Jessica Holtz, CAA Sports Agent | Hoop Story #074

Jessica Holtz, CAA Sports Agent | Hoop Story #074

Being an agent in the NBA space is a very niche job. Was this always a part of your career plan? 

It was not part of the plan. I grew up watching sports with my dad who is a diehard New York all around sports fan so I fell in love with sports early on. As a result, I really wanted to be a sports reporter and I studied journalism. As I was doing it more I realized that I did not like being on camera which is a key for that field. I wanted to be behind the camera.

My aunt grew up with a lawyer who worked for the NBA, David Denenberg who still works there. We talked about potentially pursuing a summer internship at the NBA and so I did. I actually was studying abroad in Spain during the application process to turn in to the NBA. I had to go around Spain looking for a video conference center because that was the only way I was potentially going to get the internship. This was back in 2006. We did not FaceTime, we didn’t have zoom, we didn't have any technology that we have today.

I finally found a place on the other side of the town, took a bus to get there, did my interview and got the gig interning at the NBA in the production department. My first assignment there was to work on the 2006 Miami Heat Championship DVD!

My path toward being an agent followed shortly after but that was my introduction to the NBA space.

What is the CAA and how did you get connected?

CAA is a global talent agency. I became aware of CAA a few years into working at the NBA, and it was my job to work with every agency. I had worked with CAA agents over the years and have some good friends over there. In 2014 I ended up working for a CAA competitor Excel Sports. I spent 2.5 years there and it grew into a multi-sport agency. During that time, I started having conversations with the folks over at CAA and I realized to be and represent the best, it was a good decision to work in the Basketball sector of CAA. 

CAA hosts many athletes, who have been some of your clients? 

So, when I started at CAA sports in 2014, I had a few great clients on my roster. Paul George and Chris Paul in particular. The very first draft that I was participating in as part of my role at CAA was the 2015 NBA draft. We recruited out of college Karl Anthony-Towns, and Devin Booker. I've been with them since their transition from Kentucky to the NBA. They're finishing their eighth seasons in the NBA and you know being part of their journey and all their ups and downs is something that I'm really really proud of. They’re people that I admire and respect. I've grown and they have grown, but we've done a lot together which is really special to look at. 

As an agent what does your day-to-day look like? What are your goals when it comes to elevating a player? 

No two days are exactly the same, which I think is something that I've gotten used to. If I woke up everyday and had the same day, I don't know how I’d do because I've just gotten used to such different structures of my days, you know. If I'm not traveling, I could be home on zoom and phone calls and you know, facetimes with clients catching up with them, brainstorming and a lot of days I am traveling. I could be at events, games, commercial shoots, meetings and so on. Those days are obviously not the same and squeezing in calls where I need to and obviously, I try to clear my inbox as much as I can at the end of the day. That's what a lot of my day-to-day life looks like. 

Agents have a lot of different styles and so I can only describe how I approach the job. That is, to really be somebody who can navigate the players' worlds with and for them. So, it's things like, “Do I have the right team in place around us?” “Do I have the right resources?” “What kind of business goals do I have?” “What am I doing to accomplish them? Are there other people helping us accomplish them?” 

Players have their own playing style just as most workers have their own style of work. What is your work style?

I take things very personally, and it's just such a personal business when you're working on behalf of a person as a brand and a business. That means my care level is pretty high. If a client brings an idea to me or has a thought, or something they want to get involved in, I'm pretty relentless. Because I want them to be able to explore that opportunity, and not every time does it work perfectly, but at least I'll have an answer as to why. I'll speak to the person who would know or get a sense of what's going on because that's what my client has asked me to do. It could also be a transactional business, and deals are deals with people. Some athletes are happy just having the deals, and they don't need to have a high touch. But I don't know how to do it any other way. That's good because I'm always pushing for the best of the best and not being complacent.

Hoop Stories is about highlighting the subject as well as the position. What rituals do you have in place to set yourself up for success? 

The best part of my day is waking up and spending at least an hour with my daughter, she's 2 years old. Myself, my husband and her have our morning time and being able to have that time with her is a really great way to set my tone. I also have certain newsletters and news outlets that I like to read every day just so I feel informed going into the day. A lot of them are obviously sport and sport business focused. I like to read Google alerts on my clients every day because then I have a good recap of what's being said and/or going on or take a pulse about great games. That’s how I set my tone going into my day. I feel refreshed when I’m informed understanding what the landscape is.

How do you balance the needs and wants of a player vs. what you may see is best for their career?

I like that question. I feel very strongly about this point, it is not about me and what I want. However, the question is more what advice I would give or what I'm seeing or what I think would be the best in a certain situation if it differs from my clients' view, we have an open dialogue. If it's something I want I'm not going to force it on any of my clients, but I want them to tell me the pros and cons. I want to tell them the pros and cons of what I'm feeling and thinking and then we make choices. OK, what issue do I feel really strongly about that might not be the right move? I'm going to speak up and I have a process like that with my clients. We share information and I don't hold back but also respect them and their opinion. At this point as long as I've been working as an agent, a lot of my clients have been playing basketball. I respect and appreciate their opinions and goals and dreams.

If we're on the opposite side of something we will have a or multiple conversations about it and see where we get. I learned to sometimes move off my position as well. Maybe what I was thinking wasn't necessarily the lens to look at it through and then sometimes they move their position because I was looking at it a different way. That's how you come to conclusions and it's not just the two of us either. A lot of times we may ask. “What expert can we bring in other information? What other information do we have and how do we make the most informed decision?”

It's not about what I see or what they see. A lot of times it's figuring out how to make the best-informed decision that will get us the best result.

What is your focus for you and your players going into the future?

Being part of their team and advocating for them I need to constantly be evolving. Whether it's diving into Web3 so that I can understand the space, educating myself on what experts we're going to look to or what types of companies you need to work with, etc. I'm going to try to do that so I'm not lacking the knowledge that I need. I just try to better myself by making sure that I have the skills, tools and resources needed. I’m working to grow as an individual while you're growing as an individual.

Agents sometimes look at their clients as the same person who came to them when they were drafted or when they signed them. Basketball players are constantly evolving human beings and you need to evolve yourself along with them. You need to watch, acknowledge and cultivate their evolution. So that's where I come in as an individual. How am I being my best self so that my clients can be their best selves? 

Here at Hoop Stories we understand our subjects take place in plenty of amazing moments. Name a favorite of yours!

Off the top of my mind, Devin Booker getting on the cover of NBA2K was one of my favorite things I've ever worked on. It was something that he had mentioned to me early as I can remember and something that came up pretty often throughout the process.

When the pandemic hit, and they did that and made the NBA 2K player tournament, Devin won it. The relationship continued to grow from there through Devin’s incredible play in the finals run.

I got the phone call from my friends over 2K who I've also known for a very very long time and done a lot of great business with over the years, that was a proud moment working with the brand and telling me you know that Devin was going to be extended the offer for the next cover is a moment that I will forget.

I was actually in his house while he was at practice. I got to wait for him there and tell him when he got home in person. It says a lot about who you are as a face of the NBA and Devin really prides himself on that. It showed where he’s come as a player.

That was a really fun project because Devin was also the first player who did a photo shoot just for the cover image. A lot of times they're taken from in-game. Devin wanted to make sure that his touch was on every single element of the cover process. He weighed in on as much in game stuff as he was able to.

We just had a launch party in the beginning of September in LA, and we got to bring the first old school car that he'd ever purchased, “Pretty Penny.” It just made the event special. She's a beautiful art piece and really it was really just a great experience all around with the 2K group through all the commercial shoots we did, all the planning and stuff etc.

We're a well-oiled team at this point and so you know that's a moment for Devin that was a very long time coming and was worth every second of the wait and I was really proud of that. 

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