Why New York Knicks might look to break the mold with Leon Rose and Steve Stoute picks


Steve Stoute, founder of Translation, participates in a social justice panel at the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library on April 10, 2014. Stoute was recently hired as a brand consultant for the New York Knicks.

Robert Daemmrich Photography | Corbis | Getty Images

Connect the dots, and New York Knicks owner James Dolan is positioning himself for a chance at the game-winner, or at least he’s appearing to do so.

Dolan, the billionaire chairman of Madison Square Garden is reportedly set to hire powerhouse agent Leon Rose of Creative Artists Agency as the new team president of basketball operations, according to ESPN. Despite the report, Dolan released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the team is still in search of a team president and have yet to make any hires.

If the report becomes official, the hire of Rose would come after the team fired team president Steve Mills, and weeks after the Knicks hired Steve Stoute, the branding guru who founded marketing agency Translation.

If Dolan does hire Rose, he’s using the player-agent model to build his front office, which is a move growing in popularity among NBA owners.

The model suggests the agent, who already has relationships with superstar players and connections with top brands like Nike and Adidas, could be a force in attracting top stars to the hiring team.

There are several examples of the model. Look at Los Angeles Lakers’ hire of general manger Rob Pelinka, who represented the late Kobe Bryant throughout his playing career, and Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers, who was a longtime agent before taking his current role. Myers helped land Kevin Durant in 2016. Former powerhouse agent Arn Tellem is now a part of the Detroit Pistons front office, too.

Rose represented NBA superstar LeBron James before he switched to current agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group. Rose, 59, and a New Jersey native, accumulated a packed roster of NBA stars including Oklahoma City star Chris Paul, former Knick and current Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, and Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker.

According to Forbes, Rose, who is ranked 14th on the 2019 World’s Most Powerful Sports Agents list, grossed $38 million in commissions last year, and negotiated $948.9 million in contracts throughout his career.

One NBA Western Conference executive didn’t criticize the move to bring in Rose, pointing to the fact Dolan has tried other “traditional models” that failed; why not try something trending now.

“He’s tried former player Isiah Thomas in different iterations, the NBA-player-star approach, and he tried different coaches,” the executive told CNBC on condition of anonymity. “Then he tried the guru and went to Phil Jackson, and that blew up on him. He tried the NBA guys – Steve Mills, a guy who came from the NBA offices originally – he tried that model. Guys with good reputations around the league, so he figured [players] knew them, and that hasn’t worked. So now, why not go off script a little bit?”

The branding guru

Since the 2001-02 season, the Knicks are 590-922 for a winning percentage of .390, the lowest winning percentage for any team in the NBA in that span, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Before the Knicks fired Mills, it was he who dismissed head coach David Fizdale on Dec. 6. Currently, the Knicks are 16-36, which is 13th in the Eastern Conference and the team hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season.

Stoute, 49, was hired to help repair the Knicks’ image and assist in improving the relationship with its fan base.

“When I look at the Knicks, I look at the greatest franchises in the world of sports,” Stoute told CNBC in an interview. “Franchises that define the category – on a global level, Manchester United, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Knicks. These brands are iconic, they have deep legacies attached to them, and that’s the opportunity that I’m looking at.”

Stoute is known for his work in the entertainment industry, as he was the former manager of hip-hop superstar Nas and R&B singer Mary J. Blige. He’s worked with hip-hop moguls Jay Z and Sean Combs and was a part of the campaign to bring the former New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn in 2012.

Stoute assisted in creating the Cliff Paul character – played by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul – for a State Farm ad campaign. Ray Katz, an adjunct professor at Columbia University, said the campaign assisted in the insurance company’s multicultural marketing. The concept of the ad played off of the idea of Paul assisting on the baseball court and translated that into his helpful “twin brother,” the character Cliff. 

Katz, the co-founder, and COO of Collegiate Sports Management Group, a New York-based marketing firm, said the combination of Stoute’s “charisma, his connections, his combination of intellect and street smarts; I think it’s unusually strong. If anyone can do the job [rebranding the Knicks], he can.”

The Knicks declined to comment on Stoute’s hire, and now the question becomes: Will the Knicks listen to Stoute’s advice, or will it be business as usual inside of Madison Square Garden?

“To ask me, if they’re going to listen to us, I think our point of view will be considered,” Stoute said. “My body of work speaks for itself, and my belief is that based off those conversations, when they decided to move forward with us, that they move forward with me and the company because we bring something to the table they want.”

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