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Arn Herschel Tellem[1] (born February 21, 1954) is vice chairman of the Detroit Pistons.[2] From 1981 to 2015 he was a sports agent best known for his representation of basketball and baseball players. He was Vice Chairman of the Wasserman Media Group, a global sport and entertainment marketing agency headed by Casey Wasserman.[3] From 2009 to 2010 he wrote a semi-weekly sports column for The Huffington Post.[4] He has also written for Sports Illustrated,[5][2] the Op-ed page of The New York Times,[6][7][8][9] Grantland[10] and The Japan Times.[11]

Arn Tellem
Born (1954-02-21) February 21, 1954 (age 65)
Alma materHaverford College & University of Michigan
OccupationSports team executive, sports agent
Spouse(s)Nancy Tellem (1979-present)
ChildrenMichael, Matty, Eric


Tellem was born to a Jewish family[12] and is a native of Philadelphia.[13] His mother named him after a brave knight in the Prince Valiant comic strip.[14][1] He grew up on the Main Line[15] and became a sports junkie at age eight by playing APBA Baseball, a mail-order board game. Years later, for luck on his wedding night, he propped his treasured 1938 Hank Greenberg APBA card on the nightstand next to the conjugal bed.[16] At 12, he found career inspiration from legendary Temple University basketball coach Harry Litwack, who answered a question -- "What's your favorite food?"—that young Arn had phoned in to a local radio station.[1]

He graduated from Haverford College in 1976 and from the University of Michigan Law School in 1979. He began his career as an attorney in the law firm then known as Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney, where his mentors were sports attorneys Alan Rothenberg and Steve Greenberg (son of Hank Greenberg).[13][17][18] Tellem specialized in sports law and commercial litigation and became a partner in the firm. He began representing baseball players and also served six seasons (1982–1989) as general counsel of the San Diego Clippers, and was instrumental in the franchise's move to Los Angeles in 1984.[19]

In 1989, he launched his own sports agency, Tellem and Associates. In 1999, SFX Entertainment purchased the agency and later named Tellem chief executive of SFX Sports.[1] In 2006, Wasserman Media Group acquired his NBA and MLB player representation practices. Tellem became the President of WMG Management as part of the deal.[20] He brought along a client base of about 50 NBA and 50 MLB clients, including Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Nomar Garciaparra and Mike Mussina.

Tellem is certified as an agent by the Major League Baseball Players Association and the National Basketball Players Association, and is a member of the American Bar Association and the State Bar of California. He was an adjunct professor of law at the University of Southern California School of Law, and is on the board of directors of Peace Players International and Seeds of Peace, organizations that bring together kids from conflict regions around the world to promote tolerance and understanding among the youth in those hot spots.[21]

Career as sports agentEdit

As a player agent, Tellem negotiated numerous high-profile contracts for National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball players. He oversaw WMG's athlete representation businesses and was involved in the strategic direction of the company.[22]

In 2006, Sports Business Journal named Tellem the Most Influential Agent in Sports[23] and The Sporting News named Tellem "Most Influential Sports Agent."[24] In 2004 and 2005, Tellem was the only NBA player agent named to The Sporting News "50 Most Influential People in Sports Business” and was recognized as the industry's top agent by the magazine in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.[24] In 2008, Sports Business Journal ranked him second among sports agents.[25] Two years later Business Insider named Tellem one of the world's four "best" sports agents.[26] In 2013, Forbes ranked Tellem the third most powerful agent in sports; and first in basketball.[27]


In 1981, Tellem signed his first athlete, pitcher Mark Langston. The following year he helped reliever Ed Farmer beat the Chicago White Sox in a landmark salary arbitration case.[28] After Langston turned free agent in 1989, Tellem engineered a record five-year, $16 million deal with the California Angels.[29] In 1994, he convinced the Angels to sign journeyman Rex Hudler for the league minimum, inserting an innovative incentive clause into the contract: $1,000 for every plate appearance. In 1995, he found the "voluntary retirement" loophole in Hideo Nomo's contract that allowed the veteran pitcher to leave Japan and sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.[30] In 1997, the five-year, $55 million deal Tellem made with the White Sox for Albert Belle changed the salary structure in baseball.[1] When Belle opted out of the contract in 1999, Tellem orchestrated a new five-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles worth $65 million. He also cobbled together contracts of six years and $88.5 million for Mussina in 2001; seven years and $120 million for Giambi in 2002; four years and $52 million for Matsui in 2004; and, in 2007, Chase Utley’s seven-year, $85 million arbitration contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Utley’s pact was then the largest and longest ever given to a second baseman, and the most lucrative in Phillies history. In 2012, following an around-the-clock negotiating session, he and the Texas Rangers agreed to a six-year, $60 million deadline deal with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.[31]

In December, 2011, hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen enlisted Tellem as a partner in a bid to buy the Dodgers.[32] In March, 2012, a group fronted by Magic Johnson outbid them.[33]


In 1996, Tellem made his mark as an NBA agent by circumventing that year's pro draft to maneuver 18-year-old Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers. "Basically, I kept teams from picking Kobe by not giving their coaches access to him," Tellem told Sports Illustrated in 2003. "I knew teams would be reluctant to take a chance on a high schooler without first talking to him and working him out."[1] From 2000 to 2001, he represented 14 of the NBA's first-round draft picks and controlled 13% of the players in the league—42, in all.[1] His basketball roster included Bryant, Reggie Miller, Baron Davis, McGrady, O'Neal and Brent Barry. As of the 2006 NBA draft, Tellem's firm had represented the most first-round draft picks of any sports marketing and management company for seven straight years.[24] Tellem and his team repped four lottery selections and six first-round picks overall. At the 2008 draft, they had six lottery picks and seven of the first 15 players selected, including Russell Westbrook, Danilo Gallinari and Derrick Rose, the No. 1 overall pick.[34] Tellem negotiated contracts of four years and $60 million for Ben Wallace; and maximum salary deals of five years and $67.4 million for Joe Johnson; six years and $86.4 million for Gasol; seven years and $126 million for O'Neal; four years and $50 million for Antawn Jamison; five years and $87.8 million for Brandon Roy; five years and $65 million for LaMarcus Aldridge; five years and $60 million for Al Horford; and seven years and $93 million for McGrady.[35] In 2009, Gasol reupped with the Lakers for three years and $57 million;[36] a year later Tellem hammered out Johnson's six-year, $123.6 million extension with the Atlanta Hawks;[37] and, in 2011, Rose agreed to a new five-year, $94.8 million deal with the Chicago Bulls.[38] When Tellem's client Anthony Davis was picked first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, the onetime University of Kentucky power forward became the first player selected by an NBA team to play in a full-length season since a 10-year collective bargaining agreement was ratified by the NBA Board of Governors in December, 2011.[39]

On April 29, 2013, his NBA client Jason Collins became the first active male in one of the four major North American team sports to announce he was gay.[5]

On July 12, 2013 he became part-owner of Israel's Hapoel Jerusalem B.C. basketball team.[40] Tellem sold his interest in the franchise in 2016.

On June 5, 2015 Tellem resigned from WMG and joined the front office of Palace Sports & Entertainment.[2] At the time, he ranked first among NBA player agents in players repped (42), All-Stars (12), maxed-out contracts (six) and clients' salaries ($324,980,992).[41]


Tellem is married to Nancy Tellem, former entertainment and digital media president of Microsoft.[42] They met in 1974 while both were summer interns in Washington, D.C.[1] Nancy, a Cal junior from San Francisco, worked for Oakland congressman Ron Dellums. Arn, a sophomore at Haverford, had been hired by another California representative, Jerome Waldie, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. The couple has three sons: Michael, Matty and Eric.

The fictional agent Arliss Michaels of the HBO sitcom Arli$$ was partly based on Tellem.[1] In the Japanese press, he is known by the oxymoron omoiyari no aru dairinin, "the compassionate agent." "We feel he understands the needs of the Japanese people," says sportswriter Chiho Yamashita.[43]

In May, 2015, Tellem was elected to the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.[44]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Franz Lidz, "The Arn Of The Deal: Employing a mix of integrity and absurdity, ARN TELLEM is the strangest of beasts: a powerful sports agent you can actually like", Sports Illustrated, May 27, 2003
  2. ^ a b c Arn Tellem, "Why I'm Making The Jump From Sports Agent To Front Office" Sports Illustrated. June 5, 2015
  3. ^ Darren Heitner "Wasserman Media Group Seems to be Making a Strong Push to Retain Arn Tellem", Sports Agent Blog, July 3, 2012
  4. ^ Arn Tellem, Huffington Post
  5. ^ a b Arn Tellem, "Jason Collins: An Inspiration On and Off the Court", Sports Illustrated, April 29, 2013
  6. ^ Arn Tellem, "Pro and Con of Permitting Teenage Pros in N.B.A.: THE AGENT; Proposed Age Limit Is Hollow Altruism", The New York Times, May 13, 2001
  7. ^ Arn Tellem, "Seeking Heroes, Finding Humans", The New York Times, April 3, 2005
  8. ^ Arn Tellem, "When a Players Union Doesn’t Help the Players", The New York Times, May 7, 2011
  9. ^ Arn Tellem, "Turn One-and-Done Into None-and-Done", The New York Times, June 28, 2014
  10. ^ Arn Tellem, "D-League Deconstruction: The Necessary Plan to fix the NBA's Farm System", Grantland, March 11, 2015
  11. ^ Arn Tellem, "Tellem's take: Matsui a special person", The Japan Times, Jan. 23, 2013
  12. ^ Heisler, Mark (May 14, 2015). "Super-Agent Arn Tellem--'A Gefilte Fish In Sea of White Sharks'--Shows You Can Swim Home Again". Forbes.
  13. ^ a b Steve Rushin "There AND Back", Sports Illustrated, Aug. 11, 2014
  14. ^ Arn Tellem, "Arn on Arne", Huffington Post, Jan 22, 2010
  15. ^ Dan McQuade, "Arn Tellem and Franz Lidz Are Going to the Hall of Fame", Philadelphia Magazine, May 17, 2015
  16. ^ Franz Lidz, "Apba Is The Name, Baseball Is The Game, And Obsession Is The Result", Sports Illustrated, Dec. 8, 1980
  17. ^ Daniel Kaplan, "The dealmaker: Steve Greenberg works his connections to become a major player in sports finance" Archived June 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Sports Business Journal, March 22, 2004
  18. ^ David Whitford, "The King of the Sports Deal" Archived May 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Fortune, June 2, 2010
  19. ^ David Greenberg, "Power Player", Los Angeles Business Journal, July 1, 2002
  20. ^ Liz Mullen, "Wasserman Acquires Tellem Business" Sports Business Journal, Jan. 27, 2006
  21. ^ Arn Tellem, "Peace of My Heart" Archived November 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Huffington Post, Dec. 23, 2009
  22. ^ Wasserman Media Group company website
  23. ^ "Dogra ranks among most influential sports agents" St. Louis Business Journal, Aug. 15, 2006
  24. ^ a b c Dave Golokhov, "Top 10: Sports Agents", AskMen June 29, 2008
  25. ^ "The 20 Most Influential Sports Agents" Sports Business Journal, Aug. 18, 2008
  26. ^ "The 12 Best Sports Agents In The World" Business Insider, Nov. 29, 2010
  27. ^ "The World's Most Powerful Sports Agents" Forbes, Sept. 24, 2013
  28. ^ Franz Lidz, "Making A Most Important Pitch", Sports Illustrated, Feb. 1, 1982
  29. ^ Franz Lidz, "Richest of the Rich", Sports Illustrated, Dec. 11, 1989
  30. ^ Elliott Kalb, Mark Weinstein, "The 30 Greatest Sports Conspiracy Theories of All Time", 2009
  31. ^ David Waldstein, "Yu Darvish Signs With the Rangers", The New York Times, Jan. 18, 2012
  32. ^ Bill Shaikin, "Hedge-fund executive Steven Cohen is bidding for the Dodgers", Los Angeles Times, Dec. 27, 2011
  33. ^ Adam Rubin, "Mets minority owner loses Dodgers bid", ESPN, March 28, 2012
  34. ^ Nikki Finke, "Casey Wasserman's Slam Dunk at NBA Draft", Deadline Hollywood, June 26, 2008
  35. ^ HoopsHype client list
  36. ^ Marc Stein, "Gasol's extension worth $57 million", ESPN, Dec. 23, 2009
  37. ^ "Agent: Johnson to stay in Atlanta", ESPN, July 6, 2010
  38. ^ "Source: New deal for Derrick Rose" Archived 2012-01-09 at WebCite, ESPN, Dec. 21, 2011
  39. ^ Darren Heitner, "Anthony Davis Will Not Become The Richest Rookie In The NBA", Forbes, June 27, 2012
  40. ^ Alyson Shontell, "Startup Stud Ori Allon And Knicks Star Amare Stoudemire Buy Israel Basketball Team", Business Insider, July 13, 2013
  41. ^ "Basketball Agent Rankings", USA Today, June 5, 2015
  42. ^ Natalie Jarvey, "Nancy Tellem Out at Microsoft as Xbox Entertainment Studios Shuts Down", The Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 29, 2014
  43. ^ Franz Lidz, "Here Comes Little Matsui", Sports Illustrated, Dec. 1, 2003
  44. ^ Joe Santoliquito "Franz Lidz And Arn Tellem Head Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame Class", 05.27.15 - CBS Sports