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Tellem loves negotiating with the kind of single-minded love that some aging men have for young women. In the spring of 2001 Tellem prot�g� Joel Wolfe wrangled with the Oakland A's over a contract extension for Giambi. He called Tellem with an update from the Oakland stadium. "Before I could say a word, Arn asked me how many hot dogs I'd eaten and what I'd put on them," Wolfe says. "If I were a general manager and was about to hammer out a contract with Arn, I'd have lox and bagels waiting for him. I'd have a much better chance of getting a deal done."
Surely no sports agent baits a recruiting hook like Tellem. Catering to an athlete's appetites, he builds entire presentations around chow. "I enjoy seeing other people eat," he explains. "I live through them." In 1991 Tellem serenaded outfielder Doug Glanville, then a senior at Penn, at a campus hoagie shop. "We just sat in a booth eating subs and had a conversation," says Glanville, now the Phillies' centerfielder.
"It was easy to feel comfortable with him. No pressure, and that was a good thing: I felt I had a choice. Arn seemed like a genuine guy who would look out for my best interests. I knew we had chemistry. It was chemistry over hoagies."
Brent Barry remembers lunching with Tellem at Planet Hollywood in Chicago. A waitress spilled an Arnold Palmer—half lemonade, half iced tea—on Tellem's shirt. "She tried to rub out the stain, but the shirt was ruined," Barry says. "Arn turned pit bull." Tellem barked at the waitress, barked at the maitre d', barked at the manager. "He just wore them down," Barry says. "The manager agreed to pick up the tab not only for Arn's dry cleaning but for our food as well. I thought, Imagine what this guy can do to Jerry Buss."
Tonight is Passover, and Tellem is conducting a spring-training seder in the ballroom of this hotel in St. Petersburg. Picking up a Haggadah, he leads friends and family through the ritual that celebrates the liberation of the Jews from Egypt.
Tellem is an activist in L.A.'s Jewish community, and he helps support Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization that each summer brings Arab and Israeli teens together at a camp in Maine. In July his 17-year-old son, Mike, will work there as a counselor, and a half dozen of his players will give hoops clinics. "So much of what happens in basketball involves issues of race," says Tellem. "One of my hopes is that seeing race from another perspective will open players' eyes."
Tellem is well versed in Hebrew scripture. When he held rookie J.R. Rider out of the Minnesota Timberwolves' training camp in '93, he wrote to team president Bob Stein and quoted a parable from the Talmud: "A father sends a message to his son: 'Please come home.' The son tells the messenger, 'No, I cannot.' When the messenger returns, the father instructs him to go back to the son and say, 'Come as far as you can. I will come the rest of the way.' " Stein's reply began, Dear Rabbi Tellem....
So, Rabbi, why is this night in Florida different from all other nights? Because Israel has launched an offensive into the occupied territories. When table talk turns to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who ordered the attack, Tellem says sharply, "Sharon is the most myopic negotiator I've ever seen. He doesn't have short-term objectives, much less an endgame. Instead of balancing interests on both sides in the hope of coming to an agreement, he's playing a zero-sum game, trying to win everything. He's not dealing with the beyond."
Tellem's credo: Even during particularly stubborn negotiations, never humiliate or embarrass your adversary. "When the stronger side tries to impose its will, it makes a big mistake," he says. "Ultimately, the stage is set for a payback."