What Does It Take to Represent Sports Legends?

Super sports agent and Michael Jordan rep David Falk establishes new entrepreneurial academy at the George Washington University Law School.

David Falk speaks at the Jack Morton Auditorium. (William Atkins/GW Today)
David Falk speaks at the Jack Morton Auditorium. (William Atkins/GW Today)
January 25, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt

He has represented NBA superstars Juwan Howard and Allen Iverson. In the mid-1980s, he negotiated the then highest ever contract in NBA history for Patrick Ewing. And he is the career-long agent to the legendary Michael Jordan—even originating the idea for the unprecedentedly successful Air Jordan sneaker.

But for David Falk, failure is perhaps more important than success.

“When you err—and you’re going to err—you have to learn from it,” the George Washington University Law School alumnus, who received his J.D. in 1975, told his audience at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday night.

Mr. Falk was at GW to launch his Falk Academy of Management and Entrepreneurship (FAME), a new initiative within the Law School’s business law program that will emphasize experiential learning, entrepreneurship and innovation for prospective lawyers. The launch was hosted by the Law School’s Center for Law, Economics and Finance (C-LEAF).

“Unlike most benefactors who put their name on the building and walk away, fortunately or unfortunately I plan to be very involved,” said Mr. Falk, who plans to teach as part of the FAME program and will establish an advisory board for it.

Imposing but personable, Mr. Falk shared recollections of his storied career, dispensed no-nonsense advice and pushed his audience “never to settle for second-best.”

One of his great career successes, he remembered, was also his most memorable failure: coming up with the idea of Air Jordans, but—failing to anticipate that the shoes would be as wildly successful as they were—negotiating for a major up-front payment instead of a smaller one with larger royalties with every sale.

“Nothing’s foolproof,” he admitted. “If I could go back, I’d ask for a dollar and 50 percent.”

Taking questions about his most iconic client, whose charisma has made his personal brand into one of the most successful in history, he said there would “never be another Michael Jordan.”

“Michael wasn’t trying to be the next Dr. J. He wasn’t trying to be the next anybody. He’s just himself,” Mr. Falk said. “It’s a once in a lifetime kind of a deal. We all got a little bit lucky.”

He advised students in the audience to have “high aspirations.”

“You’re in a place that can help you fulfill your goals, but you have to really want it and go after it,” he said. “Break the walls down.”