Smith grad represents number of top prospects

Ken Harris graduated from E.E. Smith High School in 1981 with only a mild interest in the NBA draft.

draftThe top five picks in the draft that year were DePaul’s Mark Aguirre, Indiana’s Isiah Thomas, Maryland’s Buck Williams, UNC’s Al Wood and Utah’s Danny Vranes.

In this year’s draft and a few before it, Harris has a personal and business interest.

Harris, an attorney, and business partner Bill Duffy — a sports agent — are expected to represent the most first-round picks in Wednesday’s draft.

Those players include Duke’s Jay Williams, Kansas’ DrewGooden, Kentucky’s Tayshaun Prince, Missouri’s Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert and Oregon’s Chris Christoffersen and Fred Jones.

China’s Yao Ming, Williams and Mike Dunleavy, Gooden and European Nikoloz Tskitishvili are expected to be among the top picks in the draft.

Olowokandi will be one of the top free agents in the market this summer.

But Williams and Gooden will be center-stage come Wednesday. ‘‘It is extremely competitive,’’ Harris said. ‘‘But ultimately, after interviews, the player will decide if you’re the best fit.

‘‘Mr. Williams and his family had a good relationship with Bill before signing. Bill is a sincere and modest type person and that’s compatible with Jay and his serious approach to business. We get players because they feel comfortable with us and we feel comfortable with them.’’

That’s entertainment

‘‘We are not alone in this thing,’’ Duffy said. ‘‘There are about five or six of us in this, but certainly Ken plays an important part in it.

‘‘He does preventive legal work. He helps in the buying of an athlete’s house. Helps him lease a car or gives him a legal analysis before he undertakes anything in business. If player gets into an accident he makes sure the proper insurance is taking care of him.

‘‘He makes sure the player is protected; he runs the gambit in terms of his legal work. I think the most important thing is that he is a good person. Players trust that.’’

Phil Ford was a star guard for the Tar Heels and the NBA’s Kansas City Kings, but after running into trouble during his NBA career, Ford moved into an apartment in Chapel Hill. On the other side of the wall lived Harris.

How Ford’s agent prepared the point guard for life after basketball .

‘‘The business is service oriented,’’ Harris said. ‘‘As a good representative you have to be aware of issues in terms of marketing, top-flight accounting services, issues on disability coverage, a good understanding of the draft and how to maximize his draft situation.”

Ford’s return to the NBA didn’t work out, but Harris now had a plan.

‘‘A young man plays sports for only about five or six years,’’ Harris added. ‘‘They need to know how to develop relationships after their career is over. The larger (sports agent) firms do very well. They offer a variety of service versus an individual agent. But do they have the energy to develop marketing opportunities? The shoe deals are smaller, the competition for beverage companies are smaller. Do you have that person whose ear is to the ground? That’s why I like the more personal approach.’’

Harris graduated from UNC in 1985 and completed UNC law school in 1988. From there he became the first black hired at the Charlotte firm of Wishart, Norris, Henninger and Pittman, P.A.

Seven years after leaving law school he started at Todd, Parham, Harris and Dixon. He started his own law firm in 1998. On a trip to Chapel Hill, he stepped into a van where Magic Johnson was sitting in the back.

The two met through a mutual friend. Harris’ new friendship with Magic would lead to new business ventures. Harris’ career was taking off. He worked with hip-hop producers, started a record label, had photo opportunities with John Tesh and Babyface. But most importantly, he met Duffy through Magic.

‘‘I can’t believe I’ve had the opportunity to work with Earvin and Babyface,’’ Harris said. ‘‘I’ve been fortunate enough to recognize an opportunity and willing to go ahead and take advantage of it.

‘‘I’m just a little kid from Fayetteville. There is nothing in my blood line to promote me to any of these opportunities. I’m blessed by God to be in this situation.’’

Babyface and Harris’ relationship has dissolved, but Harris remains active with NBA and NFL talent. He is also a main organizer in Magic’s annual ‘‘A Midnight Summer’s Dream,’’ which features a celebrity basketball game benefiting Magic’s scholarship program.

It has been quite a voyage since the days at E.E. Smith.

‘‘I was a pretty decent basketball player,’’ said Harris recalling his athletic career at Smith. ‘‘I never distinguished myself.’’

That problem is solved.