Meet your neighbor: Sports management professional Wendell Maxey
Updated 11:34 am, Tuesday, January 3, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Wendell Maxey remembered getting a call around 3 a.m.
He had just begun work in Nuremberg, Germany, as a scout and recruiter for one of the city’s professional basketball clubs.
The voice on the phone was that of an American player, the first Maxey had ever recruited, who had arrived in Germany to join the team that day. A team outing at a nightclub, away from Maxey’s supervision, had led to an encounter with local police and several hours of lock-up for the newcomer.
That was bad news for Maxey.
Shifting into damage-control mode, Maxey slipped out of bed and walked to the jail to post bail. He followed up by forming a pact of secrecy with the player so as not to raise the alarms of the team’s head coach or general manager. By the time the incident was resolved, it was morning.
“I’m walking back home, the sun’s coming up and I can see this German castle. I’m like, ‘How did I get here? I’m just a kid from Nebraska,’ ” said Maxey, who now works and lives in New Canaan.
His former role in Nuremberg found him acting often as a liaison between management and players. Putting out small fires, and at times putting up bail, was a crucial part of his job. In his role at Scorers 1st, an international sports management agency, his damage control expertise is no less highly valued.
Maxey’s official title, director of public relations at Scorers 1st, does not fully capture the breadth of his work. By turns, he meets with college players to talk about their professional prospects, coordinates Scorers’ annual Las Vegas showcase, leads scouting and recruiting efforts throughout the U.S. and abroad and devises communications strategies.
It’s a varied and complex job, one for which Maxey’s background in the sports milieu has well prepared him.
After earning an undergraduate degree at Portland State University, Maxey moved with his wife and young daughter to New York City, where he worked a day job to pay the bills and spent his nights covering the New York Knicks. In three years, he was never compensated for his journalism, but it’s served as the foundation on which he went on to build a 10-year career as a sportswriter, contributing to outlets like ESPN.com, NBA.com, Slam Magazine, USA Today and the Oregonian. It also allowed him to make contacts within professional basketball that would later prove helpful when he shifted to sports management.
“I used the time to educate myself, make contacts, meet coaches, meet general managers and see some amazing games,” Maxey said.
After a stint covering Portland’s NBA team, the Trail Blazers, Maxey decided he wanted a more immersive experience.
“I wanted to move closer to the game,” Maxey said. “I wanted to be in the gym, I wanted to do scouting reports and recruiting.”
With his wife and two daughters, he moved to Nuremberg and landed a recruiting job with the basketball team, for which he received a pittance of 70 Euros a week.
For three years he stayed on at Nuremberg, while continuing to freelance for American newspapers and online outlets. Meanwhile, he was developing a role for himself in the world of sports management that straddles athlete representation, on the one side, and recruiting, on the other.
“There’s no middle man between a player coming out of college helping them to decide which agency they should go with, who they should get to represent them,” Maxey explained. “I wanted to help bridge that gap between the player and the agent.”
Still in Germany, Maxey began work as a consultant, collaborating with sports management agencies, including Scorers 1st. He relocated to New Canaan four years ago to be close to his wife’s job in New York City.
“I did not want to be an agent,” Maxey said. “I did not want to be put in that kind of box. When you say used car salesman, you get a picture. When you say lawyer you get a picture. Same with agent.”
Part of the stigma attached to the whole notion of a sports agent may have to do with the 1996 Tom Cruise film, “Jerry Maguire,” which painted a bleak picture of the profession, but paradoxically compelled many young viewers to envision a career for themselves in the high-stakes field, according to a recent ESPN.com article.
Maxey, for his part, said the film accurately depicted the way in which the sports agent portrayed by Cruise must learn to communicate with his football player-client.
“Regardless if you work at an agency in basketball, baseball, or football, you need to have communication so the players realize you’re working on their behalf to get them where they need to go,” Maxey said.
Making that connection can be easier said than done.
Sometimes, Maxey finds himself confronted with the task of providing a necessary reality check to athletes who have been lauded as the best players in their hometowns or colleges. That can be a most difficult conversation to undertake, but it can also be a highly productive one.
“You kind of have to take a step back and look at the reality of the situation,” Maxey said. “I don’t think any American kid is growing up thinking, ‘Man, I can’t wait to play in Europe!’ But if a player or a parent is open to hearing that assessment, it opens up the door to working closely together.”