With Olympics in full swing and the US Men’s National Basketball Team a center piece of the United States’ dominant presence in Rio, I thought it would be a good time to talk about my guy, Jerry Colangelo.
I don’t know many people outside of Arizona or absolute basketball fanatics that even know the name, but he has had a major impact in our sports landscape.
I was introduced to Colangelo as the understated, but supremely respected owner of the Phoenix Suns. He was the man behind the Charles Barkley era and one of only two finals appearances in the team’s history.
This was an amazing time to be a Suns fan with a new arena in downtown Phoenix and Colangelo’s paint the valley purple marketing taking over the city.
I remember my mom selling Suns themed gift baskets and teddy bears to her friends. Business was booming during the championship run, but ended quickly when John Paxson hit that game winner at the end of game 6. My dad even took me to the arena for an away game where Colangelo opened up the stadium for us to watch the game on the jumbo trons. I don’t know how many teams were doing this in 1993, but it seemed genius to me at the time.
Now if this is where the story ended this would not be a tale of legend, but in fact the opposite because the next move that he made was to sell the team to an ownership group that included Robert Sarver. Sarver would be the worst owner in the league, if it didn’t already have some racist and genuinely crazy old guys.
But the Colangelo legend doesn’t end there. He brought baseball to the valley in 1998. I was in junior high and remember the newspaper front page showing the purple and teal uniforms with the moniker of the Diamondbacks. I was stoked. I didn’t really follow baseball, but had an affinity for the Yankees (I know but I was a kid and they were always winning). But now that we had our own team, I was 100% on board.
It was only a few years later that I remember watching Game 7 of the World Series with my future wife. Jesse Maguire played the national anthem on the trumpet, a B2 stealth bomber did the fly over and we were playing the Yankees.
It was the bottom of the 9th and Luis Gonzalez hit a blooper over Derek Jeter’s head as Jay Bell and his wire-framed glasses scored the game winning run.
Colangelo had brought a championship to Phoenix. Our first and only championship in any of the four major sports. Sure we have been dominate in arena football (Colangelo also owned this team from 1992-2005) and have since had some pretty good women’s basketball played here, but it still stands as our lone beacon of hope.
Again Colangelo sold the team to an ownership group that has not been able to duplicate the success that he had.
In 2005, Colangelo was asked to help take over the US Men’s Basketball Team. The team had not won a major international tournament since the year 2000. With now real leadership and guidelines, the team had believed that they could just show up and win in the Olympics. Colangelo’s first move was to bring in Coach K. This helped him secure the top talent in the NBA to participate and he also made it mandatory that players join the program for the smaller FIBA tournaments to be included on the Olympic roster.
It has obviously worked. We are undefeated since then and by the end of this Olympics will have won three gold medals.
Locally in Phoenix he took over and restored the bankrupt Wigwam resort, a local treasure that has been in the west valley of Phoenix since just after World War I.
He has also taken a major role in Grand Canyon University with sponsoring their sports marketing program and helping them to obtain Division One status for their basketball program that is coached by Thunder Dan Majerle.
Phoenix and our entire sports culture would look extremely different without Colangelo’s experience and leadership. Recently, the Philadelphia 76ers recognized his leadership and have brought him in as a consultant to help rebuild that team.
After all of this, I think I am still mad at him for selling the Suns. But, when asked why he has not helped the struggling Suns as he is with Philadelphia he had a pretty clear answer, “I was not asked.”