With the NFL Draft approaching on April 26th, and the NBA Draft soon to follow on June 21st, a select few elite college athletes will have their professional sports dreams come true. Most of them will be African-American, and some of them will become household names.
In our series, “The Black Sports Agent”, we wanted to highlight some of the folks that are doing big things on the business side of the games that we love.
At the ripe age of only 24 years old, Todd Ramasar was the youngest certified agent by the National Basketball Players Association, representing one of the leagues most charismatic, explosive and exceptional point guards at the time, Baron Davis.
Davis had set himself up for life after basketball early in his career by taking an entrepreneurial approach to his commercial interests away from the hardwood.
As a rookie with the Charlotte Hornets, Davis was known to personally take his paychecks to the bank to have them cashed. He realized that when those first big paydays came in, they were not accompanied by instructions on how to properly manage and utilize them.
Baron Davis Ultimate Hornets mixtape to celebrate his birthday.
Hed long heard the horror stories of rich athletes who squandered their wealth, and despite being a 19-year-old kid that was raised by his grandmother in South Central Los Angeles that now was suddenly earning $2 million as a rookie pro athlete, he was determined to set himself up for the long haul as opposed to squandering his newfound wealth.
A fool and his money shall soon part, Davis told the Sports Business Journal in 2012. You have to trust the right people and you have to respect money.
Ramasars earliest lessons in hard work didnt come from college internships or the time he spent in law school. They were embedded within him at an early age by simply observing his parents.
He grew up in Norco, a city in Southern Californias Riverside County with parents who had immigrated there in search of the American dream. His father hailed from British Guiana, his mother from Haiti. The Ramasars were one of the few Black families in an area that was known as a farm town, with residents being predominantly white and hispanic.
There was definitely a West Indian flavor and a lot of languages being spoken at home, with cousins that were bi and tri-lingual with a mix of Haitian, Brazilian and a whole lot more mixed in, said Ramasar.
His father worked in the telephone industry and his mom was a Registered Nurse. But those were simply a means to propel them toward the ultimate immigrant dream of being business owners, which they realized when they purchased an elderly residential care facility.
I saw them put in a tremendous amount of work as entrepreneurs and they combined their incomes to help the business grow, said Ramasar. It was that immigrant mentality where they did any and everything possible for their family and to grow the business and make it successful.
At an early age, during weekends and summer breaks from school, he would often sleep at the facility while helping his father lay down tiles, paint, frame extensions or simply sweep and clean up. When he was five years old, he knew every resident by name in the 30-bed home.
It was like I grew up with 30 grandparents, Ramasar said.
The wisdom that inevitably flowed out of that experience, both from his parents, the residents and the life lessons he absorbed, would one day pay huge dividends.
But all of his free time was not spent working and observing his elders to form his own entrepreneurial visions. He also absorbed some other lessons that would later coalesce towards propelling him in the direction that his life ultimately took him.
My brother and my older cousin, who are three and eight years older, got me into sports, said Ramasar. My brother was playing basketball and my cousin, who came here from Haiti, was playing football. I was the little kid tagging along behind them, and I wanted to be as good as they were. By trying to keep up with them, thats how I became competitive.
He played football, hoops and ran track. At the age of nine, when he wasnt chosen for a local parks and rec all-star basketball team, he found himself in tears. Crying and angry, he promised himself that he wouldnt find himself in the same position a year later. And that pledge was followed up by a commitment to practice on his own to better develop his skills.
That was a defining moment for me when the light bulb clicked, he said. That next year, not only did I make the all-star team, but when I was 10 or 11, I started beating kids that were 13 and 14. My parents saw that talent and drive and started putting me on more competitive teams.
As a high school freshman, his potential on the football field as a wide receiver garnered recruiting interest from USC. But hed fallen in love with basketball and became emotionally attached to an inner dream of one day suiting up for the UCLA Bruins in the legendary Pauley Pavilion.
Like most kids growing up in Southern California in the 80s, he idolized Magic Johnson. As he progressed through high school, he was known on the hardwood as a well-rounded player with a relentless motor that could pass and score and do whatever it took to help his teams win.
But the dreams of playing big-time college hoops seemed elusive. During the summer between his junior and senior year at Riversides J.W. North High School in 1996, he was being recruited by Ivy League schools, among other local, smaller programs in California.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Young for his class, he would still be 16 years old when starting his senior year in the prep ranks. And the high school class of 1997 was bursting with elite talent like Shane Battier, Tracy McGrady, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Metta World Peace, Larry Hughes, Correy Maggette, Jarron and Jason Collins and a host of others.
Prior to that summer, I thought I was going to play ball at the Naval Academy in Maryland, said Ramasar. Academics were always stressed in my house, so I had good grades. I thought Id be going to Annapolis to play for the Midshipmen. That summer, I focused on nothing but basketball and trying to become the best player I could possibly be.
Things changed dramatically for the shooting guard/small forward at the Long Beach N.I.T., an AAU tournament that featured some of the top players in the country. Suiting up for a lesser known team from Riverside and going against a loaded Southern California All-Stars squad that featured a slew of players ranked among the top 25 in the nation, Ramasar looked into the stands prior to tipoff and noticed Dukes Mike Krzyzewski among the onlookers, alongside other coaches from North Carolina, UCLA and some other powerhouse programs.
In the second half of that game, after going scoreless in the first half, I scored 27 or 32 points, Ramasar said. Afterwards, my coach said, Hey Todd, UCLAs asking about you.
The next day, after hitting the gym to practice, his brother picked him up. As the car pulled away, his brother looked at him and said, North Carolina called. Baby Blue!
I was always in love with UCLA, so going there was a no-brainer, said Ramasar.
But by the time he committed to the Bruins, theyd run out of scholarships. So he decided to be a walk-on as a college freshman.
I turned down scholarships from other schools, including Stanford, to go to UCLA because thats how bad I wanted it, he said.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-5 guard was part of a recruiting haul headed to Westwood considered to be the nations No. 1 incoming class that included Baron Davis and Earl Watson.
The Bruins were stacked, with a senior class comprised of Toby Bailey, J.R. Henderson and Kris Johnson that had won a national championship three years prior.
Ramasar knew that as a walk-on, hed have to pay his dues with little playing time during his first season. By his sophomore year, he was on scholarship with hopes of competing for a starting spot. But head coach Steve Lavin had brought in another monstrous recruiting class, with the likes of Jaron Rush, the countrys top high schooler, Matt Barnes, Jerome Moiso and Dan Gadzurich, who would all go on to later play in the NBA.
I devoted the whole spring and summer to getting better and I improved to the point where I was putting in some work in practice, but reality set in when I was a sophomore and realized that the 5-Star recruits coming in, in addition to Earl Watson and Baron Davis from my recruiting class, where going to get a majority of the playing time, said Ramasar.
He was also playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, which got increasingly worse as the season progressed. After receiving scant playing time during his second season with the Bruins, he underwent a major surgical procedure and redshirted his junior season.
That helped me out in terms of evaluating my future, said Ramasar. When youre playing with and against pros in practice every day, you know one when you see one.
When Davis declared for the NBA draft after their sophomore campaign and was later selected with the No. 3 overall pick, Ramasar observed how he and his other teammates where signing with agents and the business side of pro basketball became appealing to him.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
He set his focus on going to law school after graduating from UCLA, with an eye towards learning as much as he could about representing athletes and proceeded to secure an internship with Arn Tellem, one of the worlds most powerful and influential sports agents, whose client roster was littered with the biggest names in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
Ramasar returned to the Bruins bench for his redshirt junior year and walked with his graduating class in the spring of 2001, finished up the majority of his academic requirements in the summer and took one more class in the fall, while prepping for his LSATs and working full-time in Tellems office.
In the fall of 2002, he was working full-time for a crisis management firm while also attending Southwestern Law School in the evenings. Three months into his first year in law school, the phone rang with a tantalizing offer.
I got a call from Barons girlfriend, who was handling some of his off-court stuff and keeping him organized when he was playing for Charlotte, said Ramasar. They were both good friends of mine and Id done some work with Baron while I was interning with Arn, who represented him. Baron had fired Arn, went with another agent and had just signed a max extension.
Would you be interested in helping out? Davis girlfriend asked.
Davis got on the phone and added, Yeah, I need a manager.
That November, Ramasar quit his job and went to work for his former college buddy. What started out as being Davis personal manager soon morphed into something much bigger.
Barons the type of personality that when he walks into a room, he owns it because hes so charismatic, said Ramasar. People would be asking him, Hey Baron, how can I get in touch with you? And hed hand them my card and say, Contact my manager.
When Ramasar would follow up on those calls, not only was he speaking with high-level corporate executives and reporting back to Davis, but he also found himself negotiating and executing big-money deals.
Whats great about Baron is that hes a visionary, and Id go out and execute his vision, said Ramasar. As opposed to a client and agent relationship, we became like partners. He knew I always had his best interests at heart.
After completing his first year of law school, Ramasar found himself sick as a dog while traveling with Davis on a Reebok promotional tour. Toward the end of the trip, Davis pulled him aside and said, Todd, if youre sick, how do you expect to be my agent? Look, Im in my max deal and youve done so much more for me than my agent. I want you to be my agent.
At the age of 22 in 2003, Ramasar applied for his agents license.
Soon thereafter, fellow UCLA alums Ryan Hollins and Trevor Ariza secured his services as well.
(Trevor Ariza, Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Ramasar began turning heads when he negotiated lucrative deals that contained some ownership equity for Davis. Among those was one with Glaceau, the beverage company that made Vitaminwater.
I was a 23-year-old making a presentation to them on being an investor, Davis told the Sports Business Journal. I wanted to participate on the back end and work with the company to create ideas. I had connections in the hip-hop community and in sports, and I wanted to explore being part of the brand.
Davis cashed out after Vitaminwater was acquired by Coca Cola for $4.1 billion in 2007.
Ramasar restructured his Reebok deal and made it more lucrative, and helped add Jenny Craig and Beats By Dre to Davis expanding product promotion portfolio. Soon thereafter, Davis became a global spokesman, pitching Li-Ning athletic footwear and securing an equity deal with Colors Power, a Chinese sports beverage company.
In 2008, Ramasar merged his clients with Bill Duffy Associates and ran his business under that umbrella.
Weve always been thinking out of the box in terms of deals, said Ramasar. The La-Ning deal came to fruition because it opened the doors to China. Chinese basketball fans and consumers over there have an appreciation for smaller players. Getting that deal opened up so many other doors for Baron in China, which we eventually exploited.
Uploaded by Champs Sports on 2010-08-26.
When Ramasar looks back on his experiences interning, working and learning under legendary agents Arn Tellem and Bill Duffy, he knows that hes been fortunate to see the business side of sports representation from so many disparate angles.
Those were two great situations working in big firms, said Ramasar. Arns was more of a corporate environment, whereas Bill Duffys was more entrepreneurial. His thinking was out of the box and it was almost as if he was representing countries. Yao Ming was a client, and Steve Nash. So I had the perfect blend of being in a corporate setting and thinking outside of the norm of what had customarily been done as a sports agency.
And the connections he made, within the tight confines of the NBA upper management fraternity, are still paying dividends.
As an intern under Tellem, he studied under four individuals that are now running NBA franchises as either General Managers or Presidents of Basketball Operations – Tellem himself with the Detroit Pistons, Rob Pelinka with the Los Angeles Lakers, Neil Olshey with the Portland Trail Blazers and Bob Myers with the Golden State Warriors. Another office staffer was Thaddeus Foucher, who represents Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, among many others.
In terms of being a Black pro sports agent, Ramasar admits that there are challenges. But he focuses on wins and losses as opposed to any extenuating circumstances
Im 38, I stay in shape and when people see me walk into a room, it doesnt matter if I have on a suit or casual clothes, most people assume that Im the athlete, as opposed to being an accomplished businessman who has a wealth of professional experience and accomplishments, he said. Im accustomed to it.
(Photo Credit: Dominique Oliveto)
His biggest challenge, as he sees it, is the same for anyone who has a vision that is trying to be disruptive in a business that has been slow to change for decades.
What gets me going with my team is bringing something new thats a different flavor, he continued. Approaching things in ways they havent been approached before. The agencies that have staying power and are able to do special things, theyre going to have a blend of style and substance.
Nowadays, Ramasar is back to running his own shop as the CEO and President of Life Sports Media and Entertainment. Being an African-American former athlete, he feels that provides a tremendous advantage in working with and being able to relate to his clients.
But hes not just about contracts and endorsement deals. He feels a higher calling to do more for the players he represents, educating them not only about the business of pro sports, but about business in general. He finds that the clients that hes attracted to, and vice versa, have an appreciation for honesty and transparency, not just the glitz and glamour.
When people wonder how he can successfully represent a player like the Washington Wizards Marcin Gortat, aka The Polish Hammer, its not so easy to figure out once you become acquainted with Ramasars own journey.
(Marcin Gortat, Photo Credit: Getty Images)
That immigrant mentality, having 30 grandparents, sleeping over to sweep floors and paint and help his parents build a commercial enterprise in which the business philosophy was, above all else, helping others – thats who he still is at his core.
Our clients are unique individuals, so its about getting to know them and their personalities to figure out what works best for them, he said. Whether its a marketing deal, endorsements, contracts with their teams or things related to their post-career or simply advising them, it has to be unique to them.
Its not about doing things the old way, Ramasar added. Its about using the emerging technologies and really integrating them into an agency thats there to be of service to our clientele, not only in a subjective way based on our experience and expertise, but in an objective way as well in terms of how that can be leveraged for everyones benefit.