Jerry Colangelo: ‘There will always be a love for the Phoenix Suns’

Jan 7, 2016, 8:20 PM | Updated: Jan 8, 2016, 1:32 pm
Philadelphia 76ers co-Managing Owner Josh Harris, right, watches the game with Special Advisor to t...

Philadelphia 76ers co-Managing Owner Josh Harris, right, watches the game with Special Advisor to the Managing General Partner and Chairman of Basketball Operations Jerry Colangelo, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
LISTEN: Jerry Colangelo, The Godfather of Valley Sports

Jerry Colangelo’s fingerprints are all over the Phoenix sports landscape.

While speaking Thursday to Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Colangelo discussed his current project of building Grand Canyon University into a basketball power and academic institution, but he also delved deeply into his past.

When it comes the first sports team Colangelo managed, the Phoenix Suns, his last contributions are a decade old.

These days, Colangelo is the chairman of basketball operations and adviser for the Philadelphia 76ers. So when Philadelphia played in Phoenix recently, it brought upon an odd feeling.

“It was weird for me. It really was,” the former Suns owner said. “That morning, the day of the game against the Suns, I was on the practice court and just being there under those circumstances was surreal. Then that evening I made a choice of where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be out there (in the stands) to be a lightening rod for whomever — fans or media.”

Like old times, Colangelo shared a postgame dinner at Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco with former Suns coach and current Sixers associate coach Mike D’Antoni.

But during the game, Colangelo found himself in a suite, away from his old seat eight rows up from the Suns bench. That, he said, was the “best seat in the house.”

“I wanted to be in the crowd, with the fans, in a position where I had real access to the game,” he said of his time as owner of the Suns. “It’s because I had access to how players communicated with one another, how coaches and players communicated. There’s a lot of things that I see that I look for when I’m observing — body language, eye contact, how people relate to one another.

“When I was sitting there, I was still playing in my mind, still coaching in mind and general managing in my mind.”

Colangelo said he never thinks twice about how he left the Suns after selling the team to current owner Robert Sarver.

While he negotiated a deal to remain in a leadership role for three years beyond the sale, he believes Sarver had the right to go a different direction once he got the itch to become more involved in the Suns’ day-to-day operations.

“I always cared about the franchise and still do. If there was any disconnect, it wasn’t from my perspective,” Colangelo said. “There were decisions made by ownership, I guess, at the time to go a particular way. Again, that was exactly their right to make that kind of a decision. I wasn’t really utilized in terms of being a consultant. I would have been more than happy to have offered anything at anytime if called upon. But I don’t feel badly about that. That’s the past, and it doesn’t really matter.

“I think Robert’s a different person today than he was when he first started,” Colangelo added. “I think the franchise is in a state of flux right now just because of the circumstances regarding their personnel and culture right now. There’s work to be done. But this is a great market, in my opinion.”

There’s no getting around that Phoenix and the Suns franchise are still a big part of Colangelo.

Though he’s now helping former Sun Dan Majerle build the Grand Canyon program (“That’s like reliving your early years all over again,” he said) the Valley’s most influential owner of a sports franchise still roots for his former team.

“When you give birth to a franchise, that’s been your life, your passion, that was your identity, you build a facility,” he said. “I remember every day of that construction of that arena. I used to have dreams about walking into spaces that turned out to be one thing or another. The answer is this: There will always be a love for the Phoenix Suns franchise because it’s part of who I was and who I am.”

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