Our Hero

The most powerful man in Phoenix explains why he's just a regular guy

"If you fast forward [from his conversion], I do not think [his success] is a matter of ingenuity or smarts. I know a lot of people who are smarter than me. So I came to the conclusion that this is all God's plan and not mine. So I feel I have a platform, and it is my responsibility to conduct myself accordingly in my business and my family.

"I have told my four kids I want them to live here," he says, every tall inch the family patriarch, and then he seems to catch himself. "We are very fortunate and blessed that they are here. Eight grandchildren, and they are all in town. We do church on Sunday and brunch afterwards. People say, 'What do you do when you are away from work?' Nine out of 10 times, the answer is that I am with my family."

To spend time with him is to sense how deeply sincere he is about all this.
Okay, maybe he is touchy, and feels unappreciated for benevolent acts that his constituency regards as greed.

Perhaps he has become, despite his good-faith attempts to remain in touch with his humble roots, someone who can no longer identify with the little guy.

But within the echelon that has become his world, he is trying to be a good man.

He has hired other key men of deep religious conviction--former coaches Cotton Fitzsimmons and Paul Westphal, AC Green, coach Danny Ainge, Kevin Johnson.

He is asked, Do you try to hire others who believe what you do?
He doesn't answer the question directly. "If you are now a born-again Christian, in many cases there is a real conversion that takes place in terms of who you associate with; it is a whole different lifestyle.

"In terms of team members, if you put a high priority on character in terms of the selection process, then when you take people with high character, you find that they fall into certain categories."

The quest for character in his players has become more and more a prominent theme in recruiting. There was a subtext in the Diamondbacks' first big hire, shortstop Jay Bell, whose $34 million contract made other team owners gasp and complain that the Diamondbacks were bent on inflating salaries. What is not as well-known is that Bell, too, is a born-again Christian.

"It is unusual that the Diamondbacks talk so often and openly about character," says Tom Verducci, baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. "They seem to really go out of their way to talk about it. It is almost like they are sending a message to the players."

If Colangelo is sending a message, it would hardly be surprising. In past and recent history of the Suns, he has gone into the cage with his share of wildcats. In '87, there was the drug scandal in which a handful of Suns were indicted. The fracas decimated the team and made it possible for Colangelo and a group of private investors to buy and rebuild the much-thinned-out franchise. ("I like to think that [former police chief] Ruben Ortega and I brought on the successful years of the Phoenix franchise," laughs former county attorney Tom Collins, who prosecuted team members, some of whom went into drug-rehab programs and none of whom went to jail. "Without us the franchise wouldn't have become what it is today.")

Despite what was then more than 20 years in the fast-lane world of professional sports, associates say that Colangelo was as personally wounded by the incident as he is by negative press coverage.

"He was saddled with people who I think stunned him in their inability to behave in a civil manner," says sports agent Rudoy, adding that he and Colangelo spoke about the uproar at length. Rudoy says glitches in players' ethics continue to devastate Colangelo: "I think he is really deeply hurt by the behavior of his players. I think he wonders about himself, because he prides himself on being a good judge of character."

In recent years, he has had, then, much to wonder about.
Early on in Charles Barkley's tenure here, he carried on a much-publicized, extramarital affair with Madonna. And throughout his stay, accounts of nightly drinking and carousing never died down.

In '94 came the alleged sex party, during which pornographic movies reportedly played on big-screen TVs, and Charles Barkley stood at the head of the stairs procuring women for former Sun Oliver Miller.

Also in '94, team member Jerrod Mustaf became a murder suspect in the death of a woman who was pregnant with his child. Mustaf's cousin was convicted of the crime and is in prison for life, but Mustaf is still a suspect as the mastermind behind the killing.

Last year came allegations that Kevin Johnson, the good guy of sports whose devotion to church and community youth is much-documented, had been a little too devoted to a teenage girl during the summer of '95. According to a disturbing police report revealed last year in New Times, the then-29-year-old Johnson was accused by a then-16-year-old girl--one of Johnson's well-known rehabilitation-of-youth projects--of fondling her naked and showering with her in his guest house.

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