Octagon has promoted veteran agent and senior director of global basketball operations Alex Saratsis to co-managing director of the division alongside its longtime leader Jeff Austin, the agency told Sportico.
Saratsis’ promotion comes after the successful negotiation of the largest NBA contract in history for client Giannis Antetokounmpo: a five-year, $228 million supermax extension with the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite the public speculation that surrounded the 6’11” forward’s future, Saratsis said the decision came down to priorities as opposed to payout.
“Giannis is such a personal and private person,” Saratsis said in a phone interview. “The money was going to be what it was going to be, but that’s not what drives him. It was really about what he values. How committed is the team to winning? How committed is he to the city? Where is he happy? Milwaukee took a chance on him, and he’s grown as a human being there. From a values perspective, he had to put all that down.”
The Bucks participated in the process with Antetokounmpo and Saratsis (“we had many in-depth conversations with them, socially distanced meetings about the direction of the team, projecting out the next few years and recruiting targets,”) and it paid off. While money may not have driven the decision, the Greek Freak’s record-setting deal brought Saratsis’ total amount of contract value closed over the past two weeks to more than $400 million (he negotiated Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo’s five-year max extension, worth up to $195 million, in late November).
Together, Saratsis and Austin, who has led Octagon basketball for two decades with a portfolio headlined by the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, will manage more than $1 billion in combined active player contracts.
Saratsis was also responsible for establishing the framework for Octagon’s international basketball operations, recruiting a network of what now comprises 50 agents in Europe and managing the agency’s presence abroad amid a quickly globalizing NBA. Saratsis formed partnerships across Europe, Asia and South America for the division while representing his clients, who also include the Philadelphia 76ers’ Seth Curry and the Los Angeles Lakers’ German guard Dennis Schroder.
“From a professional perspective, this is probably the most success I’ve had in my almost 20 years in this industry,” Saratsis said. “Giannis and Dennis came into my life in 2013 [the year both were drafted], and it’s changed my trajectory as an agent and ours as an agency. I’ve always been very internationally focused, and I truly believed in the ability to grow our international practice. Giannis, Dennis and eventually Bam really helped drive that business and give us credibility. Not that we didn’t have that already with Steph and others, but when you look at our client base, a large majority of them are foreigners. That really helped my career and helped shape our division.”
Octagon basketball today represents more than 40 players across the professional ranks, including two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson.
Austin, who hired Saratsis in 2009, when the division’s clientele numbered in the single digits, said the move is more a “formality” than anything. It’s a reflection of Saratsis’ interest in and proven ability to manage personnel, as well as clients—and by no means a sign of a coming departure on Austin’s part.
“I’ve been consulting with Alex on everything in our division for [a while],” Austin said. “Although we’re now announcing him officially as the co-managing director, we’ve been doing it side by side for the last couple years in lockstep. It’s well-deserved, and probably overdue. When I was a younger man, I used to think I’d want to retire when I got to 60. I realized when I hit 60 that I love what I’m doing and as long as I continue to be passionate about it, I don’t want to go anywhere. Alex absolutely deserves to be at the top of the division, but since I’m not [leaving], we’re going to do it together.”
Both agents have secured a number of substantial off-court business and endorsement deals for their clients as well, with Saratsis landing Antetokounmpo a Nike shoe deal in 2017 worth more than $10 million annually.
Over the last year in particular, Saratsis said that he and the 2019 NBA MVP have become both more intentional and less traditional in the deals they’re doing. As Sportico reported this summer, Antetokounmpo’s ownership stake in Ready Nutrition marked his first investment in a brand. Unlike a typical endorsement, the deal includes the ability to contribute creative input.
“The same way that there’s an evolution of an athlete on the court, there’s the evolution of an athlete off the court,” Saratsis said. “The first few years, we were trying to build a brand. What he’s trying to do now is find companies that he really believes in and [to] put his money where his mouth is. He’s investing in different endeavors, getting equity in companies. The most important thing to Giannis is who you are at your core, and that’s the approach that we’ve taken.”
The selective, long-term approach mirrors that which Austin has taken with Curry, most recently manifesting in the expansion of the three-time NBA champion’s Under Armour deal. Announced on Dec. 1, Curry Brand is the transformation of the star’s longtime shoe contract into a larger brand deal that will feature shoes and clothes for a number of sports.
The new Octagon hoops co-heads emphasize a continued prioritization of both client service—becoming, as Saratsis describes it, “even more full-service and finding what other value add we have to offer,”—and organic growth as they look toward a future leading together.
(This story has been updated to include current MVP A’ja Wilson in the list of Octagon’s clients in the eighth paragraph.)