A shiny black limousine slows to a stop on Broadway in Walnut Creek, a few steps from a curbside ATM. The black-suited driver gets out, walks around the front of the car and opens the rear passenger-side door.
First, a size-18 Reebok emerges, followed by spiky black hair that ascends seemingly to the heavens. It's Houston Rockets' 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming. He needs some cash.
"People were going crazy," said Bill Duffy, Yao's agent. "They couldn't believe he was there."
One might be surprised how many sports stars he or she might come across in Walnut Creek. Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant. Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez and Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony. New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Texas Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton.
They highlight a list of professional athletes who've made their way to Walnut Creek. The city is home to three major sports agencies, making it an unusual destination for many professional football, basketball and baseball players.
Duffy's agency, BDA Sports, which represents professional basketball players, is located on Ygnacio Valley Road.
The football division of sports representation giant Octagon makes its home on North California Boulevard.
Sosnick Cobbe Sports, the baseball agency popularized by the book "License to Deal," operates on Bancroft Road.
"It is very weird to have all these agencies here," Octagon agent Doug Hendrickson said. "Very bizarre."
All three find the comforts of Walnut Creek appealing. Its mellow disposition and upscale aura form the perfect backdrop for where the sports and corporate worlds meet.
The location is far enough from Oakland and San Francisco to escape the congestion and pollution, yet close enough to take advantage of their treats.
Or, the agents can stay in Walnut Creek. They can indulge their clients — many of whom are used to the finer things in life — in restaurants such as Crosby's, nightlife stops such as Crogan's and shopping venues such as Broadway Plaza.
But perhaps the best benefit is the proximity to local universities. The Creek is a quick jaunt away from Cal and not too far from Stanford, giving agents easy access to an area known for producing professional athletes. The three firms' list of clients reflects how they have taken advantage of the local goods.
The most notable athlete on Sosnick Cobbe Sports' list of clients is Alameda native and Detroit Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis.
BDA Sports has Nash (Santa Clara), Chicago Bulls forward Drew Gooden (El Cerrito High School), Houston Rockets forward Chuck Hayes (Oakland native) and Seattle SuperSonics forward Francisco Elson (Cal).
Octagon Football represents several players with Bay Area ties, including Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch (Oakland native and Cal), Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers (Cal), St. Louis Rams safety O.J. Atogwe (Stanford), Arizona Cardinals defensive end Travis LaBoy (San Rafael native) and New England Patriots safety Tank Williams (Stanford).
"It's a good fit," Hendrickson said. "It's convenient. It's a good location. We have 80 clients altogether, and everybody is represented by someone in this office. We're tucked away here in Walnut Creek and doing well, obviously, 23 first- and second-round draft picks. Nobody in the country has done that."
Duffy, a Los Angeles native, has more interest in Walnut Creek than business. The husband and father of five said he appreciates the familial aspects of the city in addition to the business perks.
"To me it was more just the quality of life here, and not wanting to travel too far from where I live," said Duffy, who ran his agency out of his home for nearly a decade before moving into an office suite last year. "I love the Bay Area because it's more diverse. There are a lot of successful people here, but they're more grounded, whereas in L.A., you've got so much superficiality. But Walnut Creek in particular, it has everything that's appealing to me and my wife. It has unbelievable schools. It has restaurants. It has shopping. Every place I need to go — Sacramento, Stockton, San Jose, Marin, Oakland, Berkeley — everything is ... right here."
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.