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Insider's take: On a mission to show them the money


Marc Cornstein with the NBA's Darko Milicic.

Marc Cornstein is a real-life Jerry Maguire — with quite a few more clients.

The 39-year-old sports agent is the founder and president of Pinnacle Management Corp., which represents 40 international basketball players, six of whom play for the NBA.

amNewYork spoke to him about this highly competitive field.

How did you get into the industry?
I worked for an independent agent right out of college. I became certified in basketball in 1993 and started my company in 1998.

Do you need to be a lawyer to become an agent?
I’m not, so no. The contracts have become really standardized.

What do you need?
To represent players in the team sports you need to be certified in the union in that particular sport. For me, it was the National Basketball Player’s Association. You file an application and there’s a fee. The only sport where there’s a written test involved is football.

What do you do for the players?
The thing most closely associated with sports agents is contract negotiation, or finding a new team if you’re dealing with a free agent. You deal with draft eligibility too. We help with draft planning, estate planning, marketing and endorsements. We actually do anything aside from coaching — finding a pediatrician, a car, anything.

Who would make a good agent?
I don’t think there’s a set type. You have to be comfortable within your own skin, confident and persistent. If you don’t think you can do the best job for the client, they won’t think so either.

Do you usually go after a client or do they come to you?
Typically the agent goes after the player. But it’s not a formulaic business. I’m lucky, because, having my own business, I get to choose the people I work with.

What’s competition like with other agents?
It’s cutthroat. I believe there are more certified agents in basketball than players. The majority of certified agents don’t have a single NBA client.

People do everything to try and get people. That can lead to corruption, and some unscrupulous behavior. But there are rules that govern agents.

What are the salary ranges?
The maximum you can take from a  basketball contract is 4 percent of the salary.  It can be lower than that, but that’s typical.

Starting out, it’s extremely difficult, and you’re likely to start as an unpaid intern. Especially with the current economic situation, it’s tough getting off the ground.

Is New York a good place to do it?
New York is pretty good. It’s really a business you could probably do anywhere. As long as you have an arena and an airport nearby.

What are your busiest times of year?
June is always busy cause of the draft. July 1 is when free agency technically starts.

What’s the hardest thing about being an agent?
Recruiting is always tough. It is so competitive. There’s a lot of competition that will stop at nothing. You can be really good, but if you don’t have clients you can’t go anywhere.

Did “Jerry Maguire” acccurately depict your job?
I give Cameron Crowe a lot of credit. He did a pretty good job. There’s certainly a lot of stuff that I can relate to as a smaller, independent agent.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for a client?
We’ve had to ship pretty big and potentially dangerous dogs overseas. We once had a case when a player asked us to go spread rose petals all over his girlfriend’s apartment.

Is it important to garner relationships with teams?
Yes. I think you can be a successful negotiator without burning bridges. It is important to have good relationships with the teams. There are only 30 in the NBA. You don’t want to become limited in who you can deal with.

Draft vs. free agency
In basketball, the draft is reserved for anyone coming out of college or coming from overseas, who’s 22 and younger. Free agency is for those who have already been in the NBA and is switching teams.

Cornstein’s NBA clients, with 2009-2010 salaries, according to ESPN
1.Samuel Dalembert, Philadelphia 76ers. Salary: $12,025,694
2.Darko Milicic, Minnesota Timberwolves. Salary: $7,540,000
3.Sasha Pavlovic, Minnesota Timberwolves. Salary: $1,500,000
4. Beno Udrih, Sacramento Kings. Salary: $6,031,800
5. Nenad Krstic, Oklahoma City Thunder. Salary: $5,160,832
6. Primoz Brezec, Milwaukee Bucks. Salary: $825,497


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