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Viva... Cleveland?

For Brazilians with NBA dreams, C-Town is the first stop.


"You'll see him in an all-star game," lawyer Mike Coyne boasts of his latest prospect.
  • "You'll see him in an all-star game," lawyer Mike Coyne boasts of his latest prospect.
Sometime next Wednesday, around the time that America tunes into Lost, NBA Commissioner David Stern will announce that a young Brazilian no one's ever heard of is officially rich.

You won't hear about it, unless you happen to be watching ESPN. And you won't care, unless you happen to root for the team that picks the 22-year-old from São Paulo.

But somewhere, a lawyer from Cleveland -- a guy who looks like he should be doing your taxes, but really is among those altering the landscape of NBA basketball -- will celebrate Marcus Vinicius' big promotion and begin to plot the young Brazilian's future.

"You'll see him in an all-star game," boasts lawyer Mike Coyne of the sweet-shooting import.

Coyne has been grooming Vinicius for the draft since last summer, when the player went looking for a new agent. He wanted someone who could help him make the jump to the NBA. Coyne liked what he saw -- a 6-10 forward who moves like a gazelle and can score from anywhere on the court.

Vinicius was playing in Europe at the time. But Coyne persuaded him to return to his native Brazil, where the competition is weaker, but where he could learn under former Cavaliers assistant Bob Donewald, who was coaching a team in San Carlos.

In March, Coyne brought Vinicius to Cleveland to train. For the past several weeks, he has flown Vinicius and another young Brazilian, a 6-11 forward who goes by the name Morro, to workouts in front of NBA scouts, coaches, and execs.

Vinicius has climbed up mock draft boards since he arrived, and he could go as high as 15th, according to ESPN hoops analyst Chad Ford. While Morro may not be picked, he should be in an NBA camp this summer.

That means two more players for Coyne. More important, it means two more references for South American players looking for representation. With more and more foreign players jumping to the NBA -- there were 82 last season, including fellow South Americans Anderson Varejao and Manu Ginobili -- Coyne believes he will continue to be in demand.

His day job is at Yormick & Associates, a law firm that specializes in international trade, immigration, and other global issues. But it was an eye for the untapped market that led him to sports management.

In the 1990s, a friend in Africa told Coyne about a freakishly talented player from Zaire. Coyne asked the friend to send a tape. When he finally got his hands on the grainy footage, he thought he'd discovered the Next Big Thing. "He was the perfect human being," Coyne recalls. "He was absolutely an athletic marvel."

Coyne wanted to bring him to the United States, but even with his experience in international law, he couldn't get the player past government hurdles. "I didn't know anything back then," he says. As he struggled with bureaucratic holdups, the boy contracted meningitis and died. Coyne's career as an agent ended before it started.

But he knew there were more giants hiding in the world.

"If there's 1, there's 101," Coyne recalls thinking. "Or 1,001."

Michael Ri was proof. At 7 foot 9, Ri was certain to be an NBA star, Coyne believed. But Ri hailed from communist North Korea, where darting for the States isn't just a matter of finding a cheap flight. Coyne helped Ri get as far Canada, then tried to negotiate his way into the United States. But while several NBA teams were interested, the Clinton administration was reluctant to violate the Trading With the Enemy Act, and the State Department was in negotiations with the North Koreans. Ri eventually gave up and went home.

Undeterred, Coyne turned his attention to Yao Ming. The 7-foot-6 Chinese center was considered a No. 1 pick, but was under contract with a team in Shanghai. Coyne negotiated a deal to release Yao from that contract -- a deal, Coyne says, that would have satisfied everyone involved, including the Chinese government. But a California agent convinced Yao not to sign it, he says.

Four years later, the Rockets drafted Yao first overall. But Coyne had already switched continents.

In 2001, he finally encountered a player from a country less protective of its ballers: Brazil. His name was Nene Hilario. A 6-11 forward, Hilario wowed scouts at the 2001 Goodwill Games, blocking five shots and grabbing seven rebounds in an overtime loss to the U.S.

Coyne convinced Hilario to come to Cleveland to train. He housed him at the Cleveland Athletic Club and arranged for training at a Euclid gym. At the 2002 draft, Hilario went seventh. In four years with the Nuggets, he's averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds a game.

In 2003, Coyne imported 20-year-old Brazilian Leandro Barbosa and put him through a similar regimen. Barbosa was drafted 28th and was a key figure in the Suns' run to the Western Conference Finals this year.

Now it's Vinicius' turn. Coyne knows his relationship with the youngster may not last long -- and might not make him rich. Hilario, on the verge of his first big contract, dumped Coyne this year in favor of Varejao's agent, Dan Fegan. Barbosa also replaced Coyne with a more experienced agent. "It's the business," Coyne says. "There's a lot of agencies that specialize in stealing clients."

But for the moment, Vinicius is his. Which is why he's on the sidelines at the Cleveland Athletic Club, watching intently as Donewald runs Vinicius through a slew of drills. "He's like a Swiss army knife," Coyne brags. "He can do everything."

Indeed, Vinicius looks -- and sounds -- ready for the league. He moves easily in his baggy Sixers shorts, his chiseled, sun-kissed frame shiny with sweat. When he rises to shoot, Donewald slaps him on the wrist. The ball falls gracefully through the hoop. Vinicius knows precisely how to react.

"And one, baby!" he declares, smiling proudly in the direction of his very happy agent.

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