Palace Sports and Entertainment Hires Top Sports Agent Arn Tellem
At 10:01 a.m. on Sunday, Arn Tellem takes his last bite of scrambled eggs, whites only. His kale-almond butter-blueberry shake is finished. It’s the power breakfast of one of the most successful, influential and respected sports agents in history.
Just last month, Tellem culminated a career that led him to represent more than 500 of the nation’s most accomplished professional athletes during the last 34 years, including basketball stars Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller and Ben Wallace. Just since 2008, he’s negotiated more than $3.5 billion in client contracts.
The final chapter of Tellem’s career begins this summer with the move from Los Angeles to the Motor City, where he’ll become the vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment. In an interview with the Detroit Jewish News, Tellem talked about the reasons for his surprising transition, his belief in Detroit, the Pistons’ potential and about his own Jewish connections.
This job offer came together in May during conversations with Pistons owner Tom Gores. The organization created this role to support the management team, led by Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy and Palace/Pistons president and CEO Dennis Mannion, to make the Pistons a championship-contending basketball team once again.
Community outreach will be a vital part of this role as well. Tellem hopes to learn and meet people from across the community.
“I have a lot of questions and will be immersed in being out there and getting to know business, community and government leaders, including those who are making a difference and seeking to positively impact Detroit,” he said.
Media reports have speculated about whether the Pistons should move to the city of Detroit from Auburn Hills. Tellem stressed that it’s premature to comment on the matter, adding that the Palace “is a great place and a valuable asset with millions of dollars of recent investment.”
Tellem does believe the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment will both play a pivotal role in Detroit’s turnaround, and that can mean engaging with the community in ways beyond the location of operations.
He specifically wants to augment the mission of the Pistons’ Come Together Foundation to further enrich the lives of Detroiters by mentoring local youth, encouraging volunteerism and partnering with the vested stakeholders in the Detroit area, such as charitable causes, and government and business entities. He realizes that Detroit, at its post-bankruptcy stage, is at a unique position.
“Pumped And Energized”
Tellem is drawn to the challenge of the new role, which he sees as an opportunity well beyond just his individual growth.
“There’s no better opportunity or purpose for the final chapter of my career,” he said. Tellem relayed how much he believes in the franchise and how he’s looking forward to using his decades of relationship-building in the sporting agency world in his new job.
His emotions — as he closes one chapter that led him to heights he never imagined to starting this new role — run from terrifying to elation. Frankly, though, he says that he’s pumped and energized.
“Tom was offering me a chance to join him in making a difference in Detroit and its surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m 61. If not now, when?
“This is the right time in my life for a transition and change. I’m been an agent for over three decades. I felt like this was the right time in my life to continue to learn, explore and challenge myself. This allows me to impact something larger and greater than myself. I desired to work with an organization of people and a team that I believed in and could feel a shared purpose around. I really felt a connection with Tom [Gores], Dennis [Mannion] and Stan [Van Gundy]. I knew it was right because I really felt in sync with the people part.”
Tellem said he immediately felt a connection to Gores, who has great people skills and great relationships with the players, management and the league offices.
“At the end of the day, I want the chance to work with smart people in a collaborative way — with everyone pitching in and working towards a common agenda — to make this a leading franchise and business with an impact on Detroit and the suburbs.”
The pieces are set in motion to make the Piston’s a championship contending team under Van Gundy’s direction, Tellem said. He believes the business, under the leadership of Mannion, is headed in the right direction.
“I’m looking forward to playing a large role in the community and playing a large role in increasing the engagement between the fans and the community-at-large because the team is an important community asset,” he said. “I think success will be defined in all of those areas.
“I’m hoping to be here for the long-haul, looking beyond just a few years. My wife and I will be spending a considerable amount of time in Detroit as well.” They are planning to live in an apartment in Birmingham.
Tellem is married to Nancy Tellem, a former entertainment and digital media president of Microsoft. During executive roles at CBS and Warner Bros., she brought many shows to air, including CSI, Survivor, Friends and ER. Nancy, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is currently the executive chairman and chief media officer of Interlude, an interactive music video start-up founded by an Israeli rock star. The Tellems have three sons: Michael, Matty and Eric.
Although Tellem grew up in Philadelphia and has lived in Los Angeles for most of his adult life, he’s been connected to Detroit through his career. He got to know the Pistons when he represented center Ben Wallace, and remembers a game at the Palace being one of the most energized he’s ever attended.
In addition, he became acquainted with Detroit in the late 1970s while attending law school at the University of Michigan. Since graduation, he’s continued to support his alma mater, including through the Arn Tellem Faculty Research Support Fund created at the law school. His son graduated from University of Michigan last year and his sister is also an alumna.
During the interview, he could envision at least one of his sons, who all share an interest in sports, working in Detroit at some point in the future.
Tellem, who will officially start his new position the first week in September, looks forward to moving to one of America’s most iconic cities. He sees Detroit as more than just a great sports town, but also a city rich with history. Going back to his childhood, he admired Hank Greenberg when he was a star first baseman-outfielder for the Detroit Tigers. For much of his life, Tellem has been close friends with Hank Greenberg’s son, Stephen.
Jewish Detroit will also gain a proud Jew when Arn Herschel Tellem arrives. “I’m looking forward to joining the Jewish community in Detroit, which is also a historical community,” he said. “I’m proud that there are incredible people that have come out of the Detroit Jewish community who have contributed to the greater good in the community. You can see that, whether it’s the Davidson family or Sen. Carl Levin, who I’ve known for years, or Congressman Levin.”
When Gilad Shalit visited America, Tellem helped make the visit possible and was able to offer him the experience of attending the All-Star Game. Three years ago, the Tellems led a mission to Israel with professional athletes. Working with the Jewish National Fund, Seeds of Peace and Peace Players International, the group conducted sports clinics for youth in the region, promoting acceptance, cooperation and friendship through sports.
The Tellems currently serve on the national board of Seeds of Peace. They plan to belong to Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
Among all the lessons he’s learned through the years, some of the most valuable to him today are rooted in the time he spent with his grandfather, Ellis, who came to the United States from Lithuania in the 1890s. Ellis comforted Tellem when his father died right before his bar mitzvah and provided the context of meaning: from tikkun olam and having kindness for others to helping the needy and being a person of integrity.
The Pistons have a long way to go until they are a championship-contending team. Although the ups and downs of sporting franchises is one of the exciting parts of the business. Take Israel’s Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team. Arn Tellem became a part-owner of the business just two years ago; a week ago, Hapoel won the first league title in their team history.
By: Adam Finkel, Special to the Jewish News