Our Hero

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

"Looks like fans will be able to bring food and drink into the Bank One Ballpark after all," he wrote. "Some fans, anyway. Mr. Jerry Colangelo told me personally Wednesday.

"Just after he happened to mention, in passing, that I might be a miserable s.o.b. Which was prefaced by a comment about how I was abandoning my Italian roots every time I 'attacked' him. Which was preceded by an offhand reference to the fact that he'd just spoken about me--to my publisher.

"Which all began with Colangelo saying, shortly after he got on the telephone, 'I appreciate the condolences (for his recently deceased mother), but I have nothing more to say to you.'

"About an hour later, the boss of the Arizona Diamondbacks was still answering my original question, which had to do with bringing food and drink into the Bank One Ballpark."

Montini also says in an interview that he doesn't understand completely why Colangelo takes such offense: "He did take advantage of the [ballpark enabling] legislation, and he had to know from the beginning that there would be anger and resentment."

Also that maybe he understands a little better than others why Colangelo takes offense: "You criticize any element of his organization at all and you're criticizing him personally," Montini says. "It's like an extended Italian family thing: Anyone in the family can criticize anyone in the family. But if someone from outside criticizes your cousin Dominic, says he is crazy, and he is crazy, you are still going to have to deal with me."

There are many other examples of Colangelo's testiness with the press. Slightly legendary among scribes is a snit he threw in '94 after the Mesa Tribune's Suns beat reporter, Mike Tulumello, followed up New Times' scoop about an alleged sex party attended by several members of the Suns. At that party, Charles Barkley reportedly acted as procurer for former Sun Oliver Miller. After seeing the Tribune's story, Colangelo phoned Tulumello, who formerly wrote for New Times, and told him to "get his fat ass back to New Times." (Tulumello does not provide details, but he does confirm the incident.)

Until the interviews granted for this story, New Times has not had access to Colangelo or the Suns organization since June of '94, when former New Times reporter Darrin Hostetler broke the sex-party story based on a police report of what was described by a victim as a "rape" by Oliver Miller. (The victim did not press charges.)

News organizations like to brag that they have printed any given story first, but an important aspect of Hostetler's "breaking" the sex-party story is that it easily could have gone another way: The police report had been available to other news organizations for weeks and had not been disclosed.

Which brings up another aspect of Colangelo's relationship with the press, which is that he does not merely chew out its members when they cross him. Directly or indirectly, he tries to shape their coverage.

Despite Colangelo's frustration with individual stories, everyone reading the voluminous file of his local news coverage would find that it has been largely positive and sometimes worshipful.

Which is not to say that Colangelo hasn't been frequently involved in events that could have resulted in clamorous media eruptions: the '87 indictment of several team members for drug use; the personal scandals of team members--Barkley, Miller, Kevin Johnson, Jerrod Mustaf; the deals cut with local governments for America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark, both of which were built with public money.

None of these issues has prompted the mad-dog press reaction that would have chased Colangelo down hallways in other major cities.

You are so thin-skinned. How would you have survived the reaction of the press to you in New York or Chicago? he is asked.

"I'm not in New York or Chicago, and I don't have to worry about it," he says.

"If some people perceive that I have received positive press, why is that? People come to certain conclusions when dealing with me and the organization."

Yes, he appears to have kept his nose clean. There have been no revelations of shady business deals or illegal behavior, which is more than can be said for owners of other professional sports franchises.

Denise deBartolo York became chairman of the San Francisco 49ers late last year, when her brother Edward stepped down in the face of a possible federal indictment for fraud in a Louisiana casino license deal. Until then, the 49ers had been considered a model pro football franchise--much as the Suns are in basketball.

Former Colorado Rockies owner Mickey Monus has been in a federal prison since his conviction last year for fraud charges involving the Phar-Mor Corporation.

But there is more to the kowtowing of the local press toward Colangelo than that he lives within the law.

Local reporters, particularly sportswriters, need to maintain access to the man and organization at the heart of Arizona's most vital sports information. This man says, "I do not expect any favor except that a [news] person be fair. And when they are not fair, it is over."

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