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Tom Birnbach, 40, a managing principal of CRESA Partners Washington, is a relatively young and cool guy.

But a card-playing pal of 22-year old basketball phenom LeBron James?

It all started in August of '05 when the owner of Marquis Jet, whom Tom had come to know because he uses the plane-share service, invited Tom and his wife to join him on a Thursday to Sunday trip to Anguilla in the Caribbean. The group also turned out to include LeBron and his girlfriend, his father, and three of his friends. They hit it off ,and starting on theGulfstream V and continuing in their six room villa at the St. Regis Temenos and even on the beach, they "basically played Guts for four days straight," Tom says.


Above, Tom and LeBron heading back to New York in the G-V. "They all threw their money down as we were beginning to land. And I won it all. See that stack of money in LeBron's hand? It ended up in mine. He wasn't happy."

But they stayed friends and Tom met up with LeBron three times last year in DC--when the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town--at venues fromMcCormick & Schmicks and the Ritz bar to Club Love. And what do they do when they're not playing cards? "He loves to talk about real estate," Tom says. "He's interested in condos in Las Vegas and D.C. He thinks I handle residential, too."


Above, in the conference room of their Bethesda office recently, we met up with the four CRESA principals, from left, Gene Sachs, Rich Rhodes, Steve Schaumberg, and Tom Birnbach. They are all equal partners in the firm (and they give equity to others in the office as well if they do a certain amount of business). But they are also guys who’ve known each other a long time in a bunch of ways. Tom grew up with Gene's wife in Bethesda, where they went to Pyle and Whitman together. Steve and Tom live down the street from each other. Rich and Tom's wives were partners in a staffing company they built and sold. Steve and Rich went toTulane. The Fab Four's motto: "Get in early--stay out late."

CRESA was formed in 1993 by real estate boutiques in Boston, LA, San Jose, and Minnesota, and the Rome Group of which the four were all a part (founder Rick Rome left a couple months ago to Studley) came in as the seventh office in 1999. Now there are 46 offices with 600 personnel. Just like Staubach and Studley, they do only tenant rep work, and last week won exclusive rights to represent three different groups seeking a total of 100k SF. Recently they found 75k SF for NII Holdings as the first tenant to pre-lease the top three floors of one of Boston Properties' new buildings at Reston Town Center for '08 occupancy, and 70k feet for EMC on Westpark. Their biggest client is BAE Systems, for whom they do work nationally.