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Agent accused of misleading Yao

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CLEVELAND — A sports agent was accused in a lawsuit of intervening in a deal that would have allowed a sports management company to represent Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.

Evergreen Sports Inc., based in suburban Shaker Heights, Ohio, filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, accusing agent Bill Duffy of Walnut Creek, Calif., of misleading Yao about Evergreen in 1999 to sign the player.

The suit seeks damages for lost revenue Evergreen figured to get from the contract with Yao for his work on and off the court, Evergreen's lawyer, Peter Poulos, said Saturday.

"Yao Ming is a pretty popular person these days," Poulos said.

Messages left with Duffy and his agency, BDA Sports Management, were not immediately returned Saturday.

The 7-foot-6 Yao, the first pick in last year's NBA draft, averaged 14 points and eight rebounds for the Rockets this past season. The runner-up for the league's rookie of the year has also become a hot advertising commodity.

The lawsuit says Evergreen officials brokered a contract in October 1998 with Yao's team in China, the Shanghai Sharks, that allowed Yao to be released from the team. It also gave Evergreen exclusive rights to represent Yao and manage his NBA career.

Six months later, Yao signed a management agreement with Evergreen. The deal required Evergreen to take 33 percent of Yao's earnings, and most of that money would go to buying out his contract with the Sharks and to the Chinese government in exchange for the right to represent him.

The lawsuit accuses Duffy of interfering with the contract by making false statements about it and Evergreen.

Yao stayed in China for two more years before signing with Duffy.