Never mind that DSU did not yet have a sport management academic program when Adisa Bakari was a Del State student in the 1990s.
Once Bakari decided he would earn a law degree and then go on to represent professional athletes as a sports agent, he would have it no other way.
Adisa Bakari '95 chairs the newly formed Sport Entertainment Group (SEG) of the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington, D.C.
The 1995 Delaware State University graduate has made his aspirations a reality as a veteran sports and entertainment attorney who recently joined the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington, D.C. The firm acquired Bakari to become the chair of its newly formed Sport Entertainment Group (SEG).
The SEG represents 34 NFL players — including Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Antoine Bethea of the Indianapolis Colts, Matt Forté of the Chicago Bears and Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers — as well as six professional boxers and one NBA player.
Most of the players were represented by Bakari when he was with Dow Lohnes, another Washington law firm where he began his legal career 15 years ago. A merger between Dow Lohnes and another firm prompted Bakari to start a new chapter elsewhere, and when that ended up being at Kelley Drye & Warren, his sports clients followed him there.
Bakari has established a reputation as a sports agent who is not only there to represent his clients in salary negotiations and product endorsements, but also in getting his athletes to take a long term view of their futures.
“Many NFL players’ careers do not extend beyond that first three-year contract,” Bakari said. “Eighty percent of NFL players end up broke or in financial disarray after their football career is over.”
Bakari said he works to drive home the point with his athletes that they are more than just entertainers.
“I tell them that being an athlete is their job, but it is not who they are,” he said. “It is important that they understand the athletic business of which they are part.”
To put his sports clients in a position to provide for their family in their post-professional sport years, Bakari annually holds a three-day “Life Retreat” that focuses on how they can succeed as athletes and businessmen.
Bakari has made his mark in Washington, where he was born as Clinton Tucker and raised, and with the exception of his academic years at DSU, has lived and established his career.
Later on during his DSU years, he would permanently change his name to Adisa Bakari as a way of commemorating his ancestry and heritage.
“Bakari is Swahili and means the promise of nobility,” he said.
Raised in Northwest Washington by his grandmother Evelyn Pitts, Bakari said she was adamant in her belief that he would go to college and become an attorney.
“She is a remarkable woman who raised her children and her children’s children,” Bakari said. “She didn’t have a degree or a lot of money, but we always knew that we were going college.”
Time at DSU
It was playing football for Calvin Coolidge High School that led him to DSU.
“Some of my coaches, most notably Robert Sanders, were graduates of DSU,” Bakari said. “Coach Sanders drove me to DSU and introduced me to (Hornet football coach) Bill Collick.”
While he performed well as a defensive back in high school, once he arrived at DSU and began competing at the next level, it became crystal clear to him that an NFL playing career would not be in the cards. Nevertheless, Bakari played on the Hornet football team during his first three years at DSU.
Soon after he arrived on campus his freshman year, another momentous event took place — he began dating Josephine Carter, who would be his future wife.
“I wasn’t doing a lot of dating at the time,” said Josephine, who graduated in 1995 from DSU with Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. “I knew he had my attention, and because of that, I knew he had something.”
Bakari, who majored in political science at DSU, believes he made the most of his experience and he reserves his highest praise for a group of professors — Dr Baruti Kapano, Dr. Akwesi Osei, Dr. Demas Kenjyatta and Joyce Breasure — who all impacted him deeply.
“It was my experiences with these professors that make me talk reverently about DSU,” Bakari said. “DSU literally saved my life.”
Bakari credited Dr. Kenjyatta with challenging him intellectually and showing him the flaws in his arguments without being condescending. He notes that his legal writing skills are what they are due to the tutoring of Dr. Kapano. He points to Dr. Osei as a mentor and considers him a good friend to this day. And in an Art of Argument class, Ms. Breasure helped him to think analytically about his arguments.
With warm fondness he recalls being the only student from a Historically Black College or University in 1994 to serve as a summer intern at the United Nations, and also competing in the Harvard University Debates, where he was honored with the “Best Delegate Award.” Upon receiving the honor at the podium, he said in loud and deep voice “D-S-U!!!”
“Everything I have been able to do can be traced back to my years at DSU,” Bakari said. “My analytical ability, my view on life is all attributable to DSU.”
He stepped away from Hornet football after his junior year to concentrate on preparing himself for law school. Following his cum laude graduation, Bakari went on to earn a law degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1998.
Career start and family
Before he finished studying law, he was already thinking about becoming a sports agent and broached such possibilities with Len Baxt, chairman of the Washington-based law firm Dow Lohnes, who responded by telling Bakari to get a job with the law firm and maybe such a venture would be possible later.
That is exactly what he did. Bakari began at Dow Lohnes as an executive compensation lawyer. After he proved himself with the firm, in his third year he brought up the sports representation idea with his bosses. He was allowed to use one-fifth of his required billable hours toward developing the sport agency pursuit.
Zamir Cobb, a former wide receiver and most valuable player awardee with Temple University, became his first client.
“He had grown up two blocks from me in Washington, and used to come to Dover to see me play at DSU,” Bakari said.
With Bakari representing him, Cobb went on to be a NFL player for two years for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. Cobb is now a manager with the NFL Players Association and remains a client of Bakari.
From that point on, Bakari has accomplished exactly what he set out to do. That bodes well for his clients, as it has become his passion to help the athletes he represents to transcend their sport personas and secure long-term inter-generational wealth.
As his wife and the mother of their four children, Josephine said she is not surprised by his success, nor by their success as a family.
“(At DSU) we knew we were going to be together and because of that, we knew we had to make each other better people,” said Josephine, who originally came to DSU on a track scholarship but who actually excelled even more on the Lady Hornets volleyball team.
Right after their DSU graduation, Adisa and Josephine were married. She would go on to teach biology in a junior high school in Washington for a couple of years. But then, while her husband continued to build up his sport representation work, she became a stay-at-home mom to tend to her growing family.
Bakari said Josephine is the anchor of their family. “She maintains the order and stability of our family,” he said. “I would not have been able to build this practice but for her.”
-- Story and photo by Carlos Holmes