Our Hero

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

"It is sick that people who have never put on a jock in their lives go so far in terms of personal attack," Colangelo says now, in criticism probably of both radio hosts and listeners. "The bottom line is that you should not waste time listening to radio talk shows. What can you do to make the world a better place instead?

"I just think that the emphasis was in the wrong place. What some media chose to present and the anti-tax people chose to represent was that this was my idea and it was all done to put money in my pocket, and nothing could be further from the truth. And it was a heckuva price to pay personally."

We give up. (This said under our breath.)
Reasonable minds might believe that Colangelo's current position--a principal in what is already a successful ball team in terms of dollars--would be worth a little public ire. But journalists who have dealt with Colangelo know that he will not see the broad picture because he takes all criticism incredibly hard. Colangelo himself admits it.

"I have always been a sensitive guy, open, and so when people who do not know me take shots, it hurts because I think most people want others to think well of them. I am no different. Anyone who says differently is kidding themselves."

He remembers a cartoon, drawn 12 years ago by Republic cartoonist Steve Benson after county attorney Tom Collins' investigation of the Phoenix Suns resulted in several indictments on drug charges--primarily cocaine use--of a handful of team members.

"When the drug investigation broke, I was in Hawaii at the Aloha Classic, a tournament for [college basketball] seniors that is now the Desert Classic," he says. "I never went out of my hotel room. I was on the phone the whole time and I was due back in two days. Benson did a cartoon with me and two girls on the beach, and the idea was that I was there on the beach when the bottom was falling out. Now, do you think that is fair? Do you think that is fair?"

He continues, in a broader vein, "I think if someone does something illegal or in question, they are open game. I do not think it is appropriate if someone has achieved a level of success that they should automatically be used as a target.

"But I do not sit around thinking about it and talking about it."
If you want to, you may believe Colangelo isn't thinking and talking about the press at this very moment. But such was not the case when Benson's cartoon came out.

Benson says that impeached governor Evan Mecham once phoned him at home to unleash a two-hour harangue, lecturing that the cartoonist's eternal salvation was at stake if he didn't leave off drawing critical cartoons of the then-governor. Aside from Mecham, Benson says, only Colangelo has called and berated him so personally during his 15 years at the Republic.

"Jerry has been notorious about calling to express his displeasure about stories he felt were spun to deliberately make him feel bad," says Benson of a phenomenon he implies is paperwide. Of his own experiences, he says, "He puts it on a very personal level, right to your gut, and insinuates that any problem he has in his life--with his daughter, his goldfish, his car or wife--is as a result of my cartoon."

He vividly remembers the call that followed the drug-investigation cartoon. "He was emotionally distraught," Benson says of Colangelo. "He called me and demanded that I was going to explain this cartoon to his daughter. He said he was a man of strongly held Christian values and his marriage was a strong one, and how was he going to explain him ogling babes?

"He kept saying, 'What am I going to tell my daughter?' And I finally said, 'Tell her it's a cartoon.'

"Jerry Colangelo was born without a humor gene. It is one of those genetic obstacles he will never be able to surmount."

Benson remembers another irate call, years later, when he had lampooned Colangelo over the Suns' new pay-per-view contract--a move that made many Suns games unavailable to at-home fans unwilling or unable to pay up to $20 on top of cable-TV subscription charges. Says Benson of Colangelo, "He said, 'Benson, this cartoon has caused me a lot of personal problems.' It was my fault! He didn't explain in detail what the personal problems were, and I didn't say, 'I hope that one of them is that the cartoon is causing your conscience to be pricked.'

"He has this idea of, 'You are all against me! How am I, a multimillionaire, going to be able to stand up against you?'

"Have you talked to E.J.? Has he told you how Colangelo told him he was going to 'have his hide'?"

E.J. Montini, Republic columnist, does not mention his hide. He refers, instead, to two columns he wrote last May.

In the first column, Montini criticized a policy announced by Diamondbacks management--since reversed--prohibiting spectators from bringing their own food and drink into the new ballpark, a policy designed to maximize the Diamondbacks' concession revenues. In the follow-up column, Montini described a conversation with Colangelo that the original column had provoked:

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