Prominent sports agent Lon Babby is taking a pay cut, probably a significant one, to become president of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns, a job he called "the opportunity of a lifetime."
The 59-year-old attorney was introduced at a news conference Tuesday at US Airways Center. His initial task will be to hire a general manager.
"I'm going to play to my strengths. I know what I'm good at, I know what I'm not good at," Babby said. "I've never told anybody I was Red Auerbach. I have no expectation of taking the lead on those kind of talent evaluation questions. My first order of priority is to bring somebody in here who is a basketball genius."
Suns owner Robert Sarver said the hiring of an agent for a top front-office position is "venturing outside the norm a little bit" but he believes Babby's experience representing at various times ownership and players gives him "a unique insight into this business."
Babby's clients included the Suns' Grant Hill, San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Boston's Ray Allen. He also represented recent Suns acquisition Hedo Turkoglu but said he stepped aside while the trade to Phoenix was being discussed.
"When I began to sense that there might be an opportunity for me here, I immediately recused myself from those discussions," Babby said, "... to avoid being in a situation where someone could accuse me of steering somebody in one way or another."
Babby is a member of the Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington, D.C., and a Yale Law School graduate. Early in his career, he represented John Hinckley Jr., the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.
Babby said his mentor was the late Edward Bennett Williams, the founder of Williams & Connolly and one-time owner of the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Redskins. He began his sports career representing the Redskins. Later, he served as club counsel, then general counsel of the Orioles and was involved in the construction of Camden Yards.
Babby said he sees his new job as a "culmination of a great set of opportunities that I've had."
"I have a pretty good sense, both from my management background and from my work as an agent, about what works and what doesn't," Babby said, "what are the pressure points of teams, what are the pressure points for players. So to have that opportunity at this stage of my life to try to implement all that and try to bring that information to this place.
"I want to get paid, but it's not about that, because who has this kind of opportunity and I'm relishing it."
Babby said he began speaking with Sarver about the job in June. Vice president and general manager Steve Kerr stepped down at the end of June and has gone back to work as a basketball analyst from TNT.
Sarver said he believes these kinds of hires will become a trend.
"My hunch is over time there's going to be more parity in the league," he said, "that it's going to be more and more maybe not quite as much how much money they spend but how they spend it and how they deal with the parameters of the system. I think as the system changes it's going to be more and more important to be able to have a really good, firm understanding of what I call the business side of basketball."
The Suns lost five-time All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who signed with the New York Knicks. In addition to adding Turkoglu, Phoenix acquired forwards Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick.
Sarver downplayed expectations, saying he believes the team will be picked as a marginal playoff squad at the start of the season. That's where the Suns were picked a year ago, when they finished with the third-best record in the West and advanced to the Western Conference finals.
"Guys on this team tend to overachieve, if you want to call it overachieve, but I think we'll be very competitive," said coach Alvin Gentry, who interrupted his vacation to return to Phoenix for the news conference. "I don't look for us to take a step back."
Babby's first client as an agent was Hill and he has represented him throughout the player's 15-year career.
"I'm taking particular pleasure in the fact that the last week or so he's started to call me boss," Babby said, "which is a nice change."