As the GTA's basketball 'awakening' continues, an NBA agent comes home
‘There’s so many talented kids coming out’ of Canada, says agent Mike George
Decades after he learned to love the sport on courts in Rexdale and Malton in Mississauga, basketball agent Mike George has come home to Toronto with the aim of bringing the next generation of top Canadian players to the National Basketball Association.
George's company, OneLegacy Sports Management, counts Canadian NBA players like Khem Birch, Dillon Brooks and Dwight Powell as clients.
With OneLegacy's brand new location now open in Toronto, it looks like he's aiming to add more.
"There's no real dominant [basketball] agent in Canada," said George of his decision to expand his business over the border.
The former York University basketball player says he's making the move to keep a closer eye on burgeoning Canadian talent.
"There's so many talented kids coming out," George told CBC Toronto in a one-on-one interview with host Dwight Drummond, citing the "great programs" in place to help develop young players.
He should know — he started one of them, a youth basketball program called CIA, short for Christians in Action.
CIA later combined with another youth team to form CIA Bounce, a now-elite program that saw two of its alumni — Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins — become number one draft picks in consecutive years.
Helping players 'be a part of history'
CIA Bounce's continuing success is partly thanks to a 2007 cash infusion from George after he appeared on the U.S. game show Deal or No Deal.
"I ended up winning $144,000, and then I donated half of it to the program," he said. "I always believe in life that you give and you always get it back in some way. And it might not be financially."
Though he says it was never in his plans, George eventually opted to leave CIA Bounce and his elementary school teaching job behind to become a basketball agent in the U.S., representing players as they navigate the NBA draft and negotiate contracts.
"It's amazing to be part of history and it's also amazing to be part of those kids' lives," George said of his clients.
George says the Canadian talent pipeline he hopes to recruit from is fed by both grassroots programs and more established organizations like the Ontario Basketball League, a well-developed network of provincial teams.
"They always say it takes a village to raise a kid, and it's true when it comes to basketball in Canada," he said.
Canadian future in the NBA
Canada Basketball president and CEO Michele O'Keefe agrees — it's a new era for Canadian youth interested in basketball.
"You can see that there are more fans than ever before. I think there are more kids playing than ever before," she told CBC Toronto.
Of George's decision to expand, she said it was "exciting that there is enough requirement that there actually needs to be an agency here."
O'Keefe says she believes the number of Canadians in the NBA could double in the next five to 10 years.
"The youth that we have in the pipeline are strong," she said. "The depth of the athletes' potential is just growing every year."
With new events like the Biosteel All Canadian — an annual game meant to showcase high school talent and rival the U.S. equivalent, McDonald's All American — it can be tempting to see Canadian basketball as entering a golden age, O'Keefe said.
"It's not the golden age. We're just starting to write our story. There's so much more to come," she said. "I would say it's an awakening."
With the opening of his new sports management outpost in Toronto, George seems hell bent on making sure he and the players he represents get to add a line to that story.
"I believe in always come back and take care of home," he said. "Not to have a major basketball agency out here in regards to sports management, it had to be, in my opinion, a Canadian to start it first."