Roger Montgomery, Lin’s agent, was at the checkout counter when he noticed the cover of the March 5 issue of People magazine. In the top corner, to the left of the bride-to-be Elizabeth Smart and above the new homeowner Adele, was a photo of his client. The headline read: “Jeremy Lin’s Amazing Story.”
Montgomery could not stifle his amusement. “The cashier was looking at me,” he said this week, recounting the incident. “Like, what’s wrong with this dude?”
Little did she know. Two months ago, the Texas-based Montgomery Sports Group had just a few clients. One of them had a steady N.B.A. gig. Two others were playing basketball in Europe. The fourth was Lin, who had played for three teams in December alone. At that time the idea of a Montgomery client being on the cover of People would have indeed been laughable, as unlikely as every other detail in the story Montgomery and Lin have shared since that point.
A dozen years ago, Montgomery was a 30-year-old former N.A.I.A. basketball star who had played overseas, eager to stay connected to the game. He was given a shot by a start-up agency in Dallas called Momentum Sports Group, and despite having neither clients nor experience, found himself lobbying the family of Desmond Mason, an Oklahoma State star and a suburban Dallas native.
The would-be agent impressed with his passion, and when Mason was selected with the 17th pick of the first round of the 2000 draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, Montgomery was on the map.
By the time Lin came to his attention in 2009, Montgomery had departed from Momentum and struck out on his own. N.B.A. clients had come and gone during that time — Mason, for example, retired in 2009 — leaving Montgomery relying largely on his longest-tenured player, the Washington Wizards’ Maurice Evans, who had gone undrafted in 2001 before willing himself into a nine-year career.
Going it alone was not easy; Montgomery, who is married with three children, confessed to doubts along the way. But he kept at it, taking notes, constantly looking for players he might realistically be able to reach out to. And on Dec. 6, 2009, when Lin, a senior at Harvard, put up 30 points in a near-upset of 13th-ranked Connecticut, Montgomery was quick to respond.
“Right away, I liked his game,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to get him.’ ” Lin was an ideal candidate for the Montgomery Sports Group — a player with a big ceiling and a small likelihood of attracting larger agencies, who are not likely to dwell on Ivy Leaguers.
“Often, I don’t bother going after top prospects,” said Montgomery, who until recently was his firm’s lone full-time employee, with an office in suburban San Antonio. “I aim for guys who are similar to me: they haven’t been given much in their careers and they’re supermotivated to prove themselves.”
For Montgomery, the overtures to Lin began with an introductory package of material sent to Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker, who passed it along to Lin’s family. Telephone interviews gave way to Skype talks; Montgomery even asked Evans to get on the phone to provide a candid take of life in the Montgomery Sports Group family.
“Roger told me this was a special player,” Evans said, “and said, ‘Be honest with him.’ ” Montgomery then met Lin for the first time in April 2010 at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia, an annual gathering of N.B.A. prospects. He received a commitment from Lin soon thereafter.
It is an agent’s job to be ambitious, bordering on delusional. Leading up to the 2010 draft, Montgomery was holding out hope that Lin might sneak into the first round. The worst-case scenario, he figured, was that the , who needed a point guard not named Chris Duhon, would select him with one of their two second-round picks.