Agent Andrew Hertzog with client Curtis Robinson of Pierrefonds, now a starting player in the English Premier Division with the Derby Storm.
PHOTO: SPYROS BOURBOULIS
Canada, Andrew Hertzog will tell you, is the only country in the world without its own professional basketball league. "Look at this," he says, leafing through a list of world leagues, "Qatar, Argentina, Singapore, Pakistan. . ."
He stops at the absence of Canada's name, with the exasperation typical of someone who loves the game. Hertzog, BA'80, BCL/LLB'84, is a litigation lawyer at the downtown Montreal law firm McDougall Caron and is also president of Eurosport Enterprises Inc., an agency for professional basketball players. But without a professional league in Canada, one might rightly ask how a Canadian can hope to compete in this business. Regardless, Hertzog argues that Montreal is a great place to do international business, and his ability to speak French is an advantage in dealing with the European leagues. (His own father was born in Romania, his mother in Canada.)
Hertzog and a partner formed Eurosport Enterprises three years ago to capitalize on a growing worldwide interest in professional basketball. Recently, McDougall Caron became the sole shareholder and all Eurosport profits go to the firm. As partner in the firm, Hertzog shares in those profits but does not take the agency commission directly. It's an arrangement he is happy with. The 6'6" lawyer can pursue a field that he loves without giving up his day job.
An aspiring athlete, Andrew Hertzog hoped to play basketball at McGill where he majored in North American Studies, but injuries got in the way so he modified his hoop dream. For 19 years, he has coached basketball in Montreal--first at Chomedey High School, then at the Sun Youth Organization, and now with the Vanier College AA men's team ( they were 19-0 at press time). To date his most famous agency recruit is Montrealer Angelo Vourtzoumis, whom he coached at Sun Youth. Vourtzoumis now plays with the top team in Greece, Panathinaikos, which won the European championship last year, giving him celebrity status in that country.
Indeed, most international leagues wisely market the sport by stocking teams with their country's citizens. Vourtzoumis, a Canadian citizen, qualifies because both his parents are Greek. Each team also reserves a few slots for foreigners and this is where Canadian and American players, and North American agents such as Hertzog, fit in.
Hertzog represents 25 men and women who are pounding up and down courts in Greece, Croatia, Switzerland, Israel and elsewhere. League salaries can begin as low as living expenses only for players in a second- or third-tier league or in a new league such as Taiwan's. His poorest-paid player is a woman who makes US$800 per month plus living expenses in Switzerland. Meanwhile, other players make the type of money accorded to captains of industry. The top women can make US$500,000 in a country like Turkey to US$1 million for the top men in Greece, Spain, France and Italy. There are countries Hertzog won't send players to because of poor living conditions for players: the Philippines, Russia, and Tunisia, for example.
Hertzog is building his roster through scouting and by maintaining contact with coaches and players. Current players refer other players to him. He hasn't represented anyone from McGill athletics yet but thinks current McGill player Vicky Tessier has the talent to play professionally.
If so, she'll be playing outside the country. There's never been a professional women's league in Canada although some investors started a men's Canadian league, the NBL, in 1994. But there were no restrictions on foreigners and hence, few Canadians played. Hertzog thinks that is why the league folded after one year. Meanwhile, the powerful American league, the National Basketball Association (NBA), has moved into Canada with the Raptors in Toronto and the Grizzlies in Vancouver. There are no Canadians on either team.
Yet Hertzog is setting his sights high. He is the only person in Canada certified to represent NBA players. The accreditation costs US$1,500 per year and is required by the NBA Players' Association. Three years into the business, he doesn't have any NBA hopefuls, although most of his clients are Americans he represents overseas.
As with any small business, Hertzog plans to gradually increase his profile, and consequently the number and calibre of the players until they are NBA material. For a role model, Hertzog looks to David Falk, the famous Chicago agent who represents Michael Jordan, among others. Both Falk and Hertzog agree on one thing: they're against the salary cap for rookies. "The average NBA playing span is 4.2 years, so three years is a long time for a salary cap," Hertzog argues. The big leagues beckon.