On the morning of Sept. 26, a phalanx of police cruisers, unmarked cars and other government vehicles surrounded a nondescript office in Northern New Jersey. The cozy brick building, with matching picture windows and a black Lexus often parked out front, reveals few clues that it houses one of the most successful — and notorious — NBA agents of the past two decades.
Two doors down from a car detailer on a forgettable patch of metropolitan sprawl lies the home office of Andy Miller, who is the founder and president of ASM Sports. Miller has negotiated more than one billion dollars worth of NBA contracts, brought in more than $40 million in revenue and represented All-Stars like Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups.
A business associate describes the 47-year-old Miller as the NBA agent version of television alphas Tony Soprano and Frank Underwood, as his cavalier style, brass-knuckles deal-making and caustic personality make him among his industry’s most polarizing figures. A career spent straddling an ethical fault line has been defined by both financial success and legal issues, NCAA scrutiny and questionable associations. The federal investigators showing up at Miller’s office marks the latest brush with authority in a career interwoven with conflict.
Miller’s first big splash in the agent business also brought his first controversy. After swiping Garnett and other top clients in 1999 from his former employer, established NBA agent Eric Fleisher, Miller was forced to pay $4.6 million in compensatory legal damages in 2002. Since then, his career has been pockmarked by persistent disputes and disagreements. In more than 30 interviews with coaches, executives and three former Miller employees, a portrait of Miller emerged as a ruthless narcissist, his success driven by his obsession over his standing as a top-five agent. So locked in on closing the next deal and landing the next star, he left a trail of aggrieved parties and bitter rivals. He stood out as an extreme practitioner of shadowy tactics in a cutthroat industry. With his career potentially in peril having lost at least five clients in the past two months, the question lingers whether the NBA agent world’s ultimate survivor can find another way to survive. “It’s amazing that he’s lasted this long,” Fleisher said. “It really is. It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of things going on.”
Miller’s current predicament could bring his career to a crossroads. When reports surfaced that the FBI raided Miller’s office on the same day the FBI arrested 10 men in a sweeping probe of the underbelly of basketball, the involvement of Miller came as little surprise. The FBI reportedly seized computers and documents in connection with the federal probe. FBI assistant director William Sweeney’s bold declaration – “We have your playbook” – was aimed at the layers of corruption and allegedly illicit deal-making from grassroots up to the NBA. Miller was not arrested, but those around the sport saw that the arrests included former ASM employee Christian Dawkins and two Adidas executives and basically surmised that they’d nabbed Miller’s recruitment playbook. “Andy Miller’s computer has got to be interesting,” said the head coach at a perennial Top 25 college program. “He has lived on the edge for a long time. He has some [expletive] on a lot of people.”
It’s unknown if Miller could face charges in the federal investigation, or the extent of his involvement, but legal experts believe he has emerged as a key figure. “In order to get a search warrant, the federal agents were able to convince a federal judge that Miller’s computer was connected to either a criminal act or had evidence on it of a criminal act,” said Stephen L. Hill, a former federal prosecutor now a partner at the Kansas City branch of the global law firm Dentons.
The precise interest in Miller by federal investigators isn’t clear, but much of the case inhabits his sphere of influence. Dawkins, a 24-year-old runner who’d ingratiate himself with top prospects on behalf of Miller, continued to work for Miller even after Miller made a public spectacle of firing him in May of 2017. (The fireable offense: Dawkins charged more than $40,000 in Uber rides on the credit card of Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic essentially without his permission). Miller needed Dawkins to stay close to rookie clients Justin Patton, Edmond Sumner and Jaron Blossomgame, all of whom have since left him. (The NBPA also confirmed to Yahoo Sports that clients K.J. McDaniels and Semaj Christon have left Miller).
Miller also held close personal and professional ties to Adidas executive Jim Gatto, one of the company’s two employees arrested Sept. 26. Miller’s most famous current clients – Raptors star Kyle Lowry and Knicks prodigy Kristaps Porzingis – have Adidas sneaker contracts. His marquee former clients – Billups, Garnett and Sebastian Telfair – all signed lucrative Adidas deals over the years. Miller dealt primarily with Adidas-sponsored grassroots teams as well, including the New England Playaz and Florida Rams, which NCAA documents show he used as recruiting incubators for his agency.
Miller, who did not respond to Yahoo Sports’ requests for comment for this story, forged his career path by pushing an already well-stretched ethical envelope farther than his peers. He isn’t the only agent who started his business by stealing clients, but he’s the only one who paid a $4.6 million court ruling for it. He isn’t the only agent sponsoring grassroots basketball teams, but his influence on that level is so vast that multiple business associates pointed out Miller had “his own farm system.” Miller isn’t the only agent who should be concerned about federal scrutiny, but that September raid and his long list of enemies make his future one of the NBA’s most intriguing topics. “My hope is that people are very worried,” said Keith Glass, a veteran NBA agent who has clashed with Miller. “Guys who’ve done things that are illegal, I hope they get what’s coming. The FBI involvement brings things to a new level. This has been a business where the corruption is not investigated, it’s rewarded.”
Miller would often tell clients and general managers that he was “fighting the good fight” when they’d call. While ASM Sports employees have returned to the New Jersey office and adjusted to an uncertain new normal, the NBA agent world’s ultimate survivor appears poised for his biggest fight.
Ten years after Andy Miller started out as an unpaid intern in the office of Fleisher, a jury ruled that Miller owed $4.6 million in compensation damages for essentially taking a majority of his high-profile clients. The case drew a lot of attention at the time, as Garnett, Al Harrington and Chauncey Billups were among the clients Miller took with him to form ASM. According to The New York Times account of the ruling: “At the heart of his complaint, Fleisher said that Miller… betrayed him by secretly signing clients while still employed at the company, then left in July 1999, taking Fleisher’s client base with him.”
During their childhood summers in Teaneck, New Jersey, a bedroom community outside New York City, two best friends went into business together. Andy Miller and Lawrence Frank fancied themselves as entrepreneurs, starting a car detailing business during one summer and parking cars as valets during another. “We were always looking to find a way to kind of make it in this world on our own,” Miller said of he and Frank in The New York Times in 2006.
Both loved basketball and lacked the athleticism to play it at any significant level. But their passion carried on to college — Frank went to Indiana to serve as a basketball manager, and Miller did the same at the University of Delaware. Miller made his ambition to become an agent known early, as he and Frank crisscrossed the Northeast to work camps and ingratiate themselves in the basketball scene. “When I first met Andy, he was 20 years old,” said semi-retired agent Frank Catapano. “He was aggressive, trying to make his mark. He was a New Yorker, and New Yorkers had a certain style.”
Former Delaware assistant coach Sean Kearney began working at the school during Miller’s senior year in 1991-92. Miller dangled an offer of half-price dress shirts from a clothier in New York City. Kearney plunked down the money and Miller brought him three light blue denim casual shirts. “They were nice, but they were three of the exact same shirt,” Kearney recalls with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Andy, what are you doing?’ ”
From selling clothing on the side to filling water bottles at Seton Hall basketball camps, Miller started a career that blurred hustle and hustles. Miller’s youth intersected conveniently with one of the emerging trends of the game, as Garnett’s decision to skip high school in 1995 kicked off the preps-to-pros generation and ratcheted up the importance of relationships with star high school players and summer basketball coaches.
One of Miller’s great foresights – a fundamental tenet he built his business on – came from ingratiating himself in the grassroots and AAU basketball scene before others. A fast talker with coaches, Miller would do things like dangle the possibility of Garnett, who hailed from South Carolina, playing for an upstate New York AAU team coached by Mickey Walker.
Walker recalls driving down to the New York City area to meet with Fleisher, a meeting that Miller was anxious to arrange. Walker’s former players at the time included then-Temple star Rick Brunson, who went on to have a solid NBA career. Walker recalls walking into the office and Fleisher saying to him: “Who the hell are you?” He adds with a laugh: “I didn’t know who he was, either. But Andy made it seem like, ‘This guy really wants to meet you.’ I thought it was funny. He was always hustling. I would just laugh at him.”
After Miller’s power play to snatch a majority of Fleisher’s marquee clients in 1999, no one was laughing at him. Miller got his start with Fleisher on a recommendation from former New Jersey Nets executive Willis Reed, after Miller had interned with the NBA franchise. Reed asked Fleisher to teach Miller the agent game, and he learned it too quickly. The apprentice essentially cannibalized Fleisher’s business less than a decade later.
The Fleisher lawsuit began the start of a career marked by questionable tactics and frequent scrutiny, which Miller typically managed to evade unscathed. In 2000, Miller made headlines in New York for his aggressive recruitment of St. John’s guard Erick Barkley, which reportedly included the NCAA questioning whether rapper Jay-Z lobbied Barkley on Miller’s behalf. The NCAA investigated the link between Barkley and Miller, and the player was suspended twice during those probes. In March 2000, Barkley took the unusual step of bringing Miller to a meeting with then-coach Mike Jarvis, and he signed with Miller upon turning pro after two years at St. John’s.
Around that time, legal documents emerged that showed Miller sending a fax to a modeling agency that read: “Kevin Garnett has a crush on a young black model who was recently seen on a L’Oreal television campaign. Do you have any thoughts on this matter. Let me know. Best regards, Andy.” (The response came back: “Andy, attached please find Kevin’s new girlfriends.”) All parties downplayed the exchange, but the entire episode underscored that Miller’s approach would be aggressive and unrelenting. “This is a business of scavengers,” Glass said. “They will pick your bones.”
In October of 2007, veteran NBA agent Keith Glass sued Andy Miller and a New York high school coach alleging tortious interference. The suit centered around a long-forgotten NBA first-round pick named Quincy Douby, a gifted shooter out of Rutgers, who’d left Glass for Miller. After phone and fax records appeared to catch Miller and Douby in a web of misleading statements, an arbiter ordered Miller to pay Glass $40,000. When Glass first brought the matter of the Douby case to the NBA Players Association, he recalls them offering a telling response: “We’re not the FBI.” After Glass took the case to court and got back $40,000 in potential earnings from the arbiter, The New York Times ran a lengthy story speculating that it could “potentially lead to discipline by the NBA Players Association.” Glass now laughs at that notion: “I [brought the case to court] and nothing happened. What’s the message to agents? Anything goes.”
Many college coaches also have lamented the hands-off approach of the NBPA when it comes to agents meddling with future pros at an early age. They saw controversies that just kept bouncing off Miller as he fulfilled his desire to become a top-five agent. A Chicago-based runner named Ken Caldwell, who listed working for ASM Sports on his LinkedIn page, was at the center of an NCAA scandal that resulted in the firing of the University of Central Florida athletic director and significant NCAA sanctions for the school. (Miller denied Caldwell worked for him.) When the NCAA essentially banned Florida Rams coach Matt Ramker in 2012 for his dealings with Miller, he went to work at ASM Sports.
Along the way, an operating style emerged where Miller, according to an associate, treated his clients more as “currency than people.” Former co-workers paint a picture of a vain and paranoid leader – he often told colleagues he “dressed GQ” – who did everything to leverage assets for deals while attempting to not open his wallet. One of his AAU associates nicknamed him “One Way Miller” for his penchant for selfishness. The two sayings he used to business associates most often – “quid pro quo” and “one plus one equals three” – perhaps best illustrate his philosophy.
An example of quid pro quo would be Miller helping seal a deal with a client by calling in a favor to Adidas and having them sweeten the contract for that player’s grassroots basketball team. If the grassroots coach was helping the player make his agent decision, Miller essentially had Adidas pay off the coach in the form of a better contract. That would mean Miller could get a client with Adidas making the payoff.
An example of “one-plus-one equals three” would be having one of his grassroots coaches steer a player to a college where Miller had strong relationships. Miller would then lobby that college coach to represent one of that school’s current top players in exchange and then use the relationship to attempt to get another player down the line. A peek at Miller’s client list shows ties to schools like Louisville, Syracuse, North Carolina State during Mark Gottfried’s tenure, Oklahoma State during Travis Ford’s tenure, Florida during Billy Donovan’s time there and Fred Hoiberg’s time at Iowa State. For Miller, every deal meant an angle at another deal, every player meant a chance at landing more players. “They were basically stocks,” said a person familiar with Miller’s operation. “You want to get as many stocks as you can. They’re not people, they’re penny stocks.”
The NBPA issued a statement to Yahoo Sports in response to questions about the association’s lack of disciplinary action of Miller and the perception of an industry with little oversight: “At no time during the last three years has a single agent – including the ones who have provided you quotes – come forward with credible evidence that an agent was corrupt in the manner outlined in the recent indictments. The NBPA takes very seriously its obligation to regulate agents. If agents are now – for the first time – willing to come forward and identify examples of corruption, the NBPA will vigorously investigate and if appropriate discipline the agent.”
In July of 2012, a page from Miller’s playbook got released via the NCAA. The organization banned four prominent grassroots basketball teams from playing in NCAA-certified events. They also announced that four team administrators had a prohibited association with Miller. The NCAA published an e-mail from Miller to the coaches that many found more humorous than surprising. Miller chastised the summer basketball coaches for not delivering enough players. “I get tired of being the 1 guy that has to get the 1st rd (sic) picks every year.” He added: “You have to want it + have to hustle. To create situations to manifest chaos + plow down walls to open up new (opportunities).” He added at the end: “We’re facing a summer with no revenue. Yet, everyone will expect their checks, expenses reimburse (sic), etc.”
From his days of courting Mickey Walker and dangling Kevin Garnett as a summer basketball chip, Miller had a precocious understanding of the importance of getting in early with prospects – regardless of NCAA and NBPA rules. As the years went on, the ages got earlier – one source familiar with ASM Sports’ procedures told stories of money being funneled to a prospect as early as age 13.
Agents sponsoring grassroots teams eventually became commonplace, but Miller was considered an innovator. After luring Garnett and landing Telfair in 2004 and Monta Ellis in 2005, other agents started pouring into the grassroots scene.
“Everyone was looking for the next Kobe,” St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli said of the agents. “And it polluted the game.”
Throughout the 2000s, agent involvement in the grassroots scene morphed into a full-blown trend, as backroom deals led to college and agent recruiting pipelines and runners began ingratiating themselves with the families of prospects during their freshman and sophomore years of high school.
“There is agent involvement even before we make the first recruiting call, in the spring of 10th grade,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “They’re there. They’re involved. They’ve identified the top prospects before we have. I’ve had runners call or text me saying, ‘Have you seen this ninth grader in Chicago?’ ”
The roadmap through grassroots that gave Miller an edge during his formative years now may end up leading to his downfall. A turning point for Miller came with the NCAA publishing that 2012 e-mail. Until then, Miller rarely paid mind to the NCAA. Martelli pointed out a general “disdain and mocking” of the NCAA in the agent world.
A person familiar with Miller’s business said the public disclosure of the relationships with the AAU coaches hurt one of Miller’s main recruitment streams. One of Miller’s primary relationships exposed by the NCAA was with Desmond Eastman, who ran the Atlanta-based Worldwide Renegades. In what would become a familiar recruiting theme, J.J. Hickson played with The Renegades, at Adidas-sponsored N.C. State and then signed with Miller prior to being drafted in 2008. But that pipeline slowed, as one associate pointed out that Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NBA draft who played for an Adidas-sponsored team that succeeded The Renegades, would normally have been part of the pool of players Miller signed.
Other factors hurt Miller’s recruiting as well, including the common negative recruiting tactics of opposing agents pointing out that Miller didn’t have a law degree and doesn’t own ASM Sports. Negative recruiting was made easier with the rise of the Internet and social media, as rival agents could send prospective prospects articles about Miller’s legal dustups. But while five clients have left, not all of Miller’s clients are concerned. “Not for me,” said Orlando Magic forward Marreese Speights, who has been with Miller since departing Florida in 2008. “When I talk to him, I talk about life, and basketball. That’s the business, the real issue. I know social media is blowing up, but we talk as men. He works for me.”
Miller prided himself on being known as a “top-five agent,” something he’d often slip into conversation when looking for a hotel room or dinner reservation. “Do they know I’m a top-five agent?” Miller insisted on rooms in five-star hotels, yet was thrifty enough that he’d demand a free night if he didn’t receive spectacular service. But somewhere around 2013, that top-five status began to fade as top clients retired and his AAU connections began to dry out. The e-mail demanding his minions “manifest chaos” hinted at chaos within ASM, an erosion of his power base that was due in part to Miller knowing only one way to get clients.
Miller was known, according to people who worked with him, for hiring inexpensive and inexperienced employees, demanding a lot of them and yet not empowering them. (The only former Miller employee who went on to thrive in the business is Utah Jazz assistant general manager Justin Zanik, who spent 10 years at ASM). The obvious psychological theory is that Miller operated in fear of an employee doing to him what he’d done to Fleisher, stealing clients away and breaking off on his own. So Miller would often forbid employees from calling general managers, making sure they didn’t have the relationships and power to advance.
Dawkins fit the profile of what Miller wanted in an employee. Dawkins hustled the grassroots scene like a young Andy Miller. No motivational e-mails were required for Dawkins to keep delivering clients. Miller’s affinity for Dawkins became clear after a Yahoo Sports article in May of 2017 essentially announced Dawkins’ firing from ASM in the wake of a rare NBPA investigation. The NBPA found Dawkins illicitly used Payton’s credit card for 1,865 Uber rides. But the “firing” was just for show. Miller allowed Dawkins to accompany ASM client Justin Patton, the No. 16 pick out of Creighton, to the green room of the NBA draft in June. Allowing Dawkins in the green room was perceived as a middle finger to the Players Association. “Christian had the relationship with all the players,” said Steve Haney, who is Dawkins’ lawyer. “Andy Miller didn’t have the relationships, Christian did. That’s similar with most mega-agents. They’re not the ones who have the relationships with the players.”
Miller needed Dawkins to get back to top-five status – ASM is currently No. 7 among agencies on Hoops Hype’s agent rankings – and the relationship may end up leading to his downfall. The police presence at Miller’s office that day could well have been just to get more information on Dawkins. But it could also offer a hint at where this federal investigation is headed. Could Miller be in the crosshairs? Could he be cooperating and spilling the secrets of the agent business to federal authorities, leading to the investigation impacting the NBA landscape? (Given Miller’s cutthroat reputation, he would likely flip on other NBA agents to get out of a middle seat on a plane, never mind to avoid federal scrutiny.)
For all his controversies, Miller is not necessarily unique. His methods are merely regarded as a more brazen version of business as usual in the NBA agent world, which means he could potentially deliver other playbooks on how the underground economy works. “It’s a corrupt system,” Haney said. “There really hasn’t been any checks and balances. The NCAA hasn’t done much and the NBA Players Association has for years turned a blind eye.”
That’s allowed Miller to continue to fight his version of “the good fight.” But with federal scrutiny creating an undercurrent of uncertainty in the industry, the question lingers whether the scene at Miller’s office on that September morning could be replicated elsewhere. The federal authorities have made it clear this is an ongoing investigation – will they dig in on other agents and financial advisers? The answer to that will reverberate through every level of the basketball world. “I’d say three letters would be how worried I would be in that world – FBI,” Martelli said. “It’s not four letters [NCAA]. This is the federal government. They’re not playing. The pros are involved. They’re going to get to the bottom of it. How deep is the bottom? I don’t know that.”
(Eric Adelson contributed to this story)
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