This week, we’ll be talking to New York City-based Eugene Lee of MBK Sports Management Group. Eugene was certified in the early ’00s and has been an Inside the League client almost since its inception in ’02. He’s also been a great friend all those years.
He’s a man of great integrity, great faith and hard work, and it’s been exciting to watch his rise in the business. In fact, a lot of people got a chance to watch part of that rise as he was the focus of documentarian Morgan Scurlock’s ESPN 30 for 30 presentation, The Dotted Line, in 2011.
Eugene recently wrote a book about his experiences as an agent, My Brother’s Keeper: Above and Beyond The Dotted Line with the NFL’s Most Ethical Agent (more on that title later). It’s really good, and gives readers a real inside look at what the business is like for an independent agent without a million-dollar expense account. Eugene has to carefully pick his potential clients, trying to find high-character young men who can also play a little, while trying to keep costs in line. Meanwhile, he’s also got an off-the-field life which includes his wife, who’s an actress and singer. It’s a true high-wire act, and his book includes dozens of stories of his successes but also, to his credit, tales which make him the butt of the joke. Like Eugene, it’s very authentic and real, and it’s a fun read that I highly recommend, especially if you are considering life as an NFLPA contract advisor. You can check it out on Amazon here.
I’ve interviewed him about the book, and I’ll have that interview in this space over the next two days, but first, a story that, I think, shows a little about Eugene’s dedication to his clients (and that didn’t make the book).
It was January of 2008, and about 48 hours before players arrived for the ’08 Hula Bowl. At the time, the Hula Bowl was the No. 3 all-star game (after the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game), and an invitation was pretty highly valued. After all, the game offered not only a platform for getting evaluated by NFL scouts, but it was played in Honolulu, not a bad place to spend a week in January.
Like dozens of other agents I knew, Eugene had been reaching out to me regarding a player he represented. It was Stillman cornerback Brian Witherspoon, a player scouts told me had incredible straight-line speed (Witherspoon actually made a run at an Olympic berth as a sprinter after his NFL career ended) but who had a small-school pedigree and who was still a little raw as a pure cover corner. Eugene knew ‘Spoon’ needed that game, and an invitation to the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game were a long shot.
Unfortunately, I was all out of spots for defensive backs. What’s more, I had spent my entire travel budget when I got a call, less than 48 hours before he was scheduled to arrive, that Washburn cornerback Cary Williams (now with the Redskins) had sprained his ankle during combine prep and couldn’t make the game.
As I hung up the phone, I didn’t know what to do. Well, I knew what I wanted to do, which was to call Eugene (for some reason I’ve always called him by his initials, E.T.), but I didn’t know how to do that. Eugene had been begging and pleading with me for weeks to get Witherspoon into the game, but I simply had no room. Now I did, but I had no budget to get him there. Would Eugene pick up that flight? I could only imagine what it would cost.
Now, I know dozens of agents who would have told me to get lost. Yes, getting a kid into an all-star game is a big deal, but asking an agent to pay for his travel back then was pretty much a slap in the face. Never mind that we were talking about a ticket that would cost at least a grand, and probably more. But hey, I needed a cornerback badly, and maybe, just maybe, Eugene would send him.
I remember calling him from the offices we had set up at the Marriott Ihilani in Ko Olina, the team hotel. I think I called him in the afternoon, Island time, which was probably late-evening in NYC. I didn’t really know how to make the conversation ‘pretty,’ so I just came out with it: if Eugene could get Witherspoon to Honolulu in a day-and-a-half, he could be in our game. Of course, that would mean that (a) Eugene would have to arrange for Witherspoon to get there, (b) he’d have to find Witherspoon’s pads and get them there, and (c) Eugene would no doubt want to join us at the game so he could talk up the kid’s prospects with the NFL scouts in attendance.
As I recall, Eugene took the call well, but asked to think about it. Even then, I couldn’t give him a break — I had to know ASAP if I had a corner or not, and I didn’t know where I’d find one. Soon, however, he called and confirmed that he’d find a way to get Spoon on a plane.
We never talked about how much that flight cost, or how he came up with a helmet and shoulder pads, or any other of the particulars. But it impressed me then, and impresses me now, that Eugene was willing to take all that on to get his client to the game. As it happened, Brian had a great week, which didn’t get him drafted, but did get him signed as an undrafted free agent, and he beat the odds by sticking in the league for four years. There’s no doubt in my mind that doesn’t happen if Eugene doesn’t get him to Hawaii on a few hours’ notice.
Check in tomorrow as we talk to Eugene about his book and his career to date.