in the selection process and keep a loose hand on what's going on,' he says. 'Most of my players will consult me before they make a major investment or financial decision.'

All in a day's work

On this day, Fegan has a handwritten list of 26 items to take care of for his clients. Among them:

'Call Nike on Eduardo Najera's contract. We understand Nike Mexico has printed a million booklets with his picture on it, and we haven't received any royalties on it. There might be an overseas intellectual properties (issue) going on. É Call Sports Illustrated regarding an article they are doing on (Cleveland's) Ricky Davis, who is a free agent. Also, find a house out here for him with two dogs. É

'Call Billy Knight, recently fired as general manager of the Grizzlies. He is someone I respect and consider to be a friend. É Call (New York GM) Scott Layden about my young rookies in the draft. É Call (Golden State GM) Garry St. Jean regarding my three rookies with him at Golden State. É Call Tyson Mitchell, Jason Richardson's accountant, who has a corporation that addresses his endorsements and off-court income. É Call Tim Grgurich and several other coaches looking for jobs. É

'Call (Utah's) Scott Padgett, just for a talk. During the playoffs, the players can get stressed out. Call (Toronto GM) Glen Grunwald about Mamadou N'diaye, who has an unusual fracture on his foot. Call a doctor from the orthopedic clinic to go over N'diaye's medical report. É Talk to a representative from Topps (trading cards). They want to extend our player contracts for almost a full year longer than the payout period.'

And on it goes. Agents must have a general knowledge of just about everything, and a relationship with just about everybody.

'You have to know where to go for help hiring a contractor for (the player's) home or where to go to purchase a $150,000 car,' Fegan says. 'You may have to deal with complications during the pregnancy of a wife or girlfriend.

'You have to be able to discuss intelligently medical reports with team doctors, to deal with criminal attorneys when there are issues that arise regarding your players. You have to be able to deal with family law attorneys, with all types of litigation and business lawyers.

'It's like being a general counsel to a small or medium-sized business. When your player is making $40 (million) or $50 million, he has the exact same needs and grows to rely on you.'

Fegan sticks to basketball, and it keeps him busy. Too busy, probably. But he's not complaining.

'I really enjoy my job,' he says. 'I'm constantly being challenged with new things. You are able to impact people's lives, watch them grow and get close to them.

'It's a rich life, but it has its drawbacks. You share the downs (with clients). Sometimes the guys don't have careers they expect or hope for. Retirement is difficult. These guys feel they can play forever. Issues pop up in relationships with their wives and girlfriends, and it's tricky.'

The phone rings. Time to get to work. Fegan has come a long way from where he started.