Colangelo Hall-of-Fame Press Conference
Posted: April 6, 2004
The Phoenix Suns held a press conference at America West Arena on Tuesday to discuss and celebrate the election of Jerry Colangelo to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. A crowd of more than a hundred, including local reporters, Suns employees, and both current and former Suns players, gathered at center court to recognize the Suns’ CEO, who will officially be inducted into the Hall in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 10. The following is a transcript of the press conference.
SUNS SR. VICE PRESIDENT OF BROADCASTING AL McCOY: You know, it’s interesting. We all have fond memories of highlights here at America West Arena. We’ve had some great moments in this building over the last 10 years, that’s for sure. So I thought it was certainly appropriate to have this celebration here, because this event and this honor certainly is there among the high points of things that have happened in this arena.
I have to tell you something. When I first met Jerry in 1968, I was impressed with his youthfulness, his intensity, his work ethic, his desire and his passion for basketball. I have to tell you that at that time, I thought to myself, “You know, this guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.” The thing that’s amazing to me, Jerry, is it took 36 years for the rest of these people to figure it out.
As you know, the induction will be in September when Jerry will be going back for the official ceremony at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. I think it’s certainly fitting that we have a couple of Hall of Famers here today that can maybe give Jerry a little welcome into their fraternity. It’s kind of interesting that both Hawk and Bob went into the Hall together in 1992.
First of all, to give us some of his thoughts, our own original Hall of Famer, Connie Hawkins.
(Suns Vice President, Community Relations) Debra Stevens wrote down some word for me to say and I came down here and studied them for a little while. But I found out I couldn’t really express myself the way I wanted to, so I figured I’d speak from the heart.
As a player, I played for Jerry. Jerry was actually the coach of the team and he also was the general manager. I thought he was a pretty good coach. I enjoyed working for him. When I retired, I went back to Pittsburgh – I want to set the record straight since everybody is here today – I called Jerry up and said, “Jerry, I’m looking for a job. Would you hire me?” He said, “I’ll call you back in two or three weeks.” He called me back and I’ve been here since ’92 when the Charles Barkley era started and the Arena opened up. It was a great experience for me. And I just want to thank you for bringing me back Jerry.
The other thing I wanted to say is that because he did that for me, he welcomed me into the Phoenix Suns and gave me an opportunity to work, I thought it would be nice of me to return the favor. So because he brought me here to Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun, I thought it would be appropriate that I invite him to my house, which is the Naismith Hall of Fame. Thank you, Jerry.
McCOY: Well, those of us who have enjoyed the NBA for years certainly enjoyed Bob Lanier as a player. Of course, Bob is now very active with the NBA (Read to Achieve program). Fortunately we get to see him quite a bit during the course of the season. And he is a Hall-of-Famer also. Join me in welcoming Bob Lanier.
I made two calls this morning. One of them was to my boss (NBA Commissioner David Stern) and he told me to make sure that I shared it with you. Number one, he said you guys have been in this together forever, but to remember that you’re older (laughs). And secondly, he said it’s a very, very well deserved honor and he wants to give you all the props you deserve.
My second call was to John Doleva, the CEO of the Naismith Hall of Fame, who gave Jerry the call (informing him of his election). I wanted to get a flavor of what transacted when he made the call and he said that Jerry was extremely emotional when he called. As a matter of fact, emotional would be an understatement. (Jerry) said that he’s had a basketball in his hands for as long as he could remember, long before he could dribble a basketball. And that he used to say that he would just smell the basketball and know that he was going to be involved one day in a big way in basketball.
But everybody knows his accolades, in terms of his business acumen, the brain of the Phoenix Suns. But the thing that’s impressed me the most about Jerry Colangelo on this journey through life is that he has never forgotten his values, God and family. Those are two strong values that I think have vaulted him into the limelight so successfully. I applaud him for those things that he holds dear. I congratulate not only him, but I congratulate his wife and family, because I know that’s dear to him, and also his colleagues and those of you that have supported him and been with him through all of these years.
Again, welcome to the club.
McCOY: It’s certainly great to have these two Hall of Famers with us here today.
Cotton, of course, has been involved with Jerry (Colangelo) on just about every level of the Phoenix Suns since he came to down in his purple boots and purple hat from Kansas State. And I know he has some thoughts he’d like to share about our boss being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It’s been interesting reading about Jerry Colangelo, what different people say. Dick Van (Arsdale) said he was a “risk taker” and that’s true. In 1970, when he hired me from Kansas State University, the afternoon paper (The Phoenix Gazette), I’ll never forget the headline, read “Cotton Who?” So he is a risk taker. He’s one of the first general managers to recommend college coaches to the pro game. There were really none coaching.
His first guy, believe it or not, when he was with the Bulls, a guy named Dick Motta. He recommended Motta to the Bulls and Motta had a very successful career. And then he had enough courage to hire a guy out of Kansas State University who really only coached a couple years at K-State. Most of his coaching was in junior college. Then later on, he hired the guy who won the most games in the history of the Phoenix Suns, he was here like 13 and a half years, John MacLeod. So that’s something else a lot of people might not know about JC. He is a risk taker and he is not afraid to do it.
The thing I liked about him was the fact that when the man gives you his word, that’s it. No questions asked. When I first came he gave me a contract for three years and I stayed two before going to Atlanta to coach. We stayed in touch all the way around and when I came back about 16 years ago and went to work as director of player personnel, and when I got the contract it was thick. I went into him and said, “Jerry, I can’t sign this contract. I’ve never had a contract like that coaching in the league.” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Don’t sign it. Don’t worry about it.” And from that day forward we’ve had a handshake agreement and there’s nobody else in the NBA that you can do that with. And it’s the best contract I’ve ever had.
I have been there. I’ve been with a lot of different general managers, but this guy will let you work. He’s not afraid to tell you when he thinks you’re wrong, but he’ll let you do your thing.
The best quote I read came from him and he really nailed himself. He had passion. That was the word he used. He had a passion about this game of basketball. He had the passion about everything he does. It’s that simple. That’s what has driven him all these years and that’s why he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
There are a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches in the Hall of Fame, but nobody has contributed more to the game of basketball. Every time Commissioner Stern had a basketball problem the guy that headed up every committee over all these years was Jerry Colangelo. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
I guess I’m going to direct what I’m going to say right now to this group over here (the Suns’ current roster) and that’s the future. That’s what really matters. It’s not looking back. I learned a long time ago you don’t look back. You look forward.
A few weeks ago, maybe a month ago, I was at the University of Illinois where I played college ball. I met Bruce Webber, the new coach of Illinois, for the first time and I was with the players at their shoot around. They were playing Wisconsin that night and I had a chance to speak to them. I talked about seizing the moment and making the most of an opportunity because it goes by like that. What you don’t want is to look back after a lot of years and say, “I could’ve, I should’ve. I didn’t work as hard as I might have and I just didn’t apply myself.” That particular speech, as the coach told me right after I was finished… he said, “I tried to tell them the same thing yesterday and they weren’t listening to me.” Well, they won that night and they won 10 in a row right after that. That was kind of the battle cry, seizing the moment.
What I’m trying to basically tell you is this, it’s going to go by quickly. Don’t leave anything on the table. Do everything you can to be the very best that you can, to achieve as much as you can. It can happen. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone and I’ve always said that.
I look at this as a little blip in Suns history. That’s all this is, and I’m talking about our team’s record this year. We’re not quite where we want to be, so we took a half step back so we can take a big jump forward. The future of our team and the future of our franchise lies with these young people willing to apply themselves. When this season’s over, you don’t look back. You only look forward to being the very best you can be.
I’ve heard a lot of good things coming from this group and I appreciate when I hear people talk about commitment, dedication, wanting to work in the offseason and wanting to be the very best. We’ve got a lot of good talent here and we’re going to add to it. So bottom line is, we’re going to be back and we’re going to be back sooner rather than later.
I’ve been blessed to be associated with a lot of good people. It seems like only a few days ago when I came to Phoenix after helping start the Chicago Bulls in 1966. We had a few people in our front office, Ruthie (Dryjanski), Joe Proski and myself. We were a little mom and pop operation. The years go by quickly, no question about that.
I find myself reminiscing. I was at dinner two nights ago with Bill Sharman, another inductee, and Bob Cousy, one of the great point guards of all time. We sat at dinner telling basketball stories for three and a half hours. It was a great time just thinking back about all of the wonderful experiences. And when I look at each of the people here that have been affiliated with me, referring to players and coaches, it brings back a lot of memories. A lot of memories. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
What we really are, are products of our experiences. You need to have the basic value system. I was blessed growing up in a poor, ethnic Italian neighborhood in Chicago, where no one had anything, but everyone shared what they had. But I learned a lot of things and it didn’t have anything to do with money. It had everything to do with passion. You have to be passionate about what you want in life. You want a good family? You want a good marriage? You want a good business career? You want to be the very best player you can be? You better be passionate, because there’s always somebody else ready to take your spot. It’s as simple as that.
I think one of the other things that I’ve learned, that really has driven me is this: Never be afraid to fail. So many people go through life being hesitant, being afraid to take that extra step. They don’t want to be at risk. Well, as a kid who once thought $200 a week was all the money in the world, it could all go away tomorrow and it wouldn’t mean a thing to me, because it’s been a nice ride. So keep your focus. Keep pushing to strive for everything you want.
I can only say for me to be put into a group of people in the Hall of Fame is kind of mind-blowing to me. I was there a year ago to look at the new Hall of Fame and as I saw the heads or busts of the inductees, it blew me away to know that I knew most of them. Most of the people up there I had contact with over the years, players, coaches and contributors. That’s a whole lifetime before your eyes. So to think that you’re going to be up there with them is an amazing thing.
But it’s a small thing in the big picture. Bob covered it. My faith, my family, my business, in that order, are really my priorities. I’ve tried to deal with that, sometimes not as well I would like to, throughout my life. So here I am at 64 thinking about a lot of things, in terms of what’s next for me. The one thing I would say as, as far as the Suns, I will never be away from the Suns in any way, shape or form, because I gave birth to the Suns and watched them grow through adolescence and then adulthood. I’m proud of the fact that we have the fifth best record all-time in the history of the league. That’s great and we’ve had a lot of wonderful moments. But we’re still missing the one thing I’ve always wanted and hopefully you (pointing to the current Suns) can do it.
I want to thank you for coming. Thanks for being a part of my life in making all of this happen. Thank you.