Although sports agent Marc Simon has 15 clients playing basketball in Spain, France, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Lithuania, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and all over the United States, he said that placing a kid on a pro team in Israel proved to be one of his most meaningful experiences.
"There's a personal connection," said the 26-year-old, who played ball himself at Columbia University. "Sometimes, I wish that I could have played a couple of years in Israel, but knowing that my players are getting that experience, it makes me identify with them just a little bit more."
He recently negotiated a deal for the 6-foot, 9-inch Jeffrey Horowitz to play center and power forward for Hapoel Holon in Israel's Premier League. In working with Horowitz, he helped the former University of North Carolina-Wilmington standout fulfill two lifelong dreams at once — playing pro basketball and making aliyah.
"When I met Jeff, he wanted to go to one country — and one country only — and that was Israel," said Simon, who so far has had three clients play ball in Israel. "He identified with the cultural aspects as much as sports."
After catching wind of the deal, Israel Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor honored Simon and Horowitz at a Rosh Hashanah event at his home in Washington, D.C., where they got a chance to talk basketball with Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
"Sen. Lieberman is very tuned in to Israeli culture and society, he knows basketball in Israel," said Simon, who runs the sports agency from Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell and Hippel, a law firm in Center City. "He was excited to talk to my player and myself about how he got the citizenship, when he was leaving and what team he's playing for."
After ending his career at Columbia, the 6-foot, 6-inch Simon headed to law school at Villanova University, figuring that sports of any sort were consigned to the past. Soon after, however, a friend asked him to look over a contract offer from a team in Germany; he became Simon's first client.
Now, he has players scattered across Europe, forcing him to keep an odd schedule, working most nights from 1 a.m. until 3 a.m. –morning hours in Europe. When he is in the midst of contract negotiations, he said that he sometimes just falls asleep with his BlackBerry next to his head.
"If it rings, I can get up and keep rolling," he said.
To get by the language and geographical barriers that are part of the territory when working with pro teams overseas, Simon partners with sports agents already established in specific nations. When he or any one of his partnering agents finds a team expressing interest in a player, Simon sends out a profile package that includes a DVD.
Once a player is signed, the local agent's philosophy is simple: Keep them happy, especially those who are experiencing a foreign country for the first time.
"It's a culture shock," he said. "Most of my players have never been out of the country. Most of my players have never been out of their city, except for going to college."
To better market his clients, Simon has created his own summer showcase camp, where he's hosted scouts from NBA teams, such as the Utah Jazz, Seattle Supersonics and Denver Nuggets, in addition to European teams.
"I provide a separate vehicle for players to get seen in front of NBA scouts," he began. "If they like the player or they think the player has potential, that is an alternative on how they can get into an NBA workout or to a summer league."
Simon said that after just a couple of years of being a sports agent, he's surprised and excited by his success; after all, "every athlete as a kid dreams of being an Arliss or a Jerry Maguire."