Our Hero

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

Oliver Miller was traded at the end of the '94 season, with Colangelo complaining loudly about his lack of character.

Jerrod Mustaf played throughout the '94 season in the face of a murder investigation that has never cleared or indicted him. Because of the seriousness of a murder investigation, he is probably the most flagrant example of Colangelo's willingness to keep a player of questionable character on the court. At the end of the season, though, the Suns bought out Mustaf's contract for $2.5 million and he went to Europe to play.

"Jerry kept him on because he hoped the wheels of justice would turn fast enough that he wouldn't have to pay him," says an industry insider. "There's a standard morals clause in contracts that owners don't have to pay [when players are indicted]."

So he's not totally consistent, and $2.5 million matters to him. What about you? In what highly visible arena of bad boys are you trying to conduct a Christian life?

Maybe it bears mentioning that, although Colangelo may prefer to hire those of his own faith, he doesn't appear to play favorites on that basis. He traded AC Green to the lowly Dallas Mavericks and fired in midseason former coach Paul Westphal, both born-again Christians.

(Green did not return New Times' calls, and Westphal refused an interview, saying, "Frankly, most of what I would have to say would be negative, and I still really like his family." An industry insider says that Westphal catered to Barkley, who after his first season with the Suns no longer stayed in shape or gave his best. During the '95 playoffs with the Rockets, Barkley couldn't even make free throws. "At that point, they decided they [Suns management] had had enough," says the source. "But do you blame Barkley or Westphal? Westphal took the hit for it.")

Friend Mullen says that, however Colangelo runs his franchises, she knows that Colangelo's religious and moral standards run deep in his personal life.

She admits she is profane. "My language is a problem for him," she says. "For a long time, he wouldn't let me around his daughter because he was afraid she would hear me talking the way I talk to other people. I think now he knows that I am careful around kids."

It's the Economy, Stupid
During a March 20 fund raiser at the Herberger Theater, Jerry Colangelo and his "field of dreams" of a ballpark were spoofed by local actors. At the end of the play, the real Colangelo was wheeled onto the stage in a bed that can charitably be described as remarkable. The ornately carved headboard was at least six feet tall and was garishly decorated with sports trophies. The bedspread was yellow satin with a Diamondbacks logo. The impression received by onlookers was that of an enormous throne. Upon awakening from his dream, represented by the play that had gone before, Colangelo threw back the covers and was revealed to be dressed in a perfectly pressed business suit.

It is anything but surprising that, at a benefit for downtown, Colangelo was at the center of the laughter, a position of honor for any dreamer, that acknowledged him as downtown's czar. No community leader has pushed downtown's interests as long as he.

In fact, Phoenix in general is suffering from a lack of community leadership, a vacuum created by white-collar crime and turnover. Charles Keating was at the heart of the country's savings-and-loan collapse, and limped along to prison. Gary Driggs of Western Savings and Loan was sentenced to house arrest only. Karl Eller of Circle K was bought out; Keith Turley and Mark DeMichele of APS retired. Local banks have been taken over by national chains and their CEOs replaced. Since the days of Terry Goddard, Arizona leaders--from the governor's office to the mayor's--have been impeached, convicted or completely without cultural vision.

"There is only Jerry," says Mullen. "We do not have one other major CEO in downtown that was here when the Downtown Phoenix Partnership was started in 1990. And political leadership in this community is not overwhelmingly strong."

But Colangelo has not become downtown's arbiter and king through attrition alone. Obviously, he has brought to the task work habits and qualities of spirit that have made possible his empire on Jefferson between First and Seventh streets, an empire that Goddard describes as "an awe-inspiring monument to sheer financial power."

Colangelo is personally a little sketchy about what these personal qualities are.

"I refuse to sit down and take note or acknowledge achievements," he says. "I think it is important to stay focused and simplify. In business I say things to myself like, 'I don't want to think much about it or I will get overwhelmed.' I take the next step.

"People tell me, 'Do you realize you've done a billion dollars in deals over the last 10 years?' But when you break that down, it was a result of being active. Some was planned: Buying the Suns and building the arena. But the rest I was asked to do, or one thing followed another. There was no five-year plan or 10-year plan. I have functioned by instinct."

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