Muhammad Abdur-Rahim is a man on the run and on the rise.
When I caught up with the 29-year-old agent and legal counsel for Goodwin Sports Management, he was in his hometown near Atlanta, his next stop scheduled for Memphis, and not quite sure when he would next see the inside of his actual office in Seattle. Even when Abdur-Rahim is back home, there’s work to do. At this stage in his career, every trip is a business trip.
Abdur-Rahim played college ball at Detroit-Mercy following a stellar career at Wheeler (Ga.) High School, where he still holds the single-game scoring record. The Wheeler alumni list, by the way, includes Nuggets center J.J. Hickson, overseas pro Jermareo Davidson and Muhammad’s older brother, former NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
Instead of pursuing his own pro basketball career, Muhammad went to law school. After a few months of working criminal law, he landed a job with the Charlotte Bobcats, and in 2012 moved to the other side of the negotiating table as an agent.
In addition to his responsibilities as legal counsel–which include working with GSM clients like Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan and Nate Robinson–Abdur-Rahim personally represents Hickson and Clippers guard Willie Green. On top of that, he teaches a Sports Law class once a week at Mercer University.
In an excerpt from the interview on my new website, UmmahSports.net, Abdur-Rahim maps out the road to becoming a big-time player behind the scenes:
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Dime: What’s your typical day at work?
Muhammad Abdur-Rahim: A lot of it is drafting, reading and reviewing legal documents. Endorsement deals, player contracts, partnership agreements, buyouts, card deals, memorabilia deals, making sure we’re not missing deadlines–everything it takes to run the business on the legal side. I have my clients, and any legal work that any GSM clients need, I do; either myself or my mentor Noah Croom. I make it a point of interest to master the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Then there’s preparing for the offseason and free agency, making sure our guys are maximizing their worth. I also scout players on the East Coast and the Southeast. So at this time of year, in March, a lot of it is going to games and seeing potential clients we may be interested in.
Dime: And you still find the time to teach Sports Law?
MAR: It’s something to stay busy. The beauty of my job is that it’s not one where you have to be in the office every day. I get out to Seattle a lot, but I have the flexibility to do something like this, where I have the opportunity to teach and give back. This is such a crazy, dirty, unethical business that a lot of kids want to get into but don’t understand the ramifications.
Dime: Did you always want to work in the sports industry, even when you were a criminal lawyer?
MAR: When I came out of law school, my heart was in the player representation side of it. I talked to (agent) Calvin Andrews, and he literally told me, “Don’t do it. Whatever you do, don’t become a sports agent.” I talked to (agent) David Falk, and his message was the same: “Do anything but this if you can.” So for the first three, four months out of law school, my focus was on working for an NBA team; getting in from that side and pushing hard to get into a front-office job. It was thrilling pursuing that goal, but at the time I was married, so I needed a job. I took a job with a small law firm, and I was still persistent in trying to get on with a team and eventually went to work for the Bobcats. But it kind of hit me after a while; my true passion, regardless of what anybody was saying, was representing players. That’s always what I wanted to do, and I was lying to myself trying to chase these other goals.
Dime: What’s the difference between the agent who’s also a lawyer, and the agent who’s not?
MAR: When you’re a lawyer, you’re held to a higher standard as an agent. When you’re a lawyer, you can’t recruit or solicit clients, otherwise it violates your ethical code. You risk not only losing your NBA license but your law license. If you see Andrew Wiggins walking down the street, you can’t go up to him and talk about representing him. As opposed to Bobby Ray who’s not a lawyer, he’s not held to those standards. So you’ll see a lot of agents who come in with law degrees, they don’t even renew their law license so they free themselves up to solicit clients.
Another advantage is the education part of it. Contracts are legal documents. The CBA is a legal document, written by lawyers, and it governs everything our clients do, from the dress code to per diem to how much money they can make in salary. As a lawyer who’s trained to read those kind of documents, the better you understand them, the better you can advocate for your client.
Sometimes a player will look up–two or three years into his career–and he doesn’t have a will. He doesn’t have any understanding of estate planning, of what innuities are. As a lawyer you can point him in the right direction. It’s beneficial to a player to have somebody who’s familiar with things like exceptions to the salary cap, which every year costs players money. And we’re not talking about a little bit of money; it’s a lot of money. Somebody who really understands the CBA can maximize your worth as a player.
One thing I learned in law school was to question everything; it’s about limiting your liability. Every day you’re asking, “Can I do this? Can I do that?” It makes you think twice before you do something wrong.