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Colangelo: Strange competing against Suns, but they never called

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member and Chairman of the Board of Directors for USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo talks to the media as he will be joining the Philadelphia 76ers as the Special Advisor to the Managing General Partner and Chairman of Basketball Operations prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
LISTEN: Jerry Colangelo, Godfather of Phoenix Sports

The more the Phoenix Suns struggle, the more Valley fans yearn for the good old days.

And, for the most part, the best times in franchise history involved Jerry Colangelo.

Colangelo’s fingerprints are all over the organization, as he first was the team’s general manager in 1968, then had a couple of stints as the head coach and then, in 1987, put together a group that bought the team.

The Suns made the playoffs 13 straight seasons from 1989 to 2001, with a trip to the NBA Finals in 1993 included in that stretch.

They were one of the most successful franchises in the league, albeit without a championship, and were a model for how an organization should be run.

Needless to say these days, with the Suns set to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season and Colangelo now in his role as the chairman of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, the man known as the “Godfather of Phoenix Sports” has some mixed emotions over what’s transpired with his former team.

“I’ve been pretty outspoken about my feelings and my passion for the Suns franchise,” he told Doug and Wolf as part of Newsmakers Week on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “How could I not be when I gave berth to the franchise?”

Colangelo sold the Suns to a group led by Robert Sarver before the 2004 season, and over the next few years his role with the team diminished until he was no longer a part of the organization.

He stayed in basketball, however, as the managing director for the United States men’s national basketball team, and then last December joined the 76ers. Not long after that move his new team faced off against his old team in Phoenix, which was an odd experience for the 76-year-old.

“On that particular day I went to the morning shootaround in the arena and it was strange for me,” he said. “Walking into a building that I built, competing against a franchise that was mine, and I felt squeamish.

“That evening I sat up in the suite with some family members rather than in my seats because I didn’t want to be an attraction — I didn’t want to be a distraction, is the better word. But it was really strange competing against my former team and then, of course, we won.”

Indeed, the 76ers — who had just one win to their credit at the time — knocked off the Suns 111-104. A month later they beat Phoenix 112-103 in Philadelphia, giving the 76ers a season sweep.

In the time since Colangelo arrived the 76ers have improved, at least slightly, while during that same stretch the Suns have pretty much fallen off a cliff. Philadelphia still has the worst record in the NBA at 8-45, but the Suns aren’t far behind at 14-40.

No doubt Colangelo is happy to be back in the NBA helping to rebuild a franchise, though the juxtaposition with him trying to fix the 76ers while the Suns flounder is a little disconcerting to some.

But it was the 76ers who offered him a chance to return to the NBA, so heading to the City of Brotherly Love made sense for him, even if it may have rubbed some Suns fans the wrong way.

“The thoughts I had were how would people respond, how would the media respond,” he said. “Obviously no one in the Suns had reached out in any way, shape or form, so it really didn’t matter, in that sense, as to what their response may or may not be.

“Because I’ve been here — I’ve been around.”

If the Suns had called asking for advice or some help, would Colangelo have answered?

“I’ve made that clear many times. I was more than happy — in fact, I would have loved it, but it didn’t happen and so people make their own decisions as to why they do or do not do certain things,” he said. “I thought about a lot of things when the call came and as I deliberated over whether or not to go forward, and I made a decision.”

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