LAS VEGAS – When discussing the inner circle of Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, his father LaVar instantly comes to mind, as do his brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo.
But there’s another integral figure in the group who resides in the background with his head down, busy at work. Harrison Gaines, a 28-year-old Thomas Jefferson law grad, was handpicked by the Ball family to serve as the Ball siblings’ agent. Prior to signing Lonzo, Gaines was not commonly known within the NBA community.
But Gaines explained that he has been around the NBA block for some time, and claimed he’s ready for this extraordinary opportunity. Here is an ESPN Q&A introduction to Gaines.
Chris Haynes: LaVar is boisterous, and is routinely in the headlines. You’re the exact opposite. It seems like you’re always quietly busy behind the scenes. Is that a fair summation?
Harrison Gaines: “My specific role is handling all NBA representation with the Ball family and I stay in my lane as far as that nature. But I think for me, how I view athlete representation, it’s about the player, it’s about the client. And for me, it starts with basketball, everything starts with the game. If you don’t handle your business on the court, then when it comes time to negotiate contracts and everything that’s afforded off of it, that doesn’t apply.
So, I have a saying, ‘Keep the main thing the main thing.’ That’s one thing that Lonzo really embodies because he’s such a hard worker; he’s so dedicated to his craft and dedicated to greatness that it allows for everything else to happen around him. So, as far as that aspect, I see it as basketball comes first and with me having a basketball background and playing Division I (at Penn), I understand that. It starts in the lab. You see James Harden just got $228 million. That starts on the court. It starts in the lab sessions, what he does in the summer, that’s a core component to set up everything else.”
CH: Most aren’t familiar with who you are and were caught off guard when you landed Lonzo. What got you to this point?
HG: “I really worked hard to get to where I’m at. I paid my dues. I’m a student of my craft. And whether that was studying the game, studying the legal side of it, the contracts, studying the business, interning, flying out and going to D-League showcases and All-Star events all the while I was in law school. I was meeting and shaking hands with everybody and meeting every single executive I could. I used to be at these events asking them pointed questions, whether it was about the draft, free-agency, things that didn’t apply to me at the time but I knew they would at some point.
I always kept this long tablet and this tablet would have all my notes on it and every time I got a new tidbit of information, I wrote it down. Now that I’m in the job, I can reference back to those things. I was accumulating that knowledge over the past six years. And on top of that, I interned at an agency and I did an array of roles. So, I got to see the entire scope of the business, whether that was recruiting, doing pre-draft work, working on contracts, the mentorship, talking to players. When they have a bad game, being able to talk about the basketball aspect of what they need to improve on or what needs to be done going into the next game. So, I went through all of those steps before I got here and a lot of people don’t know that, but I’ve been grinding for a while at this.”
CH: Why do you think LaVar hand-picked you to represent his sons?
HG: “Really, I was just myself. It was a genuine relationship. When I met them, I was still in law school. There were no expectations. I enjoyed watching the boys play. I built a great relationship with LaVar and Tina and it just grew from there. They understood the grind that I was putting in and they were putting in the same type of grind on their side and it just all converged at the right time. It was just a blessing. I couldn’t have predicted it to come out like this, but when genuine relationships blossom and everybody is working hard in their respective fields, sometimes there’s synergy and it works out.”
CH: How is it working alongside LaVar?
HG: “It’s great working with LaVar and the Ball Sports team on a day-to-day basis. LaVar and I have a previous relationship. He and the family have been nothing but good to me. LaVar is a great person. I really relate to their family structure: having three brothers in a two-parent household and me having a brother and my parents, so there are a lot of similarities. As I got to know them, I could see a lot of the same qualities of how I grew up. LaVar is about his family first and foremost. He’s about taking care of his family, and I can respect that because my father is the same exact way and would do whatever to make sure myself, my brother and my mother was afforded the best life. LaVar does the same for his family.”
CH: Some view LaVar as controlling. Is he hands-on when it comes to your job?
HG: “LaVar empowers me. He trusts my business acumen on the NBA side, he trusts my knowledge of the game. And during the draft process, he said ‘Harrison, do your thing. I trust you.’ Like I said, I’m a student of the craft so I was prepared for this moment and LaVar knew that. He gave me the keys to do what I needed to do as far as running the draft process and making sure it was a successful process and it turned out that we got the destination we wanted. LaVar is great. I have nothing but good things to say about him.”
CH: Most either have disdain for the Big Baller Brand or absolutely love what LaVar is doing. Does that hurt recruiting?
HG: “No it does not, this opportunity has only been positive. The way it works, I represent Lonzo under the Ball Sports Group moniker and then I have my own firm which is SLASH Sports where I represent all other clients. And so Jamaal Franklin is a client that I have. He used to be with the Grizzlies and is currently the top player in China. I’m looking to build from there and grow the business with the right guys, implementing the mentorship aspects, the life-after-basketball aspect. Everything of that nature, I want to be able to apply to every client I have.”
CH: What do you think separates you from other agents?
HG: “I don’t view myself as just a traditional agent in a sense because I feel like I can wear many hats. Whether it’s using that basketball background, we’re going to talk about the game because I played. Whether I have to go in there and negotiate the contract and that’s where my legal background comes in. Whether it’s the mentorship aspect because me being a young brother coming up and being the same age as some of the guys, I’m able to relate on different aspects. Then the life after basketball, that’s where attending an Ivy League School gave me a vast network of connections to leverage for my clients.
Going to Penn allowed me to build lifelong relationships with people who are working in investment banking, real estate, or venture capital. Those guys are my friends and I’m able to piggyback things off of them and use their resources to enhance my clients. That’s why I call my personal firm SLASH. Because I not only see myself as a non-traditional agent, I also don’t want my clients to be boxed into just being a basketball player. No, you’re a businessman, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a philanthropist. So that’s my whole theme. My motto is ‘Use the game, don’t let the game use you.” So many guys come in and play 15 years and they gain nothing out of it except for just playing and collecting a check. Use this platform you’re on. Use this to build generational wealth for your family. Not just playing your years and then now you’re done and everything is gone. Build yourself beyond the game. That’s what I want from all my clients.”