“The nature of being an agent, it’s become so restrictive that it doesn’t require a lot of skills,” Falk said. “Mathematically, only 30 percent of the contracts are negotiated. And I think that most players really don’t need agents today.”
In his own prime agenting years—before the rookie scale, before max contracts, before luxury-tax penalties became a de facto hard cap—Falk took pride in bending the system to benefit his clients. One example: Inserting an early-termination option (the first of its kind, Falk said) in a 10-year deal for Ewing with the Knicks, allowing Ewing to become a free agent after six years if four players were earning more than him by then. But in today’s NBA, Falk said, “Seventy percent of all the contracts are prenegotiated. There are no negotiations.”
Worse, in Falk’s view, the advent of “max” contracts (in the 1999 labor deal) has artificially capped the earnings of the truly elite—LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Durant—and created a “grossly homogenized” system where second-tier stars are paid like superstars. And it’s those contracts (like, say, Bradley Beal’s) that clog up a team’s cap and the system as a whole, which means less cap room league-wide, which means … a dull free-agent market.
“The system inhibits free agency,” Falk said. “Ironically, the group that’s fostered the biggest rule that inhibits free agency is the (players) union, because the union wants to have more overpaid $35 million guys.”
To put it in practical terms: Instead of Curry making, say, $100 million a year in an unrestricted market, he’s limited to around half that figure, which means the other $50 million is being spent on, say, a Jordan Poole (whom the Warriors recently traded to dump his salary).
“The system becomes so clogged by a whole group of grossly overpaid players that don’t bring in revenues, don’t sell tickets, don’t sell concessions,” Falk said. “They’re good players, but they’re artificially overpaid, because of the foolish restraint in the system.”
“How do you differentiate Curry from Klay Thompson?” Falk continued. “How do you differentiate Giannis [Antetokounmpo] from Middleton? How do you differentiate [Jayson] Tatum from [Jaylen] Brown? You know, that’s the whole point. They created a system where it’s like gross homogenization. For me, that took all my excitement away from being in this business because you can’t differentiate yourself.”
Falk remains close to a number of NBA figures, including former clients like Elton Brand (now GM of the 76ers), and close to the game, just not as an active agent. He serves as a strategic advisor to a dozen companies and teaches in the programs he founded at Syracuse (Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics) and George Washington University (Falk Academy of Management and Entrepreneurship).
To be clear, Falk is all in favor of players flexing their power and leverage and making as much money as they can. But he scoffs at the notion that forced trades and rampant movement equals “player empowerment”—or that today’s stars somehow have more power than they did in the 90s. “You don’t think Michael Jordan and Patrick had power?” Falk said. “Of course, they had power. But they were smart enough to know that they would never do those kinds of things publicly, because it was inimical to the game that they love.”
To Falk, the onslaught of trade demands and team-hopping is ultimately detrimental to the league—and therefore to the players themselves—because it turns off the fans. “It makes it makes it look less professional,” Falk said. “In order to make more money as a 50-50 partner, they have to not attack the business, they have to grow the business.”
None of these trends seem likely to change anytime soon, though, and Falk’s scathing critique will surely provoke more umbrage than concurrence from league officials, players and their agents. Which is fine with Falk. At least no one can accuse him of being boring.