Ring Leader: Colangelo Enters the Suns Ring of Honor

By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: Nov. 4, 2007

In one form or another, Jerry Colangelo has always cast a watchful eye over the Phoenix Suns ever since the team’s inception 40 years ago.

Now his banner will be doing exactly that from the upper fascia of US Airways Center, thanks to his Ring of Honor induction Sunday night during halftime of the Suns-Cavaliers game.

As a former general manager, head coach, president, managing general partner, chief executive officer and now chairman, Colangelo became the 12th member of the club’s most elite group, joining the likes of franchise greats Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers, Walter Davis, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Connie Hawkins, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Joe Proski, Dick Van Arsdale and Paul Westphal.

“Nobody has shaped the face of this city more than Jerry has,” KJ told Suns.com. “It’s an honor for all of us to participate in his tribute this evening. This man is all about relationships and the relationships he has built over 40 years. It’s a testament to who he is that everybody’s here who knows Jerry. As long as we can walk and breathe, we were going to show up and pay homage to him. He’s a person of great vision and integrity. Those are the two things that have meant the most to me being affiliated with him.”

Surrounded by fellow ROH members, assorted Suns alumni dating back four decades and friends and family, the emotional Suns chairman reminisced about the wonderful journey his life has taken since arriving in the Valley at the age of 28, “ready to take on the world.”

“I had no idea what the future would bring back in 1968, when my wife and three kids at the time, nine suitcases, and $300 in my pocket arrived in Phoenix,” Colangelo told the US Airways Center crowd. “I can only tell you the life I’ve led is right out of a movie script. To have been blessed the way I’ve been blessed with my family, with the relationships that I’ve had over all these years, to have the opportunity to come to this great city… it’s something dreams are made of.”

Following his “opportune” trade from Atlanta in 1969, Paul Silas called Phoenix home in the team’s second year of existence. The former forward quickly appreciated what he saw when it came to his new GM.

“Jerry was such a mentor to us all, and to see all that he’s done since is just mind-boggling," Silas said. "But only a Jerry Colangelo could do it. He’s just a special human being. He understood players. He understood coaches, but above all he understood the business side of the game, which was even more important, because that’s what he brought to the Valley. People didn’t understand basketball and know what it was all about. But it was due to Jerry that everything fell into place.”

Throughout Sunday’s festivities, former colleagues, players, friends and family also paid tribute to the four-time NBA Executive of the Year (1993, ‘89, ‘81, ‘76) with video messages and well wishes.

“To honor him is a super thing,” Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s great, but it’s funny. Not to disrespect anybody in the Ring of Honor, but for him it’s almost a step down. He IS the Ring of Honor. He’s the godfather of the whole thing. He’s one of a kind.”

Suns broadcaster and former forward Tom Chambers added, “He obviously put all of us up there, so if there was another level (of the Ring), he should be on a level above us. He’s the man that made it all happen, the one responsible for us all having great careers. Being up there in the Ring of Honor, he’s just one of those kind of guys, maybe the only one I really know, who just made it possible for players to play basketball. He took care of everything else and just made the environment of playing basketball a great one. I’m pleased that he’s going up there.”

Walter Davis saw his No. 6 removed from circulation in 1994, and credits the newest member of the ROH with giving him the confidence to succeed on the basketball court.

“He believed in me as a player,” the former guard said, “and this was just a team and a city that I loved to play in. With Jerry there, he would be down at the scorers table when we were warming up, and he would give me a little wink, and that gave me confidence that he believed in my game and that made me want to play that much harder.

“It’s an honor for Jerry Colangelo to go up in the Ring of Honor. He’s done a lot, not only for the Phoenix Suns, but for the city and for the state of Arizona. He’s a wonderful man and when he drafted me back in ’76 out of North Carolina, he helped me play and learn this game of the NBA, by being confident in me and that made the game so much easier to play having someone like that behind you. So it’s an honor that’s very well deserved and I’m happy to be here for it.”

Suns broadcaster and former swingman Dan Majerle was also excited to see his mentor reach the franchise’s highest honor.

”Since 1988, I’ve been lucky to be involved with a guy like Jerry,” Thunder Dan said. “He helped me to grow, not only as a basketball player, but as a person. He was just one of those guys that just took care of you. Whatever he told you, you may not want to hear, but it was the truth. He was just a good guy to be around and I owe him everything. He made me what I am today.

“Obviously, Jerry deserves to be there, but if it wasn’t for him none of the other guys up there would be in the Ring of Honor, so I’m so honored to be a part of that, and now that he’s going up there it’s even more of an honor for me.”

ROH member Dick Van Arsdale’s brother Tom was playing for the Hawks in 1976 when he was given the perfect alternative by Colangelo when it came to playing one more season before calling it a career.

“I said that I would retire before I went and played for Buffalo,” Van Arsdale said, “so then Jerry called and said, ‘We’d love to have you in Phoenix.’ I said, ‘Wonderful.’ So Jerry traded for me and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I got to play my last year with my brother.”

“The Phoenix franchise has always been one of the best-managed franchises in the NBA. It is like a family and it makes you feel like you are special. I’m not saying the other franchises weren’t good, but I would much rather play in Phoenix than anywhere else. Jerry is a special guy and he made us all feel like we were important.”

When the Suns were introduced in 1968, the future NBA Hall of Famer famously said, “This community owes us nothing. It is up to us to go out and earn their respect.” It took 40 years, but it’s now fair to say the community does owe Colangelo everything when it comes to building one the NBA’s most successful franchises, as well as the overall transformation of the Downtown Phoenix sports scene.

“Many people have asked, ‘Did you ever think you’d see yourself up there,’” said Colangelo about his latest honor. “When you’re busy doing what you do, you never think how it will affect you on a personal basis. I wanted to pay tribute to those who had done so much to help our franchise. I’m obviously humbled and honored to be part of that now.”