Are there qualities you possess that you may be unaware of?
At dinner last November in New York City, high school friend and entertainment lawyer Andre Des Rochers suggested to Leisa Washington that she should consider becoming a basketball agent.
“That was something that I had never thought about, but what he said created a buzz in me,” Washington recalled. “He reminded me that I have a daughter who is playing college ball. He also pointed out that I have the negotiating skills to represent her if she chooses to pursue a professional career after she graduates from university and some sports-related experience.”
Back home, the Greater Toronto Area mother of two basketball-playing teenagers spent the next eight months researching the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the European leagues and learning what it takes to procure and negotiate employment and endorsement contracts for an athlete.
While most sports agents are lawyers because of the length and complexity of contracts, Washington felt confident enough to apply for Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) certification.
After an expansive application process, she was granted accreditation earlier this month, thus becoming the first Canadian female WNBA agent.
Over the years, the role of the sports agent has evolved from a legal advisor and negotiator to a promoter which is a function that Washington is comfortable with.
“I don’t have a background in law,” said the business diploma holder. “But I am good in areas that include finding jobs, public relations co-ordination, career planning, counselling and personal assistance. I do understand that legal advice will be needed and I intend to align myself with sports lawyers who will ensure that our athletes’ earning power is maximized. My job is to be the best agent for Canadian players.”
Washington is already in touch with several Canadian players who are eager to compete in the WNBA and European leagues. They include national small forward Tamara Tatham and forward Kalisha Keane who the San Antonio Silver Stars waived before the start of the 2012 season.
“Kalisha wants to stick with a WNBA team and there are other players who are keen to participate in the European leagues,” said Washington. “We have a lot of emerging talent here in Canada and my goal is to create the right spot and opportunities for them to flourish on the court and financially.”
While on vacation in Paris and Italy later this month, Washington will explore opportunities for Canadians and network with league executives.
‘It’s all about developing contacts and networks at this stage,” she said.
While track and field was her favourite sport, Washington has embraced basketball in the last 15 years.
Her daughter, Dakota Whyte, is a sophomore point guard with the Wisconsin Badgers and son – Cameron Ramage — is a standout guard with Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Ajax.
Washington drives 18 hours regularly to watch her daughter’s home games and she plans to be there for this season’s opener on November 10.
A graduate of West Toronto Collegiate Institute after spending a year at Runnymede, the single mother has a firm grasp of what it means to provide the best opportunity for young people to succeed. She established Camda Sports Foundation which is a charitable program that provides financial assistance for youth participants in healthy recreation endeavours.
The organization helps cover travel, training and registration costs for athletes in addition to some travel expenses for families to accompany their children and watch them play.
“I could not continue with track because my mother did not have the money or the will to travel,” she said. “That’s one of the main reasons why I started this foundation.”
Washington spent nearly seven years at the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation. As the Great Escapes coordinator, she managed programs and events for terminally ill children and their families and worked in conjunction with the Toronto Raptors to help provide live-game experiences for children.
She was also a client relations manager at Wild Water Kingdom before joining Abilities Centre last year as the member services’ manager.