Conley Sr. jumps to it
Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. might be the only lottery picks in NBA history who wish they could jump like their agent.
Or at least like their agent did back in his Olympic track and field days.
"I used to pull out the tapes and make Mike and Greg look at them," Mike Conley Sr. says with a chuckle. "I had to show them, 'Hey, I'm not just some old fart. I used to dunk from the free throw line.' "
Now Conley Sr., the 1992 gold medalist in the triple jump, is trying to make the leap into big-time sports representation. So far he is off to a flying start. His clients include Oden -- the likely top overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft -- as well as his son Mike Jr. -- considered the top point guard on the board.
"I've always wanted to be an agent from the time I started working with pro athletes, even going back to my track and field days," Conley Sr. says. "With Greg and Mike [being longtime friends], this was the perfect time."
For Conley Sr., 44, the chance to get back into big-time basketball is more than just business. It's a lifelong passion. Although famous for his track and field exploits -- he also took silver at the '84 Olympics and still owns the U.S. record in the indoor triple jump -- he is a self-described hoops junkie who once dreamed of playing in the NBA.
As a high school star in Chicago during the early 1980s, Conley led his Luther South team to a Class A state title. Isiah Thomas, Doc Rivers, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings and Darrell Walker were among his peers. Though he stood only 5-11, Conley routinely dazzled them with his rim-rocking dunks. He went to Arkansas to play for Eddie Sutton, but quickly found that the team was loaded with Walker, Alvin Robertson and Scott Hastings.
One day during Conley's freshman season, Sutton called him into his office and told him he was probably two years away from starting. They talked about Conley's love for basketball, but also his chance to be the best in the world in track and field. Together they decided it was best for him to put aside hoops and focus on his track dreams.
"It was hard, but it was the right thing to do," Conley recalls. "I remember [coach Sutton] saying, 'You've got a chance to be something really special in track.' He was right. ... I ended up being the best at what I did.
"After I won gold in '92, he sent me a postcard. It said, 'Aren't you glad we made the right decision?' "
But Conley's passion for basketball never waned. He kept in contact with his NBA pals. He took part in celebrity slam dunk contests, winning the Foot Locker event in spectacular fashion in '88, '89 and '92. Most of all, though, he wondered what kind of pro career he could have had.
When Mike Jr. came along and began following in his father's hoops footsteps, Conley Sr. found what he calls an "excuse" to get back involved in the sport. He began coaching his son's AAU team in Arkansas. He quickly discovered that all the old competitive juices still flowed, and he quickly built the program into a national power.
After moving to Indianapolis to take a job with USA Track and Field, Conley took over a local AAU team with Mike Jr. as the centerpiece. One day, while coaching his son's new team in Indiana, he came across a photo of a gangly 6-2 sixth-grader on a rival area team.
"Our team was very small. I knew we had to find a big guy," Conley Sr. recalls. "One day I saw a photo [of a team] with Greg in the background. I said, 'Who's that kid? I better see about this.' So I went to his house. His mom grilled me. She was like, 'You want to take my -year-old around the country?' "
Conley eventually persuaded Oden's mother, and the rest, as they say, was history. Oden and Conley Jr. became best friends and formed the nucleus of an AAU team (along with Duke star and likely '07 first-round pick Josh McRoberts and reigning Indiana player of the year Eric Gordon) that won two national titles. Oden and Conley Jr. also teamed up in high school to win three straight Indiana state titles at Lawrence North before leading Ohio State to the championship game of the 2007 NCAA tournament.
When the season ended, Oden's mother decided it was time for Greg to make the jump to the NBA. She asked Conley Sr. to represent him.
"Obviously I had aspirations of being an agent all along," Conley Sr. says. "I was talking to his mom about what to expect about Greg, and she made the comment, 'Don't you want to do this?' "
Conley knows there are some who question his credentials, but he has vast experience negotiating multimillion dollar deals from his days at USA Track and Field. He also helped create the agent certification program for track athletes, and is a major player in Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Games. Conley is involved in so many different business ventures, in fact, that he currently has 3.7 million frequent-flier miles on one airline.
Conley's work ethic and diverse background helped persuade veteran agent Bill Duffy to hire him as a member of his staff at BDA Sports, the firm that represents Steve Nash and Carmelo Anthony, among other NBA stars.
Conley says his intends to be a mentor to his clients as much as a business advisor. His present list might be small -- he has another likely mid-to-late-first-round pick in Ohio State freshman Daequan Cook -- but he says he won't hold back on offering life advice to go with financial help. He hopes his ability to relate to players in a fatherly fashion -- and his experience as an elite athlete --will make him stand out in the fiercely competitive agent business.
"He is a guy who won a gold medal," Oden told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He knows how hard you have to work to be the best. What he didn't know about basketball, he went out and learned so he could teach it to us. But he was the best in the world. That's something you can't get past."
The fact that he could dunk from behind the free throw line probably didn't hurt either.