The Legend Of: Jerry Colangelo 

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.”

#TheLegendOf

#LongBall

The Legend Of: Pat Tillman

It was hard for me to decide how best to approach this article. Pat Tillman is a legend and a hero across the country. But what he has meant to the state of Arizona is immeasurable. How do you capture that kind of life with words on a screen? I can’t, but if there is a story worth telling over and over, it is this one.

I am a huge football fan and no secret that I have a love for the Cardinals that some would describe as unhealthy. I am not a big fan of ASU athletics, but as a Phoenix native and my wife being an alumni, they have been something I am more than familiar with.

This is how I learned about Pat Tillman. For a few hours a week, I would watch him work. How he handled himself on the sidelines and sprinted on and off the field regardless of circumstance. The announcers constantly touting his academic prowess as well as his hard hitting attitude.

From my perspective, the best way to describe the Pat Tillman I watched, is an underrated star. Even as he was coming out of high school where he was great and helped lead his team to a division I title. He was told he was too small to play at the next level. Not only did he play, but he excelled and not at a small Division 2 school, but a major PAC-10 (at the time) school. Of course as he ended his college career he was not high on many teams draft boards and once again was told he was too small to play at the pro level.

But again, Pat defied his critics and was drafted by the Cardinals keeping the local star in the valley, but as the seventh round pick he was not ensured of even making the roster. He continued to fly around and make plays like he always had in high school and college, and so he made the roster.

However, making the roster also meant he would be buried on the depth chart and never see the field, but that changed quickly getting 10 starts in his rookie season.  In 2001 he set a team record with 224 tackles in a single season.

This is where the story becomes legend. Many players have silenced doubters and overcome long odds to make it to the NFL. But Pat Tillman truly was unique. He was more introspective and intellectual than he was jock or brute. He didn’t let football define who he was or who he was going to be. After the Cardinals were set to extend his existing rookie contract to give him millions of dollars, Pat walked away. He walked away from a career that millions of people envy, to join the military.

In the wake of September 11th Pat Tillman was inspired. He wanted something bigger and more meaningful than playing a game on Sundays.

Pat told a reporter, “At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”

Joining the military or Army doesn’t really describe what he did though. Pat was an Army Ranger. He wanted to be on the front lines with his brother Kevin that joined with him to fight for our country. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the freedoms that he cherished.

Pat was shot and killed by friendly fire on April 22nd of 2004. I was sworn into the Air Force 6 days after that on April 28th, 2004. The news didn’t reach me until a few months later after I had completed basic training and technical school in Texas. I was home assisting my local recruiter before heading to my permanent duty station in Las Vegas when I remember thinking about the tragedy and how it could have been different. The coward in me was thankful that I picked the Air Force. For the most part, I would be safe from that type of firefight in a canyon in the Middle East that took Pat’s life. At the time I found out, it was not disclosed that it was friendly fire and speculation  of an attempt to cover up the incident by high ranking Army officials was rumored, but it didn’t matter to me.

What I knew was the guy I grew up watching and admiring was gone. In the service of his country and all that he held dear, he gave the ultimate sacrifice. Pat was a hero the day that he swore this oath;

 “I, Pat Tillman, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of Second Lieutenant do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”

But out of this tragedy his legend grew. He lives on through the Pat Tillman Foundation, the annual Pat’s Run, the PT42 mantra adopted by ASU football, but most importantly his family.

I am really looking forward to watching “A Football Life: Pat Tillman” airing October 28th of this year. I think this story is worth remembering and worth retelling to our kids and their kids and their kids.

Thank you Pat.

#TheLegendOf

#LongBall

The Legend Of: Micheal Phelps

This is the first installment of a series that I am calling the #TheLegendOf. I will cover world class sports figures that I have been able to watch and enjoy in my lifetime.

With the news tonight of Michael Phelps getting his 22nd gold medal, I thought starting with him would be fitting.

Darren Rovell put it fantastically in a recent tweet.

16 years ago, the 2000 Olympiad Michael Phelps splashed onto the scene (Sorry about that, I couldn’t help myself). He was a 15 year old kid that still had braces on his bottom teeth. He finish fifth place in the 200m butterfly.

His teammate and gold medal winner of that event patted Phelps on the back and told him, “The best is ahead of you,” according to “No Limits,” one of Phelp’s autobiographies.

I don’t think the man that beat him that day had any idea how much was still ahead of Phelps.

He is now the most decorated Olympian of all time.

He has the most overall medals, the most gold medals and the most individual wins of any competitor ever,  beating out Leonidis of Rhodes from 152 BCE. The previous 2168 year old record fell to our 6’4″ tall (but only 32 inch inseam) canoe of a man in 2016. Phelps has as more medals than 84 different countries. Morocco is tied with him at 22 gold medals and they have competed in 13 different Olympiads.

Phelps has a beautiful wife and adorable baby with him in Rio. He can walk away now and will be remembered as the greatest of all time and he should. There is nothing left to prove. No mountain to climb and nothing but the future in front of him.

Now, not to be a downer, but…

I would throw any of these accomplishments into the most unbreakable records of all time with Brett Farve’s career wins and Cal Ripkin’s Iron Man records. But the standout of them all is a young girl named Katie Ledeke.

That is how good she is. In an article that is meant to show the greatness of the best swimmer to ever walk on this earth; Ledeke has a shot to top her teammate Phelps and I will be writing an article about her legend in 16 years.

#TheLegendOf

#LongBall