WASHINGTON – As a former Maryland All-American and NBA star, Len Elmore understands the pressures of being heavily recruited by teams and player agents.
Now one of the many agents courting University of Maryland All-American Joe Smith, Elmore says his experiences have tempered his pursuit with patience.
“I want to work with Joe Smith in the worst way,” he said. “But unlike some of my competitors, it doesn’t matter to me if it’s this year, next year or the year after.”
Elmore, who turns 43 Tuesday, has fought and overcome many of the major challenges that face young athletes today.
He parlayed his stellar stint at the University of Maryland into a 10-year NBA career, overcoming a series of injuries and the deaths of two brothers.
After retiring from basketball, he battled through doubts and anxieties to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1987. The degree led to a prosecutor’s job in Brooklyn, N.Y., and then to his most recent job helping young athletes to get the most out of their gifts.
“We try to show our clients how to get into the game of life,” he said.
In December 1991, Elmore founded Precept Sports, a sports marketing company that provides contract negotiation, legal counsel and financial management to young sports stars.
Among his clients are Sacramento Kings guard and Maryland alumnus Walt Williams, Houston Oilers linebacker Michael Barrow and world-class gymnast Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring.
“My perspective is that of one who has seen peers crash and go down in flames,” Elmore said. “Unless you’ve been there, you can only guess.”
The transition from player to lawyer/agent wasn’t exactly smooth. When he left the NBA for Harvard Law School, Elmore said he struggled with self-doubt and anxiety.
“I expected to see Einstein in all the students’ faces,” he said.
Gail Elmore, his wife since 1987 and friend since college, recalled that her husband was fearful of entering an intense academic environment.
“He was petrified,” said Mrs. Elmore. “He almost didn’t want to go there.”
Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree described Elmore as an “outstanding student” who, because of his size, was called on for comments more than any other student.
“My only hope is that if I ever meet him in court and we’re on opposite sides, that he’ll remember I was his teacher,” Ogletree said.
Elmore’s philosophy for representing young athletes is based on self-reliance and personal responsibility. He said the young athletes desperately need steady guidance and positive influences.
“The biggest need is growth and maturation,” he said. “It means everything in the world for these guys to have someone there consistently.”
Elmore’s career was marked with experiences that tested his maturity. At the beginning of the 1976-77 season, his third in the NBA, he tore ligaments in his leg, sidelining him for several months. The following year, his brother Robert, who played basketball at Wichita State, died of a drug overdose.
In 1985, his first year in law school, his brother Cliff died of AIDS, which Elmore said he had contracted through intravenous drug use.
He credits family and friends with helping him to persevere. “There were times when I could have hit rock bottom,” he said.
Elmore said he first thought of starting his agent company while at Harvard. He recalls being affected by stories about Bill Robinzine, a former teammate who committed suicide in 1982 after his career had taken a downturn.
A CBS basketball commentator at the time he opened his company in 1991, Elmore later resigned amid concerns that his role as a player representative might cause a conflict of interests.
He called the conflict concerns “wholesale garbage,” arguing that players appreciate candor and that there were other reasons people raised the issue.
Williams, one of Elmore’s first clients, said Elmore’s basketball credentials and sincerity won his confidence.
“You can really trust him because he’s been there,” Williams said. “I felt like he wasn’t just trying to get with me for the money. He thought I was a good kid that he wanted to lead in the right direction.”
Part of that direction is community service. Elmore and Williams work with Team Maryland, a mentoring program for school children from the Washington area.
“You can never do too much with kids,” said Elmore, who is on the board of directors for Youth Advocacy, a group that helps foster care teen-agers in New York City.
Now, Elmore is splitting time between his Columbia, Md., office and his New York City home, where his two sons, Stephen, 4 and Matthew, 2, keep him occupied.
He has maintained close contacts with the University of Maryland and hopes those ties will make his company an attractive option for sophomore Smith, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year who has until May 14 to decide if he’ll enter the NBA draft.
“I’m known, whereas some of [my competitors] are unknown,” Elmore said.