I’ll admit it straightaway: I’m no fan of Jay-Z. His music never appealed to me, though it does more than the filth of Tyler the Creator and other hip hop artists who chose their lyrics from the devil’s dictionary.
Yet I have to admire Jay-Z as a businessman. He’s become a one-stop shop, a dealmaker supreme who is on his way to billionaire status. He’s getting there through shrewd decisions he’s made to move beyond hip hop. He now boasts a diversified portfolio, and his latest foray into making big money was the official announcement that Jay-Z can represent NBA and Major League Baseball players as an agent.
A move like his was long coming. It should have been something that other Black businessmen or Black lawyers took a serious look at decades ago. For in the world of sports agentry, Whites have dominated. They have done so even in the face of an ever-darkening clientele, often representing a Black athlete whose background they were unfamiliar with.
What does, say, Arn Tellem, Scott Boros or David Falk know about the gritty world of inner-city basketball or baseball played in Latin America? What are the connections they have to young men whose existence is so foreign to them? It’s about the dollars, nothing more.
Jay-Z sees it that way, too — the money part of it. He also sees the cultural side of it: a Black man helping another Black man. In some ways, he’s following a blueprint Don King, the former numbers runner, used when he hijacked boxing. King enriched himself and the boxers, who were clever enough or smart enough to keep him from dipping too deeply into their take.
In building his boxing empire, King relied on the obvious: his color. Why put your trust in whites who, for centuries, had robbed, stolen and misused all the assets that Blacks had accumulated?
At the time, Blacks dominated boxing, which made King’s plea resonate with them. His wasn’t a perfect alliance, no question about that. If you look at what happened to Mike Tyson’s money, King might give anyone pause for concern.
But King was old school, a man straight from the hard streets of Cleveland. He was never corporate, not in the sense of high fashion and intersecting partnerships with high rollers. What King did, however, was focus attention on a side of sports that Blacks had long ignored — the side that decides who can make the money. He took ownership of the money.
In what Jay-Z is doing, he’s using the same script.
Through his company Roc Nation Sports, he is building a brand that should easily attract Black talent. His marketing genius should be the magnet. He has signed Robinson Cano, Geno Smith, Victor Cruz and Skylar Diggins, and rumors already are making the rounds that Kevin Durant might be one of his clients.
Could LeBron James, the most valuable sports property out there, be next?
To be sure, the shelf-life of an agent isn’t as long as Spam. One bad deal and the hint of corruption, and athletes will run away faster than Usain Bolt.
Jay-Z’s cachet and business savvy should, however, give other agents like Falk and Drew Rosenhaus reason for concern. The music man has a name that is global. His image is omnipresent, and his ability to make money should attract anybody who has the potential to earn a living in the NBA or baseball.
I’m not so sure if Jay-Z’s image means as much to a baseball player. Also, he’s yet to get approval to work as an agent for football players. That doesn’t matter; enough Black athletes will cast their lot with him. Once he proves he can make them money — and Jay-Z is, if nothing else, a moneymaker — scores will align with him.
But all he’s doing is what another brother should have done: take Black athletes and show ’em the money. They never needed white agents to do this for them.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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