Colangelo's Idea of Fair Play

I arrived half an hour early. I wanted to watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in warm-up. It was to be one of Kareem's final appearances as a player in Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.

The press box was nearly empty. As I have been doing for the past nine years, I spotted an empty chair in the press box and sat down.

Truthfully, I did expect there might be some unpleasantness from Jerry Colangelo, the Suns' president.

In that very day's editions of New Times, there had been two stories blasting Colangelo.

The first was a column by editor Michael Lacey. The second was a fascinating delineation by Andy Van De Voorde of Colangelo's strong-arm attempt to force the Phoenix City Council into building the Suns a new downtown arena.

They both had the power to set the ever-sensitive Colangelo psyche to fluttering.

Colangelo was sitting in the middle of the press box. He shouted down to me. He did not say anything about the New Times stories. He complained, instead, that I never spoke to him anymore.

I thought this surpassingly strange. Actually, Colangelo hasn't made any attempt to talk to me for four years. During this period, he has buttonholed a couple of my superiors on newspapers and at least one libel lawyer, always complaining about my writing style.

Naturally, I took Colangelo's sudden interest in conversation as a cause to be wary.

We live just a few houses from each other. Surely, if Colangelo wanted to talk, he was welcome to drop around the house anytime.

I assured him I'd be happy to talk to him anytime I thought we had something worth saying to each other.

One day, long ago, we did have breakfast together at the University Club. It was at Colangelo's insistence, and it was to discuss a column I had written. He signed for the bill and suggested I join the club because it would be good for making business contacts.

For an hour, he had tried to convince me to see things his way, pointing out that Joe Gilmartin of the Phoenix Gazette would never write about the Suns the way I did.

"Joe would never write anything that would hurt the Suns," Colangelo said.
At the end, Colangelo asked me if I would now write a new column to replace the offending one.

I said no. That ended what I must now presume was our "friendly" period.
When we reached the parking lot, Colangelo stepped into his Mercedes. He has since switched to a Jaguar. I got into a Subaru. I have since switched to a Volkswagen.

Clearly, we have miles to go before our life styles reach common ground.
So, the other night, I understood the timing of his sudden interest. Men like Colangelo don't talk to you unless they have an ax to grind. The conversation was extremely brief. Colangelo has all the personal charm of Darth Vader.

But during its course, I did think about mentioning how strange it was that Colangelo had taken recently to sitting in the press box. For years, he'd been sitting down on the floor behind the Suns' bench. Perhaps he has decided to sell those seats, thus taking in still more revenue.

I didn't ask that question. It would have prompted Colangelo to dart back again to one of my bosses bleating about my failure to show him the proper respect.

Now for the fascinating anecdote that demonstrates the vagaries of modern journalism.

With the game only minutes away, up popped tiny Barry Ringel, Colangelo's media relations director and chief gopher.

"You can't sit in the press box tonight," Ringel said officiously. Ringel looked like a Viennese headwaiter gone berserk.

I pointed out to Ringel that I possessed authorized credentials, was a legitimate journalist and was in the press box to work.

I was, in fact, preparing both a column for New Times and a radio commentary for the following morning for KOOL-FM.

But Ringel remained adamant.
"All seats are taken," he said. "You can't stay in the press box."
"Do you want me to go home?" I asked.

"I don't care," said the Suns' media relations director, "you can't stay in the press box."

So I was kicked out of the press box under the orders of Suns management.

My seat was taken by someone who identified himself as a reporter from a religious radio station. I know that Colangelo has announced that he's a born-again Christian, but this is a little much.

The Suns' action raises interesting questions about press freedoms or as they refer to it, "media relations."

Can Ringel-Colangelo remove legitimate newspaper people from the press box? The Coliseum is state-owned property purchased with taxpayers' funds. The Suns only rent the Coliseum. The press box itself was built with taxpayer money.

There's also the matter of NBA policy.
Does the league sanction the banishing of writers who offend owners by writing stories the owners don't like?

Must writers agree to praise Colangelo and the Suns in order to gain admittance to the press box? Suppose I had refused to leave? Would Ringel have summoned the police to remove me? And suppose I refused the police and they had placed me in handcuffs and taken me away to jail?

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