Earlier this month, I went to Jerry Colangelo’s book signing in Phoenix. I always wanted to ask him a spiritual question on fate and destiny, knowing he and his family are religious and open to other faiths than their own.
I asked Colangelo if the higher spirit told him as a young boy he would run two professional teams in basketball and baseball, but he could only have one championship, which sport would he choose? Most of us, including me, knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it man to man as we both leaned in closer eye to eye.
Colangelo, of course, would choose an NBA championship.
Fate, with Colangelo’s experience in organization, marketing, trust and instincts about which players and coaches to choose effectively in last year’s Olympics, gave our country a gold medal with respect from the world and the team.
The book, “Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and the Redeem Team,” explains the orientation and voluntary hours these players put in to be the best in the world with a humble and respectful image to world basketball in last year’s Olympics in China.
The book goes through great detail on the world’s poor image of the last USA Olympic basketball team, which took a bronze medal with a world image of “the ugly American.”
The bottom line is the team and coaches that Colangelo personally picked won with honor, respect and class for everyone to see and admire.
Colangelo, in my opinion, is a man with vision and influence who was a leader in developing Phoenix professional sports and the redevelopment of a progressive downtown. He is also a high-stakes gambler who wanted his teams to win efficiently, be entertaining and be connected to the community in charity.
He was responsible in bringing high-profile athletes who were winners and controversial personalities to our Valley like Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
He won a baseball World Series in the shortest period of time for an expansion team, and he had a plan with a goal in mind.
His background was a talented college basketball player who later became one of the youngest general managers in professional basketball. He later owned the Phoenix Suns when his original partners wanted to sell the franchise because of attendance and drug controversy. My dad once told me, ”The mark of a real leader is when he is down, how does he respond positively and efficiently to achieving his goal while everyone counts him out?”
I saw that answer when Colangelo came as a guest speaker to our Tempe All City Association dinner honoring outstanding Tempe high school student athletes and their parents. He had just purchased the Suns, with a new set of investors, and explained to all of the guests that drugs and disrespect to the community would not be tolerated under his watch. He apologized for the drug scandal, asked the audience for a second chance, and explained his goal of an NBA championship for the Valley.
His sincerity and passion came through with an enthusiastic applause. The Suns were one of the top NBA teams in attendance and profitability. He almost pulled off an NBA championship with the acquisition of Charles Barkley. Barkley’s image and performance were never better than when he played for the Suns, in my opinion.
When I first met Colangelo at a Phoenix Jewish Federation breakfast, he was dressed in the finest Italian shoes, suit and tie. I thought he was a rich guy born on the right side of the tracks. When I read “Return to Gold,” I found out my first impression was wrong. Colangelo grew up poor with an abusive father who left his family.
Downtown Mesa could use Colangelo’s leadership and vision for redevelopment so we don’t lose his boyhood Chicago Cubs at Fitch Park. Read this book; you won’t be sorry.
Jeff Eger is an optometrist in Mesa.