Peers Pay Tribute to Jerry Colangelo
Pioneer, innovator, businessman, four-time NBA Executive of the Year, NBA Hall of Famer and now Ring of Honor member… Jerry Colangelo’s titles and awards are as plentiful as his many contributions to the Phoenix Suns and sports in general. During halftime of Sunday's Suns-Cavaliers game, the team chairman officially became the 12th member of the organization’s highest honor, joining the likes of Suns 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 to be forever immortalized in the US Airways Center upper fascia.
The former Chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors, Colangelo has had a major influence on the growth of the NBA. With the Suns, his roles have included general manager, head coach, president, managing general partner, chief executive officer and now chairman. The 39-year tenure with one franchise is the longest in the NBA. Colangelo spent two seasons with the Chicago Bulls working as marketing director, scout and assistant to the president before moving to the Valley to help start the expansion Suns in 1968.
With over four decades of service in the NBA, there are certainly no shortage of acquaintances and peers who have worked with Colangelo over the years. Suns.com spoke with some of them to share their impressions of the Suns icon and his impact on the team, the city of Phoenix and the NBA itself.
“Jerry should have been the first member of the Ring of Honor, with his 30-plus years in the organization building the business and the basketball family. What stands out to me is the loyalty that he showed, his faith and the way he brought people back into the organization whether it was a former player, employee or friend.
“I would say that (our relationship) started when I was a rookie during the summer. Jerry and Joany invited me to their house for dinner and it was the first time I met his family.
"During the reunion we had Saturday night at the Biltmore, he spoke about the importance of relationships and it really is important. I’ve never worked for anybody else in my adult life. I hear people with other teams not having the same experience. Here there’s a continuum, there’s excellence, there’s a commitment to putting the right people in the right place, whether it is on the court or in the front office.”
"Jerry is one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever been around, both in sports and in the corporate world. He loves a tough situation. He focuses more and functions better under maximum pressure. He’s the guy who wants the ball at the most intense moments. Anyone who encounters Jerry can see the confidence and competence he exudes that trickles down to all those he leads. His genuine love for his family and his faith in God enhance his legacy as someone I would fight for, fight with, trust and follow."
"He’s a great guy and a helluva man, a leader and a real organized man. I like what he did with the whole Team USA thing and what he's done with the Suns. He’s been a real businessman. He gets things done and makes things happen."
“I remember Jerry was a young guy when I first met him. He was more of a basketball guy than I was used to heading a team. A lot of guys are more financial types and while he had that knowledge, he had also played basketball and really knew the game. You definitely saw that over the years through his involvement with basketball.
“One of the things I learned about Jerry, especially in that first year, was when things went bad, he took the blame. He was visible and was the guy in charge. When things went well, he kind of melted into the background and let his coaches and players take credit which really impressed me. I think that was the biggest thing. He was a standout guy when things were bad, but when things were good, he allowed others to take the credit for it.
“The team and the community have both always been important to Jerry. He wanted his players to be good representatives, not only for the team, but also the city. He was very concerned with bringing in players who would represent the team well.”
“It’s a great night. He’s the most influential person in Arizona sports history. He’s done more for Arizona than anyone who has ever been involved in sports. Obviously, he (built) the Suns and they have become a national phenomenon; and he won a World Series with the Diamondbacks. So this is well-deserved and I am glad to be here.”
(On what Colangelo meant to him)
“For me personally, he gave me an opportunity to win a championship, which I didn’t have in Philadelphia, and I’ll always be thankful for that.
“It is a great testament to Mr. Colangelo that all of these old guys have come back. I don’t think I’ve ever called him Jerry in my life. I call him Mr. Colangelo, even until today. You see all of these guys here. And that’s about him. Everybody has busy and hectic schedules... well, that’s not true (laughs)... but it’s just great to see these Suns from back in the '70s and '80s come back. That’s really cool.
“It’s a very emotional experience being inducted into the Ring of Honor. It is just a great night. A celebration.”
“Jerry’s just been the face of this organization for so long that you could really feel what it means to this community to have him around. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him and what this team means to him and what he means to this franchise. He’s got an air about him that demands respect, which is the first thing I noticed when I came here. It’s hard to describe, but there’s this air about him that’s pretty cool.”
“He always came across as a person who wouldn’t beat around the bush. He obviously was a person who worked day and night, and didn’t have that much time, so he would get right to the point on how he felt about things, how he wanted things. You appreciated that. He just had a way with me of making me relax. I was star-studded when I first came in. I was like ‘Wow, that’s Jerry Colangelo! Wow, that’s Cotton Fitzsimmons! That’s Tom Chambers!’ I was in awe all the time, but he just made it feel like I was a part of that.”
(On reunion of former players)
“I wish everybody was mic’d and we could record everything, and just save all the stories and give it to all the players, so we could just go back any time we felt the need to reminisce and listen to those stories. You just start laughing. As soon as I saw Tim Perry, I just started laughing. I saw Jeff Hornacek and just started laughing, remembering all the times in the locker room. You remember going through the struggles, through the growth. It’s tough not having Cotton (Fitzsimmons) here, but it was a happy time just seeing everybody, reminiscing on a lot of good memories.
“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 one of those kind of guys who 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.
“It’s emotional for everybody. He’s not as active with the team as he used to be, and it’s kind of like he’s setting into the sunset and that’s sad, because he’s always going to be synonymous with Phoenix Suns basketball, because he’s the one who brought the NBA to town and was here through thick and thin. Hopefully he’ll just end this season up with an NBA Championship, which would certainly be fitting for Jerry.
“He’s a father figure. He is someone we all look up to, the way he is with his kids, the way he is with his religion, the way he is with just handling people, looking people in the eye and shaking your hand. You know that’s as good a contract as any attorney could draw up. He’s just one of those kind of rare guys who does it the old fashioned way. He’s a great people person, and people really love to work for him. That’s one of the reasons, probably THE reason why, that so many free agents wanted to come to the Valley. I mean, it’s nice here in Arizona, but Jerry has been doing that for years, treating people right.”
(On being signed by Colangelo as the first unrestricted free agent in NBA history)
“It was such a whirlwind kind of a deal with that whole unrestricted free-agent thing. He targeted me and called as soon as he could, and we set up a meeting that morning. He literally wanted to know what we wanted. We told him and he said, ‘Okay, here’s what I’m going to give you. You have 10 minutes to decide.’ I’m like ‘I may need a little longer than that to call my family and stuff,’ but we did a deal. There were other teams calling that wanted to talk to me, but he didn’t want any other team to have that opportunity. I loved him. Loved him. You could tell, Jerry was just one of those guys that when he said it, you listened and you believed what he said. There wasn’t a promise that he made that day that didn’t come to fruition. I mean, everything he said happened.”
“He worked his way up. That was the key. He learned the business and got to the GM position and was able to have a vision and see it through. Always with Jerry he would tell you, ‘This is the way it is going to be, and it would be that.’ If you crossed the line, you were gone, but if you did it the way you were supposed to do it, you were here and part of the family. Not too many people draw a line in the sand. Athletes are kind of like kids. They’ll push the envelope as far as they can, but if you know where the line is, you are not going to cross it.
"In my second year here, I didn’t have an agent and I came here as a free agent and I negotiated my own contract. I was able to get Jerry to give a little bit and he actually had a little bead of sweat, so I was happy. Of course it was only a $5,000 raise, but what the hell. It worked (laughs).”
“To honor him is a super thing. It’s great, but it’s funny. I was just thinking the other day… not to disrespect anybody in the Ring of Honor, but for him it’s almost a step down. I mean, it’s a nice honor and everything, but he IS the Ring of Honor. He’s the godfather of this whole thing. He’s one of a kind, obviously, and is unbelievable.
(On his favorite Colangelo memories)
“I was privileged to ride on busses through China and Hong Kong and Korea (during the 2006 World Championship of Basketball). We always sat right up front we got to talk a lot, and I got to know him even better than I did. That was pretty special. He’s one of a kind, like I said. He’s different and he’s special.”
“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 ’77 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.
(On getting the call from Colangelo that the Suns were going to retire his No. 6 in 1994)
”I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were going to make me wait a long time. I retired in ’92 and they retired my jersey in ’94, and it was a great, wonderful event when I got in.”
“Like I said, he gave confidence to me. He believed in me as a player 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.”
“For the Phoenix Suns, he was the guy. He did everything the right way and the way things are supposed to be done. You could talk to him about anything if you had any problems with anything. He’s a great guy.
“When I played down there we had a great time and that was mainly due to him. And when he traded me to Detroit, he helped me out by putting me in a position to win a championship. That was great, too. I wouldn’t have been in that position if it wasn’t for him.
“He knew when you weren’t playing hard, and guys really came to play because when you have a good owner like that, guys are going to play hard for him. He got the most out of his players because he was like that.”
“It’s really well deserved. I think the guy is an institution. The things that he’s done for this organization and this city, he built this from ground up. I’m just so happy that the Suns and Robert Sarver are honoring him. It’s well, well deserved. He’s always been supportive of me, has always offered good advice, has always been there for people. He’s really been a true friend to me.”
“It’s the huge accomplishments that he’s gathered over the years, and it’s a good statement for other people to recognize what he’s done and acknowledge that. You see by all of the guys here who started their careers here, or continued their careers or ended their careers here, and who have come back. But also just from the community work and the business world, everybody recognizes and appreciate what he’s been able to do. I personally just appreciate the kind of man that he is, and what he’s done more outside of the sports world, just as a person. That’s more valuable to me, and I commend him for that.
“I just think he’s consistent, which is a great thing. You don’t see a lot of fluctuation. He’s a man of strong character, he has a lot of integrity and you can rely on the things that he says and what he plans on doing. So you like being in the trenches, working with or working for someone like that. I’ve always appreciated that.”
"Obviously Jerry wanted to win more than anyone, but he did it by having players on his team that he felt represented the city and state he loves and that was just as important. I feel very lucky to have played for a person like him."
"It’s just great for me to be here and I appreciate the invitation. Jerry played a profound role in my entire nine-year NBA career. When he was with the Chicago Bulls he made me their number one draft choice and two years after becoming the General Manager for the Phoenix Suns he traded for me. I spent four enjoyable years with the Suns and then he traded me to the Washington Bullets (Wizards). He was an understanding executive, an encouraging coach and most of all an excellent friend.
"Back many years ago, more than I like to remember, he drafted me out of college. We had talked in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1967 during the NCAA tournament and I had no idea who I was talking to. He was working for the Chicago Bulls at that time and they made me their number one draft choice, so I guess I said some things to him that impressed him. So early in my life he played a key role in my career, and my NBA career.
He started out so young. I believe he was like 27 or 28 years of age. So there was only about a four or five year difference in age, but he was someone who was very ahead of his time. He had so much wisdom and knowledge and understanding of people. I was so impressed with his ability to pull people together. When I played here we were a family. He would bring us into his home and we would have meals in his home with his wonderful wife, Joan, and those are things that you never forget as a player and a person, just as a human being.
“He is the one guy you have to give credit to for reviving the Suns. They were going through a tough time and when he took over from the original ownership. He had a type of vision for what the franchise could be. You have to give him the majority of the credit for that. Jerry was a workaholic. He was the coach, general manager… he went though all phases of it. By going through all of those phases, he was able to build the organization from the bottom up and he knew exactly how he wanted the Suns franchise to be. If you look at the franchise today, you have to say that it is Jerry Colangelo that did it.
“Basketball-mind-wise, he was the type of guy that you loved to play for and always looked out for his players. You knew if you went to him with a problem or a situation he was going to be there to help you. I played with a lot of franchises and I’d have to say the Suns was the best organization that I was ever associated with, and you have to give Jerry a lot of the credit for that. With the people he brought in and the coaches he brought in and the type of players he always bought in, it always seemed like we were a part of a family there. I remember that 1976 team. Nobody else would put together a team like that. We had two rookies with Alvan Adams and Ricky Sobers, Curtis Perry came from Milwaukee, Paul Westphal came from Boston, I came from Buffalo in mid-season. We had veterans like Keith Erickson, Dick Van Arsdale and Dennis Awtrey. You wouldn’t consider us great basketball players, but I think Jerry saw the chemistry and the type of people that we were.
“The city of Phoenix has to be proud of him for what he has done in the sports world and for the city as a whole. He really was the building block for the sports industry in Arizona.”
"When you think of the Phoenix Suns, you think of Jerry Colangelo. He brought all of us in here at one point or another. Got rid of some of us at one point or another (laughs), but Jerry has just been a fixture in this organization and the Phoenix Suns are a team that most people look at (as a model franchise) nowadays, and he built that.
"He deserves it. It’s probably a long time coming, but now is a perfect time with all these guys back in town to help him celebrate. It’s all the same guys. They don’t look any different. We’re all walking a little bit more slowly, but it’s great to see all these guys."
“It’s a great night. He’s a guy that is really the main reason why this arena is sitting here, why this team is at the level that it is, and it’s an honor for him for us to come out and show our appreciation by being here.
(What do you think of when you hear the name Jerry Colangelo?)
“Honesty. Straight forward and honest. If he tells you he’s going to do something, he does it.”
“Nobody has shaped the face of this city more so than Jerry Colangelo. It’s an honor for all of us to participate in his tribute this evening... This man is about relationships and the relationships he has built over 40 years. It’s a testament to who he is that everybody’s here that knows Jerry. As long as we can walk and breathe, we were going to show up and pay homage to him.
(On the characteristics he thinks of when he hears the name of Jerry Colangelo)
“I think there are many. But 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."
(On seeing former teammates)
“It’s an unbelievable reunion. Last night we had a dinner and everybody who’s been affiliated with this organization for the last 40 years have all come into town to pay their respects… kind of like the godfather, so it’s our pleasure.”
"He’s been one of the leaders of our league. He’s been a pillar of leadership and confidence. He and David Stern will probably go down in history as the two guys who saved the league from almost falling apart to what we have today – and the incredible impact on the world. He’s a competitor first and a businessman second. I know in Phoenix he’s done incredible things in the business community but I still think he wants to win and win championships, and that’s what he wants most is the NBA Championship."
"To have worn as many hats as he’s worn and do as much as he’s done for both the city and the team, Jerry Colangelo is the face of the Suns. Regarding what Jerry means to him: Jerry traded for me and I played here for two and a half years. And even though he traded me away later, he still affected my career because I was able to play for the Phoenix Suns."
“Mr. Colangelo has really put sports on the map in Phoenix, Arizona. I was lucky to be a part of one of his teams. A lot of times in sports, your star factor has to do with how much you remain involved with the organizations after you’re through playing. That never mattered to Mr. Colangelo, and I was lucky not only to be a part of a very good team but to remain a part of this franchise after I was a player which is unique. The Suns and Jerry Colangelo have been the best organization in terms of utilizing players and alumni and while I wasn’t a star, what always mattered to Mr. Colangelo was your dedication to the organization.
“He’s just been such a class act and is so much of what Phoenix is today. He puts people in their place and then lets people do their jobs. From a players’ standpoint, we knew we could always count on his support and his being behind the team.”
“He basically brought the Suns here. He’s the patriarch of the franchise. I remember when I came here in 1988, this whole area where we are now didn’t even exist. He was largely responsible for getting this arena built and getting the baseball park built. He’s had an unbelievable impact on the city of Phoenix.”
(On being brought in as a rookie)
“I remember being intimidated by him when I first got here because he has such an imposing presence. He was the face of the organization and still is in a lot of ways. He’s been really supportive since I took the job and even before then. I sought his council before I took this job and I still call him every few weeks to check in with him and ask him advice. He’s been a really good resource for me.
“What’s unique about here is that he’s been around so long that it really is a family. You can feel it. There is continuity to the franchise even with the ownership change. He’s responsible for all of that and a lot of franchises don’t have that because of the turnover. But he’s established that.”
"Jerry was always very fair and compassionate with his players, and was able to maintain that quality while doing what was best for the team. He did things the right way."
"I tell you, we know him as Jerry Colangelo of the Phoenix Suns, but he’s almost like an entity. I know of things he’s been involved with as an entrepreneur, a builder... bringing baseball here... He’s a man that I’m sure has accomplished more in his lifetime than he ever dreamed, and it’s still not over.
"He mentioned in his speech last night at the dinner that he wanted us to mingle with one another because he even knew how important that was. It was almost like the godfather is telling the family to go enjoy the feast. ‘I know you guys are celebrating me, but enjoy the feast.' He said last night that he wanted to speak to us and tell us he loved us individually before we left, and that really touched me. So having everybody here it was like that feeling of being in the locker room together, except we were not going to play."
"I think over the years he’s stayed the same which is a good thing. Obviously he was excited about us getting into the Finals as was everybody back in 1976. We all thought we could get back there but we never got back there. I think he’s the same person with the same great love for basketball and that’s evident by his work still today with the Men’s Olympic Team. He never gets too high or too low. He was always able to handle the pressure and for the most part was pretty constant with the way he reacted towards things.
"He didn’t talk to the team much. The coaches talked with him and there were always discussions on certain plays made by us or the opposition. We’d speak about the minutes a player had played but for the most part he let you do things the way you wanted to do it. If there was a situation he didn’t like he’d speak up about it but he let mainly observed.
"People got accustomed to him coming to practice and everybody knew it was Jerry and he was going to let me do what I wanted to do for the most part. He might make a suggestion or two, but for the most part he let me use my plays and use the running system I wanted to use. He liked the idea of having a running game and pushing the ball up the floor. He always thought that was a good idea."
“For the Suns, his influence wasn’t just a fingerprint, it was more like a handprint from the very start of the organization, to his input on draft picks from all different aspects as GM. He even coached a few games. There were partners along the way, but he was always an individual that maybe did things a little against the norm. I say that because he drafted me as a junior eligible after my junior year in college. I never even talked to the Suns, although a bunch of other teams did. He knew I wasn’t going to come out. He actually preferred that I stay in school, but he still drafted me. That was a little unusual.
“He was a trendsetter in that he was one of the first to start looking overseas at players and that market. He was also involved in building up the new facilities and the new building. He was very innovative and influential on the game of basketball. He had a plan in mind of what his pro team should look like. He kind of drafted for positions.
“I was always half-scared of him. He was kind of intimidating. Here he was, this good-sized man, the head of this whole organization. At that time, coming out of college he was going to pay me a lot of money to do something I love to do, not like today’s money. But I always stood a little back from him. He did have the team out to his house a few times so he would open up a little bit, but when I was around him he was always serious.
“The honor is well-deserved for everything that he has done for the organization.”
"I’m very excited. 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.
”Since I’ve been here, since 1988, I was lucky to be involved with a guy like Jerry. 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.
“Just the way he treated me, from day one, always with respect. Me and my family, he was just always there for me.”
"Jerry Colangelo is a wonderful person and I enjoyed getting to know him. I enjoyed my time with the Suns because of the relationship we had. He wants you to excel personally and as a professional athlete."
“I think what he’s done for this organization and this team more than speaks for itself. He’s a class act and I’m going to miss him. It’s really tough to put into words but his memory will always be here with this organization and with this city. One of the first things I noticed coming in as a rookie was that he had no problem staying in the background. He was quiet, which meant that when he said something, you knew he meant it.”
"I can’t even imagine what kind of a community we would have without Jerry. That’s been said and said and said. I got here in 1960 and there were three Navajos, a few bushes and some small furry animals. That was about it. Colangelo comes in, builds the downtown, brings in some major league baseball teams and makes them winners. He is a winner. You know what I like best about him? He’s a great family man. And even though he’s Italian, he loves Irish people and loves to dance and sing.
"I don’t think you can be around Jerry with that wry sense of humor without having memories of some funny stories. Not necessarily funny to me because they were at my expense but the first thing I remember is I was playing a celebrity basketball game against faculty members of religious schools – pastors, priests, etc. It was an unlikely type of gathering but it packed the Coliseum. So it was the jocks, the television news guys against the religious schools. I went in as a point guard and I took the ball up the court two times and I was sucking wind so much and I look over at Colangelo on the sidelines. He had a twinkle in his eye and a big smile on his face and said, 'Welcome to my world, McMahon.' "Jerry is the emperor of Arizona. He’s also stayed the same height while I have shrunk over the years. But I would love to think that Jerry considers me as dear a friend as I consider him. I love him and his family. I love what he’s meant to all of us. Now if he could just move to Ireland and do the same thing for them everything would be perfect."
“Jerry has been instrumental in my career. He was the owner and president of the club when I was drafted. He gave me a shot. When I was a free agent, it was Jerry’s club for all intensive purposes still, and he gave me a chance to come back. Jerry has had a huge impact on my career personally. More importantly, he’s had a huge impact on the game of basketball. He brought the team here, he’s been a manager for the national team, he’s done so much for the game, whether it be the NBA or otherwise. His wingspan is considerable.
“Jerry is a guy who has an aura about him – an aura of respectability. He’s no nonsense and a man of his word. Those qualities seem so simple, but those are special qualities. Those are qualities that are lasting and leave a legacy. He’s definitely going to leave a considerable legacy in this part of the world. Throughout the world, I think he’s reached as deep as the game goes.
“You see all sorts of things going on in the world of politics and with CEOs, but Jerry is an exemplary leader in all aspects, regardless of the job.”
"I hold a very special place in my heart for Jerry. He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself at times and gave me stability in my career. I pray that God continues to bless he and his family, and want to let him know that this "ring of honors" is well deserved (I couldn't think of anyone else who deserves it more)."
“He deserves it. When I was a player, I knew Jerry was a good guy. Even though this is a business, he could see the personal side of it, too. I told Jerry last night, I think he’s the only owner I’d come back to see. It feels good to see all these guys again.
“One thing that was funny… I had a meeting with Jerry and Cotton one time, at the end of the season, and I’m from the East Coast and every year we turn our clocks back. Well, I had a meeting with Jerry and I was an hour late for the meeting. When I came into the room, everybody started laughing and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ They asked me why I was late and I told them I’d turned my clock back and they just started laughing.”
“It’s awesome and well deserved. He’s the guy that started it, and put it all together. I think it’s fabulous that he’s in the Ring of Honor.
“I think more than a working relationship, we were really good friends. Going back to Chicago, we worked together with the Bulls. I wouldn’t say it was a shoe-string operation, but there were probably just five of us, and it was similar in ’68 when we came here. Of course, now it’s big business. This has really blossomed. It’s funny to think that Jerry’s first office was under the grandstand at the Coliseum, where they have the rodeos. It was a lot different then.
“One of my favorite stories was when he took over as coach. We played a game in Milwaukee and Jerry wanted to win every game. Well, Neal Walk and I still laugh our butts off about this. I think it was (referee) Mendy Rudolph who gave Jerry a technical because he questioned a call. We called a timeout and Jerry was in the huddle, and when (Rudolph) walked by, I’m standing behind Neal and I yelled ‘You blew it!’ Well, Mendy just whipped around and gave Jerry another T, and threw him out of the game. And Jerry’s going, ‘I didn’t say a word!’ Neal and I still crack up about that.”
“JC brought me to phoenix from the expansion Charlotte Hornets in 1989 right then I knew the man was a genius. All kidding aside as and owner and manger Jerry created an environment of family and team unity which are the recipe for the suns success. He is a man of strong values who cares deeply for his players as human beings and not just athletes. Not only has he made the suns the envy of the league he should also be credited with much of the success of the NBA as it is today. Thankfully his skillful leadership will continue as he guides the next generation with USA basketball.
“When I was traded here, I really didn’t know anything about Jerry. Everybody told me that he was a great guy and that he really cared about his players and I found that out to be absolutely true. He’s honest. He has the highest integrity. He cared about players more than just being players. He cared about their families, and he wanted them to enjoy playing basketball here. He wanted the players to embrace the experience and created an environment that was an absolute pleasure to be a part of this organization.
“When someone has the highest integrity like Jerry, is completely honest with you and fair, that’s all you could ever ask for out of a general manager or an owner of a ballclub. He is exactly that. I don’t think that there’s anyone who could say anything to the contrary about Jerry.
“He’s from Chicago, and we were going into Chicago to play them and I am a big pizza lover, so he said he was going to get us these big Chicago pizzas for the entire bus. So I’m frothing at the mouth waiting for these pizzas and he’s talking about how great they are because it’s a place that he loves and he’s going to take care of it for the whole team. Everyone knows how cheap I am. I’m getting a free meal out of it. I’m so happy about it because I’m getting my favorite food and I’m getting a free meal out of it. But it was this real big pizza with a slab of sausage on it that was just absolutely awful. I mean it was really, really awful pizza and the whole team just gave Jerry a piece of their minds about how terrible it was. Guys took one bite of the pizza and just said, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ And here we are on this bus with dozens of large unopened boxes of pizza that nobody took a bite out of. I thought it was great.”
"Jerry Colangelo is the Phoenix Suns. From the very beginning, Jerry Colangelo has placed his character on the face of the Suns. I remember Jerry as a person that was totally committed to the excellence of the Suns' organization, both as a basketball team and as an essential part of the Phoenix community. Jerry's commitment to the Phoenix community and the Suns organization has set a precedent for every NBA team to use as their benchmark. What Jerry Colangelo has created through the Suns organization can be compared to what Bill Gates has created with Microsoft and Philip Knight has created with Nike... They all are a brand recognized for excellence in their field.
“Jerry was the one who brought me into the NBA. He signed me to the Phoenix Suns and I thought that was the one of the biggest moments in my life as far as basketball went. I don’t think you should ever think of the Suns without thinking of Jerry Colangelo.
“Jerry always modeled himself as a basketball player, and I had the opportunity when Jerry was coaching me to trick him into playing against me. I would ask him to play a game to 15 baskets and I would give him 10, and if I won I wouldn’t have to practice. I was able to miss a couple of practices because I was a lot younger and quicker. He could play and was a heck of a shooter and he would let you know about it. He could still play but I was just a little younger and in a little bit better shape than him (laughs).”
"It’s a reflection of the huge admiration on our part for JC, the love the passion, but also the spirit that he instilled inside this organization and inside the community, that it is a huge bond. When they said come and represent JC, guys flew in from all over the place and everyone was so happy and has so much love for him, because he has so much love for everybody.
"If I had to say one thing, he is a rock. Meaning that when the storms come and the winds blow, he’s still there. He’s unflappable. He’s unmovable. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you think your dad is Superman and you think that nothing can ever befall him, and nothing can ever bring him down. And then you get older and you realize that your dad is a man. So we have that same feeling with JC. You are almost mesmerized by him when you’re in his presence because he’s such an outstanding person and human being.
"Coming out of Notre Dame, I really didn’t know who Jerry was. I wasn’t up on the NBA. I was just a college kid, but when I came and I met him, and my agent said ‘He’ll be one of the giants in this business before it’s over.’ That’s the honest to goodness truth."
“It’s so special to me. I’m very grateful to the Suns for inviting all of us ex players and all of Jerry’s friends. He was such a special person and still is. Jerry was such a mentor to us all. I was here the second the team was in existence and to see all that he’s done since is just mind-boggling. I remember going to the airport when there was nothing. You had to go outside to get your bags (laughs). But only a Jerry Colnagelo 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.
“Very sharp guy. He understood what he wanted to accomplish and he wanted to win by any means. He really loved the game. I remember a few years ago he said, ‘You know, Paul, I owe everything I have to basketball.’ We all do, but that’s what Jerry exemplified, an undying love and passion for the game.”
(Playing for Coach Colangelo)
“Jerry took over and we had the system in place already, so all he had to do was manage people, which he was great at. He managed us, got us to the playoffs that year (1970) and it was terrific. But he understood quickly, ‘I don’t think I want to coach anymore.’”
"Jerry was more than an owner, he made me feel at home and was more like a dad instead of my boss. I'll never forget the time he chartered a plane so that the team could attend the funeral service for my father. It allowed me the strength I needed so that I could get through the toughest time of my life with my teammates. I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to work for the greatest owner in the business. “There was no other owner I would have wanted to play for. You just wanted to come in and be around the atmosphere that he created in Phoenix. He did whatever he could for the players and ran a first-class organization. It was family-oriented and Jerry always had everything under control. That was the most fun for me. That was what the NBA was about, being a part of team that was like a family.
“I respected Jerry because he had played the game and he had coached the game. He wasn’t the kind of owner that owned something else outside of basketball and also had a basketball team. No, this guy was a part of it at every level.
“When I first got to town he put us up at the Phoenician. It was only one of the greatest rooms I had ever been in and he had the nerve to call me and ask me I liked my room. I’m like, ‘Could it be any better?’ He knew how to host and make you feel at home.”
"I wish to thank Jerry for bringing me to Phoenix and creating such a wonderful place to work and live. Jerry was a great boss and coach, and I will always admire him for his commitment as a family man. Congratulations for all of your accomplishments and continued success in the years to come."
“I’ll never forget, I was playing for the Atlanta Hawks and I got a call from Atlanta and they asked me what number I wanted to play for the Buffalo franchise. And I said that I would retire before I went and played for Buffalo, 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, as far as I am concerned, 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.”
"The first time I met him was in Minneapolis in 1969. I was there playing in the East-West All-Star Game for collegiates. I played and wound up winning the MVP. After the game, I was in the shower and a guy yells in, ‘Hey, Walk. There are a couple guys here to see you. One’s named Colangelo; the other is named (Johnny) Kerr from the Suns.’ That was the first time I ever heard the name Jerry Colangelo and the Phoenix Suns. They took me to supper. Now they do background checks, but back then, we had a couple of beers and they asked my what my favorite color was, if I had a girlfriend… Eventually they asked me if I would sign with the Suns if selected. We sat and talked and that was my first meeting with Jerry.
"In an exhibition game in Milwaukee, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was in the game. He blocked my first hook shot and sent it all the way down the court. After the game, Jerry put his arm around me and said, ‘At least you got your feet wet.’
"Jerry was management and ownership, but he was always one of the guys. He knows the game from so many levels. He was a good athlete, and that’s always helpful when you’re dealing with players because he knows what that stuff takes.
"This franchise was born of Jerry Colangelo’s hard work. From going door to door, the sales jobs he did, he did everything. He was everywhere and wore every hat in the beginning. Everything that the Suns are today has Jerry Colangelo all over it."
"I’m glad that somebody finally made him do it. I’m sure if it was up to Jerry, he never would have done this, but nobody deserves the honor more. I wore my Cotton Fitzsimmons tie in his honor. I’m sad that Cotton can’t be here to enjoy this to, but it’s a great night and long overdue.
(On his relationship with Colangelo)
"I wouldn’t say that it’s always been perfect, but I’ve always known that Jerry really cares about basketball, and he really cares about people. When you’re in a position where you have to make business decisions for an organization, sometimes you have to make some tough decisions and you’re not going to have everybody be thrilled. But at the same time I don’t think anybody has ever said anything bad about Jerry. He’s a family man. He cares about basketball and he cares about what’s best for the Phoenix Suns. It’s rare in this business to find somebody who has his priorities so in order.
"He’s willing to take a chance. He’s always willing to take a chance on trying to do what’s best for advancing the Suns, whether that was making a trade for Charles Barkley or putting his own money up to buy the team when it was in the doldrums. Whatever it took, he was willing to roll the dice, betting on himself and success in the future."
(On reuniting with former teammates and players)
"When you’re wrapped up in the day to day battle of the NBA, you tend to be more focused on yourself and what you have to do today and the next day. But when you’ve had a few years to reflect, you know that really the real reason you’re in this is for the friendships and for the connections you make with the city, the people you play with and play against. I think the longer you’re out of it and away from any one group the more special it is when you see them again."