It’s time for Jerry Colangelo to have a statue in downtown Phoenix

Apr 20, 2021, 6:55 AM
Jerry Colangelo speaks during the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Ha...
Jerry Colangelo speaks during the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 7, 2018 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Pete Rose has a statue in Cincinnati, even though he’s banned from Major League Baseball. Rocky Balboa has a statue in Philadelphia, even though he wasn’t a real person. The Lakers have a plaza full of statues outside the Staples Center, flexing and flaunting as usual.

Isn’t about time we try the same in Arizona?

There are seven obvious candidates for bronzed immortality: Jerry Colangelo, the Godfather of Arizona sports, an architect who helped put Phoenix on the map; Randy Johnson, World Series champion and one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history; Diana Taurasi, the Greatest of All-Time in women’s basketball; Al McCoy, longtime voice of the Suns; Kurt Warner, who led the Cardinals out of the wilderness; Shane Doan, Captain Coyote; and Larry Fitzgerald, who soars up this list the moment he retires.

Their candidacies are beyond debate. But it all must start with Colangelo, and that’s where things get political and very messy.

Robert Sarver purchased the Suns from Colangelo, executing the deal of a lifetime. You think he’d be a little more magnanimous. Ken Kendrick executed a coup, effectively forcing out the founder of the Diamondbacks in a hostile takeover, over concerns of cash flow and debt.

Both Sarver and Kendrick struggled mightily in the shadows of a true Arizona icon. Truth is, anybody would. Sarver might be a late bloomer, an owner who is tailoring his behavior to better suit his team. But neither have shown any inclination of honoring their predecessor, even though it would be a crowning achievement in each man’s career.

It would prove they were bigger than jealousy, the most destructive emotion on the planet. It would prove them capable of being bigger men, for paying tribute to a soaring legacy they may never reach on their own.

I have rung this bell before, and for many reasons. I love statues because they ascend, elevate and inspire. They literally make our heroes larger than life. They put faces to a city’s identity, the equivalent of a human skyline.

They create energy and a sense of community. They fuel nostalgia and civic pride. A 20-foot statue of the late Queen singer Freddie Mercury sits outside of a theater in London. It still isn’t big enough.

We need more of that stuff, that bonding glue in Arizona. And our indifference to these potential monuments speaks to a lack of heart and soul, especially among those who can make it happen.

Pat Tillman has two statues in Arizona, as he should. Lute Olson has a statue at the McKale Center. Colangelo has a statue at Grand Canyon University, but he needs something bigger, something in downtown in Phoenix.

The best statues are not cheap. At last check, they cost in the vicinity of $250,000. But I can guarantee that Colangelo’s friends and allies would pay in cash to foot the bill for justice served. Same is likely true with the other six candidates. All it takes is someone with the heart and the vision and the platform.

Who’s up for that challenge? Anyone?

Statues matter because they instill a sense of shared history. They are the ultimate form of tribute bestowed upon a transcendent performer, as long as they’re not posthumous awards given after a recipient passes away. Those miss the point entirely.

It’s been a rough year for statues and monuments in this country. Many have been torn down and taken away, and most for good reason. But sports stars are solid bets. And in Arizona, we’re a little behind the game.

We could use a few more heroes cast in bronze, instilling pride, on display for everyone.

Penguin Air

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It’s time for Jerry Colangelo to have a statue in downtown Phoenix