WNBA legend Lisa Leslie, Tomi Rose team up on athletes

Aston Rose partnering with VC-backed Side, starts with focus on LA, Miami

Lisa Leslie and Tomi Rose (Getty, Twitter, iStock)
Lisa Leslie and Tomi Rose (Getty, Twitter, iStock)

A luxury brokerage team dedicated to courting professional athletes has launched with one of the biggest names in American sports on its roster.

The new enterprise, called Aston Rose, is partnering with the agent-centered brokerage Side on the venture, and will initially focus on sales in California and South Florida. Lisa Leslie, the former WNBA star, is one of the team’s four co-founders.

“Nobody knows the niche market like we do,” Tomi Rose, the Miami-based broker leading the team, said by email. “We’ve lived the lifestyle and understand what it’s like to be a professional athlete.”

Along with athletes, the team is also targeting entertainers and “high-net-worth clientele.” Along with Southern California and South Florida, the group intends to expand to three additional markets in its first year, Rose added, floating Atlanta, Las Vegas, New York and Houston as possibilities.

The group officially launched on Thursday.

Rose, who is serving as senior director, is a former Indianapolis Colts cheerleader who is also married to the former NBA player Mark Strickland. In 2015 she represented Lebron James in a deal that netted the star $13.4 million for his home in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. Rose most recently spent four years as the senior director of luxury sales in Douglas Elliman’s sports and entertainment division.

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Other co-founders include Rob Hite, a Miami-based broker who has spent the past three years at Sotheby’s International, where he sold David and Victoria Beckham a $20 million penthouse, and Rod Watson, a realtor and former ESPN producer who is based in Beverly Hills. Both are also former professional basketball players: Hite played briefly for the Miami Heat, and Watson played internationally.

But the firm’s real star power comes from Leslie, who joined the WNBA in 1997, the league’s inaugural season, and over the next decade or so emerged as among the most recognized female athletes in the world. Throughout her career Leslie won four Olympic gold medals, two WNBA titles and three WNBA MVP awards; the 6-foot-5-inch center was also the first WNBA player to dunk in a game.

Leslie, who also has an MBA and is married to the realtor Michael Lockwood, began her own real estate career five years ago, according to an Aston Rose representative. She recently worked alongside Lockwood on a South Florida-based team that’s part of Keller Williams.

Aston Rose is branding itself as “the first ultra-luxury national real estate firm devoted to finding homes for professional athletes, entertainers and high-net-worth individuals,” but the upstart will certainly have some competition for athletes’ business: In July of 2020 the luxury agency Brown Harris Stevens Miami launched a new sports and entertainment division led by the sports agent Seth Cohen. Other major brokerages, including Compass and Douglas Elliman, also have divisions catering specifically to athletes and entertainment stars.

But Aston Rose is betting that its co-founders’ athletic backgrounds and the partnership with Side will help the startup lure major clients. The national firm, whose motto is, “Not all agents, just the best agents,” was founded in 2017 with venture capital funding and has a business model that emphasizes the autonomy of high-performing brokers and teams. In September, among other recent additions, the national firm announced a partnership with the boutique L.A.-area brokerage formerly known as Deasy Penner Podley.

The venture is not Rose’s first foray with team building: In 2013 she founded what she refers to on her LinkedIn page as the first sports and entertainment-focused division within a real estate company. That was at Opulence International, where Rose’s relationship with the brokerage later soured. In 2018 Rose and Opulence filed suits against each other related to financial claims, and last June a judge ordered Rose to pay her former employer $77,000 for marketing and travel expenses, although Rose’s countersuit was still pending. Besides James, her clients, according to a press reports, have included Michael Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal and Juwan Howard.

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