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The following is excerpted from "The Jump: Sebastian Telfair and the High-Stakes Business of High School Ball" by Ian O'Connor. Copyright (c) 2005 by Ian O'Connor. Excerpted by permission of Rodale. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
By seven inches, 5-foot-11 Sebastian Telfair became the shortest high school player ever taken in the draft lottery last summer when the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the 13th pick, the same pick the Charlotte Hornets used to take 6-6 Kobe Bryant before sending him to Los Angeles in 1996.
Inspired by the need to escape the Coney Island projects, and driven by a blood feud with his cousin, Stephon Marbury, Telfair, once named the No. 1 player in America in his fourth-grade class, negotiated an eight-figure sneaker contract before he even declared for the draft. David Stern wants to institute a 20-year-old age requirement to stop Telfair, and other high school phenoms like him, from continuing to run a fast break to his league.
This is the story of how the point guard beat the commissioner to the punch.
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The world was moving too fast for the quickest point guard in New York. While Sebastian Telfair was chasing history, trying to lead Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High to a three-peat, agents and sneaker men had suddenly applied a full-court press.
This wasn't just any press. This was Nolan Richardson's 40 minutes of hell, a torrent of pitches from some of the biggest pitch men in sports. One by one they came after Telfair, trying to unseat his agent-to-be, Andy Miller and, by extension, Adidas, the company that had signed up Miller's biggest client, Kevin Garnett.
Reebok's Sonny Vaccaro worked through the superagents Bill Duffy and Arn Tellem, part of a weeklong blitz of Manhattan hotel and restaurant meetings designed to win Telfair's affection or that of the right confidant or family member.
By most accounts, Duffy was a disaster. "Terrible, bad, awful," said Miller, who wasn't present for Duffy's presentation. Duffy was going to let his assistant, Calvin Andrews, run the Bassy show, and there wasn't any imaginable way Team Telfair was going for that.
So Vaccaro rushed in a replacement. "Arn Tellem flew across the country," Miller said. "He's not a dynamic presence. It's likely he didn't give a great presentation."
Actually, Tellem scored major points with the Telfairs when he talked of splashing Sebastian's face across subways and trains. "My mom liked that," said Danny Turner, Sebastian's brother. But Lincoln High coach Tiny Morton was among the skeptical.
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"Tellem was good if you're blinded by the lights," he said. "He said he'd put Bassy's face on trains, TV, billboards. ... How are you going to tell a kid you're going to put his face on trains when you don't even know where he's going to be drafted?"
The race came down to two horses. "Andy and Tellem are in the lead," Sebastian said.
It was March 4, a couple of days before the city quarterfinal game against Boys & Girls High, and Telfair was in a good mood inside the Lincoln High gym. His cousin and Coney Island rival, Stephon Marbury, had refused to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated with Sebastian, telling the magazine he was only interested in appearing solo and leaving Sebastian to grab the cover all for himself.
"I can't tell you how many NBA people, that's the first thing they ask about me," Sebastian said. "'Is he anything like Stephon?' When they find out I'm not, they're relieved." We talked about the Trail Blazers and their interest in Sebastian. "I'm not coming out," the point guard said through a laugh. "No, I ain't coming out. Me and my man Rick Pitino are going to get our national championship, then I'm going to come out. Sound good?" Telfair laughed again. If he wasn't already a professional, he was only hours away from unwittingly becoming one.
"I'm going to a meeting right now," Telfair told me, "to get my first offer for a sneaker contract."
I asked if Adidas, Nike and Reebok were still in the ballgame. "Yes," he said, "and a lot more than before. It's crazy."
"Who are you meeting tonight?" I asked. "(Adidas') Daren Kalish?"
"I'm going to meet with the people who sign the checks," he said. "We're going to meet at their Manhattan hotel right now."
Telfair surveyed his post-practice gear and wondered if it represented appropriate attire for a big business meeting. "I look like a bum," he said, "but I'm poor."
Not for long.
Kalish was joined by fellow Adidas executives Kevin Wulff, Jim Gatto and David Bond. Miller was present, along with Telfair, his parents, Turner, Morton, and Morton's brother, Slice. They ended up inside an Italian restaurant in midtown.