From Sports Agent to Change Agent
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
March 31, 2016
Call it the best of wins for the Detroit Pistons. Even beyond the arena of Palace Sports & Entertainment and his new post as vice chairman – representing owner Tom Gores and acting as the team’s community point man – Arn Tellem is good news for the city and for the region in which he’s re-establishing his roots.
As followers of the NBA and MLB know, Arn Tellem is one of the most successful player agents in sports. From his own agency, launched in 1989, he joined forces in 2006 with the Wasserman Media Group, a global sports and entertainment marketing company, where he served as vice chairman and negotiated more than $3.5 billion in client contracts.
Arn Tellem could have chosen any sport and just about about any city in the country for his next move. Luckily for us, he chose Detroit.
No stranger to Detroit
Born in Philadelphia and raised on the Main Line, a resident of Los Angeles for 31 years, Tellem considers himself to be a Michigan man as well. While attending law school at the University of Michigan, he got his first taste of Detroit sports and the heart-stopping thunder of Pistons fans.
“The opportunity to come here, make an impact – and having some ties here – made the move attractive,” says Tellem. “In many ways, Detroit reminds me of my hometown, Philadelphia, which always has been my Jerusalem. Having been an agent for more than 30 years, I was itching to do something different. Opportunities like this are rare.”
Besides getting used to cold winters again, Tellem found that one of the biggest surprises awaiting him in Detroit was the team itself. “The Pistons became a playoff contender a lot faster than I thought they would,” he observed. “It’s been everything that I had hoped for and more. Intellectually, I’ve always known how much a team means to a community, but it’s been a revelation to see first-hand how we can impact a city.”
Discovering Jewish Detroit
It hasn’t taken long for Arn Tellem to find how welcoming the Jewish community of Detroit can be. “In the six months since moving here, I’ve made many new friends, and become part of the Jewish community. It’s like one big family.”
A believer that sports is a platform that can inspire kids and effect a positive change in a community, Tellem has begun to increase the Pistons’ footprint in the city in partnership with Gores and the Detroit Pistons Foundation. In January, they committed $300,000 to the expansion of the PAL Basketball League in Detroit and $600,000 to refurbish the S.A.Y. (Super All Year) Detroit recreation center at Lipke Park on Detroit’s east side. The team’s connection to Mitch Albom Charities, S.A.Y. Detroit, stems in part from another connection. Albom, a best-selling author, grew up not far from Philadelphia in Oaklyn, New Jersey.
Additionally, the team, Gores and Tellem promised $300,000 over three years to City Year, a national non-profit that installs AmeriCorp members into urban schools as mentors. Tellem says the Pistons’ charitable activity focusing on kids is just the start of a greater involvement with the city. “Doing more – that’s one of the things I enjoy most in using my position with the Pistons as a platform to do good things for the community.”
The Israel connection
Tellem has spent much of his career bringing people together, using basketball as a bridge. He has long been on the board of directors of PeacePlayers International and Seeds of Peace, organizations that connect kids from conflict regions to promote tolerance and understanding. Over the years, he has taken athletes to Israel to lead clinics for Arab and Israeli kids to promote coexistence, and it was through those efforts that he befriended Tal Brody, former basketball player and current Goodwill Ambassador of Israel.
It was Tal who set him on the path that would lead to Ori Allon, Israel entrepreneur and founder of Compass. With Allon, Tellem became part-owner of Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club in 2013. Winner of the Israeli Championships in 2015, Hapoel competes in the Eurocup, Israel Premier League and the Israel State Cup.
Asked if he ever misses being a player agent, Arn Tellem says, “No nostalgia! I’ve had a great run. I’m focused on what I’m doing. My job is all-consuming and I’m looking forward, never backward. I’ve had incredible clients. Representing them has been extremely rewarding. To be a positive force in life is a gift – on or off the court. Now, in Detroit, I have a much larger platform from which to make a difference.”
Pistons Update and Q & A with Arn Tellem
What do you see as next steps for the Pistons as far as becoming a championship contender?
We have a great nucleus of players who are young and will continue to grow with experience. To that nucleus we have to add one or two more key players who can fit into the rotation. At that point I think we will be well-positioned to be a very good team.
As I see it, we’re on the cusp. It’s been a very good season, much better than I had anticipated. We’ve seen center Andre Drummond become one of the top young players in the league. He’s the cornerstone of our franchise. There’s Reggie Jackson, the great point guard, who has become a team leader. And Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) – another bright young guard and our best defender. He continues to improve.
We had a great pick-up in small forward Marcus Morris. Just recently, we traded for Tobias Harris, a quality forward who seamlessly fits into this group. And the rookie in Stanley Johnson was a real find.
That’s our Core Six. The average age is about 23.
When you factor in veterans like Anthony Tolliver, Aron Baynes and Steve Blake – all of whom have played key roles off the bench — we’ve had an outstanding season. In Stan Van Gundy, we have one of the top coaches in all of basketball.
What are your thoughts about Detroit fans seeing Pistons games downtown in the foreseeable future?
I’ve learned that future is never foreseeable. Our franchise is at a critical stage. We’ve had a wonderful run at the Palace. The arena is our home, we have a great history there and our fans love it. But to remain a competitive franchise – and that means competing with the other 29 NBA teams to give our followers the best experience – we must be open to all options.
Your favorite sports hero? Hank Greenberg
Role model? My mentor, Steve Greenberg (Hank Greenberg’s son). When I began my career, Steve was an attorney at my law firm. I learned so much working with him.
Favorite Jewish holiday: Passover
Favorite Jewish food: My mother’s brisket and grandmother’s gefilte fish
Reading now: “Survival in Auschwitz,” by Primo Levi. Working my way through all his books.
Watching now: OJ: Trial of the Century
Following now: The election. (Who isn’t following that now?)
Leisure activity in Detroit: A foodie, exploring, evaluating and privately rating all the restaurants in the city.
Greatest hope to accomplish next year: Besides a championship season for the Pistons? If I can bring SUGARFISH (one of the best sushi joints in L.A.) to Detroit, I’d consider that a major win.