Jerry Colangelo's secretary is out, and so he answers her phone, even though he's on the way to a press conference and a little late.
"Bob Longhi!" he cries.
Longhi, it turns out, is the owner of a restaurant on Maui that Colangelo frequents. Longhi is not one of Colangelo's dearest friends, but Colangelo is unhurriedly behaving as though he is.
Apparently, Longhi wants Colangelo to grease the chute through which a child--his own or a friend's--might slide into Arizona State University.
"Well, send me information on him so that I'll know what I'm looking at," Colangelo says. "I've just given them a lot of money out there, plus I'm establishing an MBA program in sports management." (This arsenal of leverage seems unnecessary--ASU accepts nearly everyone and is reluctant to expel students no matter what they do--but Colangelo is nonetheless willing to help for the asking.)
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
TicketsTue., Aug. 29, 6:40pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sun
TicketsFri., Sep. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Seattle Sounders 2
TicketsSat., Sep. 2, 7:30pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Atlanta Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
"Oh, Italy was beautiful!" he tells Longhi. "I'll tell you about it later; I've got a great story for you: The McDyess trade was made in the pope's private quarters."
The teaser conjures up some peculiar images until Colangelo later explains the particulars about how Antonio McDyess, the Suns' new star forward, wound up in Phoenix.
"Bryan Colangelo, general manager, had been working that deal for some time with the Denver Nuggets," he remembers. "I took my wife and sister-in-law on a trip to Italy. I had a world cell portable phone with great reception. It was easy to make calls. I didn't know there was such a thing before. I was on the phone with Bryan quite a lot because of the potential transaction. The night before we were in the pope's quarters in the Vatican, we were in a beautiful resort, and I was on the phone every hour until 3:30 in the morning--with Bryan, with Denver.
"The next morning, we drove into Rome, and through a contact had arranged for a private tour in the pope's private quarters, which was quite an experience. They are gorgeous: the history, the beautiful architecture, the gifts that have been given over the years.
"But I had to turn off the cell phone because I was told to. At the exact time that I was in the pope's private quarters, the deal was going down."
Don't you hate it when that happens?
Colangelo is asked, Was the pope there?
"No, he was out of town." As though that was the only thing that had stood between Colangelo and a new best friend.
And maybe that's even true, at least metaphorically. Because outside of Phoenix--although not all the way to Vatican City, perhaps--Colangelo is widely acknowledged as one of the most powerful and savvy sports executives alive. He is a man to know. His colleagues and admirers are unconcerned with the squeals of local taxpayers, many of whom perceive that Colangelo finagled them out of $238 million in taxes that they did not want to spend on a baseball stadium. No, a person who understands and appreciates Colangelo's accomplishments also knows that, in this new age of stadium-driven sports, there's not a gleaming new stadium anywhere in America, or one under construction, that wasn't, in some fashion, slammed down the throats of unwilling commoners who paid for it.
"It would not surprise me if, in order to get a stadium built, he has done whatever he had to do, short of breaking into people's houses and robbing them," says Jack McCallum, veteran writer for Sports Illustrated who covered the National Basketball Association from '85 through '93. "But he is a major, major player nationally. If [NBA Commissioner] David Stern trusts five guys, Jerry Colangelo is one of them. Stern likes to form committees, and he taps Colangelo for committee after committee after committee. He is part of setting policy in the NBA."
Although avowals of Colangelo's position in inner circles are echoed by other national reporters and sports figures--two of whom postulate that Colangelo might succeed David Stern--Stern himself is more circumspect. "I appreciate his vision and am always willing to listen to Jerry's perspective on issues regarding the NBA," he says in a written response to New Times.
Colangelo has finished up with Bob Longhi and is ambling along to his press conference in Bank One Ballpark, a few hundred yards from his expansive office in America West Arena. He enters a room filled with sports writers with mini-recorders, in their jeans and khakis, their golf shirts and sweaters. The guys crowd around Colangelo, shoving their machines into his face, while he answers their questions and advances his own agenda.
He calls upon local politicians to begin dealing with the downtown parking problem 50,000 Diamondbacks fans will create. "We would hope the city and the Valley is going to address transportation problems," he says. "If you want the activities here, then the City of Phoenix has to hold up its end."
It should have surprised no one when, exactly one month later, it was announced that the city would fork over $124,000 to deliver fans to Diamondbacks games from far-flung parking sites. Mayor Skip Rimsza explained this sudden generosity by saying that the city would realize a "windfall" of ballpark-driven sales taxes and that the city should "put some of it back" into the Diamondbacks' needs. Within days, the chatter of public protest prompted a revised plan under which major corporations will be tapped to pay for shuttle-service costs not covered by the modest fees charged to riders.
It was easy to imagine Colangelo orchestrating everything behind the scenes--from Rimsza's wan reasoning to the willingness of corporate honchos to foot the bill instead. Colangelo, often called the most powerful man in Arizona, can raise money from Phoenix business leaders with a phone call. And his influence with the council, particularly in matters pertaining to downtown, is legendary.
"Jerry is the primary arbiter of what goes on downtown," says former mayor Terry Goddard. "Jerry personally decides."
It was Goddard who negotiated with Colangelo to assure that America West Arena would be built downtown when the Suns' president was considering other sites.
Colangelo says he didn't oversee the shuttle arrangements, though, aside from rubbing the council's collective face in the imminent parking crisis. "I was responsible for raising the issue at this late point because they didn't face up to the reality that something had to be done now rather than later," he says. "This is not a baseball shuttle. If they [the city] wanted the structure downtown, there was a responsibility to make sure people could get in and out of downtown, not just on the nights of baseball games but for all of the downtown projects."
He does not add that, if the ballpark weren't opening, there would be no parking crisis.
The informal interviewing over at Bank One Ballpark, everyone adjourns for Honey Bear's barbecue served on paper plates. Colangelo sits at a tableful of reporters who refer to him as "Jer" with frantic familiarity. If it's possible to scrape and bow while sitting down, this assemblage knows how. At one point, KFYI's Paul Hanson asks a real question, though. In the wake of headlines hyping Michael Jordan's intention to retire at the end of this season because of his conflicts with Chicago Bulls management, Hanson asks: "Any chance Michael Jordan will wear a Suns uniform next year, Jer?" Colangelo shoots him a silent glance that is merely inscrutable.
"I'm sorry, Jer," Hanson says.
Dave Burns from KNIX rushes to explain that the question was asked only because of a recent column in the Arizona Republic by Dan Bickley, a recent Chicago transplant. Burns nervously cites each point in Bickley's column that had suggested Jordan was ripe for the picking, particularly by the Phoenix Suns. He looks to Colangelo hopefully, as though for a sign that Hanson has been forgiven. Colangelo glances sideways at Burns.
When lunch is over, Colangelo rises to make a short speech about the stadium and to field more questions. About the controversial stadium, he says mainly that it is likely to make Diamondbacks revenues the third or fourth highest in the major leagues this first year. (More recent projections rank the Diamondbacks fifth or sixth.) This is good news for the Diamondbacks' owners, who will be able to pay off debts and see a return on their investments quickly. It also is, not incidentally, good news for fans, since abundant revenues beget the kind of significant player salaries--such as the $34 million Colangelo is paying for shortstop Jay Bell--that can make the Diamondbacks competitive within a few years.
Colangelo also says that the financing of the stadium should stand as a model for other cities around the country.
To most reporters in most cities where such an inciting deal involving taxpayer dollars has gone down, these would be fighting words.
Here is a representative sampling of the questions posed by reporters after Colangelo's speech:
"What temperature are you aiming for in the ballpark?"
"When will the retractable roof be open or closed?"
"Will you ever let it rain on the grass?"
"Now that the fire alarm has stopped, could you repeat your philosophy about keeping the roof open?"
The press conference completed, Colangelo leans against the railing of the stadium concourse with the one reporter who remains behind. They gaze down into the new green heart of Phoenix baseball. The much-anticipated techno-grass had been reverently laid only a few days before, and the fledgling ballfield is a jewel beneath a canopy of pale sun.
Someone comes up behind Colangelo, a stubby man with a nose like a boxer's. He is Frank Narcisi, just in from the airport. Narcisi is one of Colangelo's childhood friends from his old neighborhood in Chicago Heights. He recently retired as the janitor of Bloom Township High School, which both he and Colangelo attended and where Colangelo was a basketball and baseball star. Narcisi and his wife have long come to Phoenix every year, and Colangelo has always paid their way--airfare, hotels, rental cars, the works. The men embrace.
Later, Narcisi says, "We have stayed at all the best places--the Phoenician, the Hyatt Regency." Why does Colangelo do it? "He is very generous with us [from the old neighborhood]. He does not forget us. He comes back as often as he can, and when he comes, he is one of the guys. Here he is the head of a big corporation. There he is one of the guys and he gets treated the same--no better, no worse. And he loves it. He loves it."
Well, maybe he's not treated quite the same. The street where he used to live is now named after him. The school gym where he played basketball bears his name, too. This year he will ride in the local Fourth of July parade.
Narcisi says the folks at home get fulfillment from "just being able to talk about him, that they know him.
"In Chicago Heights, he is the hero."
The little series of events has consumed about 90 minutes of Colangelo's time, 90 minutes that lead to insights about his intentions and character. And as Bank One Ballpark opens next week in the face of years of antipathy over its funding, questions about Colangelo's intentions and character remain.
Once and for all, did he orchestrate the entire deal--the bringing of Major League Baseball to Phoenix--and wrest local politicians into line with his vision? Is he personally to blame for the quarter-cent sales tax, imposed without citizen consent, that has caused not only outrage but bloodshed, when county supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who voted to impose the tax, was shot in the patoot?
Despite his fondly remembered roots as a poor boy from Chicago Heights, is the man who gets private tours of the pope's quarters still able to empathize with the guy on the street struggling to make the rent? Does he understand the average taxpayer's resentment of the ballpark tax? Have his stories about his impoverished childhood evolved into a shtick?
Why are local journalists so intimidated by him?
What does power mean to this man, born a Catholic but now a born-again, fundamentalist Protestant? He behaves kindly when confronted with, for instance, a dear old friend or even a middling one with a kid who wants to be a Sun Devil. But does he act out his oft-professed ideals of moral behavior when operating in the world of bad-boy professional sports, where it is impossible to hire entire teams of gifted Boy Scouts?
Are his ethics only convenient?
What is it about Colangelo that has made it possible for him to accomplish so much downtown? Ten years ago, it would have seemed impossible that Bank One Ballpark's massive arch would fly in the downtown skyline, next door to Colangelo's state-of-the-art basketball venue, America West Arena. There had been too many failed attempts to jump-start an area so dissolute that, when Margaret Mullen, now head of the Phoenix Downtown Partnership, first came here as a consultant for downtown in '71, the area consisted of bars and flophouses. As she toured, she was assigned her own police officer because it was considered unsafe for a woman to walk the streets alone. When she entered buildings, the officer confiscated handguns from street people loitering near entrances; when she left, he returned the weapons to their owners, telling Mullen the guns posed no real danger to her: The street people only used them on each other.
The city's core, dead because our cars carried development with them into the seemingly limitless Valley, has been the killing field for many ambitious projects: Square One, planned as retail project for a decade and never built; Estelle's Bistro, a show-stopping restaurant on Monroe Street during the Eighties; hotel deals that withered as developers compared our graveyard to Scottsdale's playground for guests. Fife Symington's Mercado. Developers like Symington and Square One's Julian Blum have been ruined in attempts to bring the city center to life.
Yet there has apparently been no stumbling (or failure) for Colangelo, who is widely credited with single-handedly resuscitating downtown. It isn't true, of course; others have taken risks, perhaps most notably the Rouse Company, whose Arizona Center, planned throughout the late 1980s and finished in 1990, predates the Suns' arena. It even predates the citizen bond initiative that, in 1988, poured $100 million into the building of Will Bruder's spectacular new library, the renovation of Phoenix Art Museum, the Phoenix and Herberger theaters, the refurbishing of the jewel-like Orpheum Theatre, the Phoenix Museum of History and its partner across the courtyard--the concrete monstrosity known as the Arizona Science Center.
Phoenix residents, led by then-mayor Terry Goddard, whose cultural vision for the city has never been matched, had shown their commitment to downtown before Jerry Colangelo's America West Arena came into the picture.
But there is little doubt that much of what has happened since couldn't and wouldn't have without Colangelo.
How has he done it? Who is this guy?
In nearly six hours of interviews with Colangelo, New Times posed these questions and many more. What emerged was the kind of philosophical dialogue in which Colangelo has not engaged in our memory. What also emerged was a telling portrait of an extremely complex man who sincerely wants to do right, who can infinitely rationalize what is right, and whose hair-trigger sensitivity to any form of public criticism is surprising in one who has achieved wealth, exalted position and nearly unqualified respect from his peers.
Here, in his own words and those of his critics and fans, is the Colangelo we have come to know. We acknowledge that behind this man's alternately probing and shielded eyes there is still a man we will never know. We wonder how well he knows himself.
I Did It for You
Test yourself: Are there some parts of Colangelo's early life you haven't already heard?
He was a poor kid from an Italian-American neighborhood in Chicago Heights known as "Hungry Hill."
His grandfather was a janitor.
He won't talk about his father, saying only that there was "a lot of bad feeling." A Colangelo intimate says that, during his adolescence, he literally threw his father down the stairs and banned him from the house to protect his mother from physical abuse.
"The good news is this," says Colangelo, who likes to put a positive spin on things. "After all those years of hurt and some bitterness and disappointment, there was a reconciliation [between his parents] before my mother died last May. And it took place in this office."
Colangelo says he arranged it himself.
His work ethic evolved early. Young Colangelo caddied and delivered newspapers twice a day, beginning at age 9 or 10. At 5:30 a.m., his grandfather provided a wake-up call by hitting exposed water pipes; when Colangelo stumbled downstairs, his grandfather greeted him with a fresh cup of coffee, "and sometimes just a spot of whiskey, to keep me warm," Colangelo says. The night his grandfather died, a ball game was scheduled. "I went out and pitched a no-hitter, crying, because I was doing it for him," Colangelo says.
He was a natural leader and athlete. It was the latter that shaped his life most immediately: By high school graduation, he'd received 66 college scholarship offers for basketball and seven for baseball. He ended up shooting hoops for the University of Illinois. He was team captain by his senior year and was eventually inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame.
The rest--his brief stint working for the Chicago Bulls organization; his arrival in Phoenix in 1967 as general manager of a new, colorless NBA franchise, the Phoenix Suns; his cobbling together of a group to purchase the Suns in 1987; their rise to near-glory; the acquisition of the Diamondbacks--is also well-known history.
But it is "Hungry Hill" that Colangelo talks about most whenever a reporter is in earshot. Again and again, he says that, although he may appear to be a rich man who conducts business on a world cell portable, works in a large office of mahogany built-ins on thick Oriental rugs behind massive windows that provide a panoramic view of his personal downtown, he is actually (as old friend Narcisi put it) just "one of the guys."
"I keep repeating it because I have to keep repeating it," he says. "I am still the same guy from the old neighborhood. . . . I need to cling to the past and those memories. That is the balancing act I go through.
"I try to go back at least a few times a year. I go back because it is kind of soul-cleansing. It keeps my feet on the ground and close to the people I come from."
"We all have things in our past that we wish had never taken place, so when you do cling to the past, that can only happen with selective, positive memory."
"You are also almost embarrassed by the level of success," he says. "It is easy to be a little bit embarrassed and to minimize it by talking about the past to take the focus away from success.
"I have known throughout my career, all the way back to Little League baseball, that many people were living through me vicariously, and I have always felt that I carried that proudly on my back. They [old neighbors] take great pleasure in everything I have done. And no one has ever come out of that neighborhood that achieved what I have been able to achieve.
"I have always felt that I carried the people here, too. That is what drives me. I feel a sense of community about being a traveling ambassador.
"The joy that I will take in seeing people enjoy this team, and the attention it will bring to this community, is my satisfaction. Money is a by-product."
At one point in this recitation, he explodes a little with frustration. "The problem with all this is that it is going to sound so self-serving!" he says.
Well, such purity of intent is a little hard to swallow when you've got a $238 million tax problem stuck in your throat.
But business associates in particular say that there is a certain purity about the man. Sports agent Herb Rudoy, who has known and negotiated with Colangelo for 30 years, thinks highly of him. "He is a very honorable man," he says. "When you make a deal with him and you do not execute the contract for a month, nothing will change with him. If your player breaks both of his legs during that time, you still have a deal. It is very unusual. You know when you have his word that it is finished. With many people running teams, you cannot trust their word."
Says David Falk, agent to the superstars of sports, including Michael Jordan: "When I deal with Jerry, I feel that I am dealing on a higher plane than average." (Falk has represented Suns players Dennis Scott and Rex Chapman.)
There is a fairly endless supply of intimates, heads of charities and community leaders poised to extoll Colangelo's honesty and his sincere interest in and dedication to Phoenix--an interest that is fairly rare in this era of independently wealthy sports franchise owners who frequently don't even live in their teams' cities and who treat the teams themselves as expensive toys.
"I think he is a hero!" says Rudoy. "I think Phoenix owes him a great debt of gratitude."
Not one of these admirers, including Colangelo himself, can seem to understand that a great number of Colangelo's community wish he had not been quite so good to us.
You're Nobody 'til Everybody Loves You
It is very difficult to discuss the history of Bank One Ballpark's funding with Colangelo. Difficult to break through to see if he has ever understood citizens' resentment to paying a quarter-cent sales tax they opposed by a large majority. (An Arizona Republic poll, published the morning Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to impose the tax in the evening, showed that county voters were two-to-one against. In his recent interviews with New Times, Colangelo consistently dismissed naysayers as "fringe.")
It is difficult to discuss stadium funding, in large part because Colangelo cannot seem to grasp the question: Do you think it would have made a difference if you had ever acknowledged the taxpayers' pain and point of view?
Apparently he cannot understand because he feels so personally misunderstood.
He explains again that he did not plot to make imposition of the tax possible. That the legislation allowing the Board of Supervisors to impose the stadium tax--without voter input and immune to a citizen referendum--was introduced by former state legislator Chris Herstam. It was passed by the Legislature in June of 1990, on behalf of Phoenix Firebirds owner Martin Stone, who was trying to land an expansion franchise for Phoenix. (This is true. And Colangelo has always taken a bum rap for taking advantage of the beneficial legislation once it was in place. Moguls don't become moguls by worrying that a perfectly legal enabler in a huge business deal is not a proper exercise in democracy. The fact that businessmen give no quarter does not make them devils walking among us, either.)
Colangelo explains further, again, that he never sought to be involved in the baseball initiative--that former county supervisor Jim Bruner and Joe Garagiola Jr. brought the issue to him and asked him to spearhead the effort to lure an expansion franchise. That he is so innocent of self-interest that at first he told Bruner and Garagiola no.
(Bruner remembers it differently. He confirms that he and Garagiola asked Colangelo to step up to bat, so to speak, but says that Colangelo never turned them down. At the first meeting, Bruner says, Colangelo was surprised by the proposal and merely noncommittal. Bruner says he and Garagiola left Colangelo's office feeling very positive about the meeting.
And sports agent Rudoy, who says he has shared many personal talks with Colangelo over the years, also wonders whether Colangelo's claim that he didn't plan any of this is disingenuous. "He knows his marketplace and he wanted a baseball team for a long time, and he put it together. It was no accident," says Rudoy.)
Later, says Colangelo, he researched the condition of baseball and concluded that, because of his history of transforming the Suns organization, he believed he could do the same with an expansion baseball team.
"This was not me buying a team," he says. (He is a partial owner and, as managing general partner, oversees everyone who runs the team.) "This was the community getting a team for the community." Referring to the team's primary investors, he adds, "Look who owns it: Every major bank--Bank One, Bank of America. And who owns the banks? The stockholders. Also Central Newspapers, Arizona Public Service, Phelps Dodge, America West Airlines. Every major corporate citizen is involved."
There is no awareness in him that a list of merchant princes does not make the Diamondbacks a team of the people. But whatever.
The question was not whether you were to blame for the tax. Do you think you might have quelled public resentment if you had ever acknowledged that, to the average person, the stadium deal was painful?
"I said again and again, 'If we started from scratch and the county was going to put $250 million into something, I would personally put building a ballpark way down the list. I would put $250 million into the homeless situation, $250 million for transportation, water, infrastructure, the schools. But this was not [brought to me by the county as] a multiple choice.'"
That is not the same thing. Again, that is about whether you are to blame. If you had acknowledged--
"The media had a hot issue! It was a great forum! The amount of attention given the anti-tax people was extraordinary. And the more I said, the worse it got.
"One of the worst things that has ever happened to sports is the radio talk show," he continues, hearkening to the unfortunate day last summer when supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was shot in the behind by a deranged homeless man who said he targeted Wilcox because of her vote for the stadium tax. In the days that followed the shooting, Wilcox blamed talk-show hosts, particularly KFYI's Bob Mohan, for whipping listeners into a frenzy over the tax issue.
"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:
"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."
Colangelo's concept of "fair" is demonstrably sweeping and unpredictable.
And thus is a roomful of sports reporters transformed into a bunch of soft-pedalers who only want to know when Bank One Ballpark's retractable roof will be open.
The threat of lost access may be the smaller part of some reporters' fear of Colangelo, however. Those who work for Central Newspapers--which publishes the Republic and the Arizona Business Gazette--must also deal with their employer's conflict of interest. Central Newspapers owns part of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colangelo's friendship with Chip Weil, president and CEO of Central Newspapers, is well-known.
Individual reporters deny they are told to go light on Colangelo by anyone other than Colangelo. In Sunday's "Reader's Advocate" column, Richard De Uriarte went to great lengths to deny that executives pressure or influence reporters covering Colangelo and his enterprises. But the nature of the pressure brought to bear on the Republic by Colangelo's organizations is clearly implicated in a 1996 letter to John Oppedahl, publisher of the Republic, from Richard Dozer, president of the Arizona Diamondbacks (whose late father was once a sportswriter for the Phoenix Gazette). Leaked to and published by New Times last year, the letter reveals a shocking expectation of favoritism on Dozer's part. Dozer made unreasonable demands with such confidence that his letter can be interpreted as part of an ongoing dialogue.
Dozer wrote to Oppedahl to complain about a news story that proffered this thesis: The City of Phoenix is likely to receive only a small percentage of the $128 million in shared profits promised by the Phoenix Suns during the America West Arena negotiations, primarily because profit-sharing payments to the city will increase gradually over the next 40 years, with 81 percent of the money to be paid in the final 10 years of the Suns' contract. The Republic reporters pointed out that there is no guarantee the facility would last 40 years, since few arenas live past 30.
By most accounts, it wasn't a negative article. Nonetheless, it apparently wasn't positive enough to suit Dozer, one of Colangelo's top executives. He wrote that the reporters had omitted a key fact: that in '94, Colangelo had voluntarily renegotiated the arena deal in favor of the city, significantly increasing its portion of profit-sharing after realizing that the original deal had been poorly estimated by the city and the Suns' consultants.
This was hardly the point of the story, which was that with 81 percent of the city's payments delayed past the date the arena was likely to be used, the city was unlikely to see much of what was owed, no matter the total. Nonetheless, Dozer wrote that he believed mention of Colangelo's generous renegotiation had been omitted "intentionally."
"Also, I think it's very important to stress in an article like this that the Arena was funded by [car] rental and bed taxes," Dozer advised Oppedahl.
Countless letters of complaint are received by countless newspaper executives every year (although these letters are usually addressed to an editor, not the publisher). The most demanding of these are usually written by lawyers and involve libel. These letters commonly demand a correction or retraction.
But libel lawyers are no match for Dozer, who also wanted action. Not a simple "rebuttal," though (he probably meant "retraction," since papers so rarely rebut their own stories), but a series of assurances. He asked that columnist Montini be "headed off" from writing a column about the story. (He never wrote one.) He asked that any letters to the editor critical of the arena deal, received as a result of the story, not be published "because, once again, they weren't based on the whole story." And finally, he wrote, "We believe there might be a time for an editorial written by one of your writers about the solid benefits of the Arena and how great of a deal it turned out to be . . ."
Dozer's letter was a recapitulation of a phone conversation already held with Oppedahl, and was familiar in its tone.
Perhaps it represented Colangelo's view of "fair" media coverage.
Colangelo's tirades and attempts to mold coverage go beyond reporters to their sources, according to one account.
Janice Goldstein is executive director of the Arizona Trial Lawyers' Association, which bills itself as representing consumers. She says Colangelo phoned her in mid-February and threatened her.
Colangelo says he did no such thing and that Goldstein, in her zeal to undo legislation she opposes, is "using" him.
Goldstein's organization has been working at the Legislature to defeat the so-called "baseball-limited immunity bill," which would make it impossible for fans to sue if they were injured at a ballpark. In an article by Republic reporter Mike McCloy, she branded the legislation the "Colangelo Protection Act." She says that about 10 days after that article was published, Colangelo phoned her to ask why she thought the bill was designed to protect him.
"I said, 'The first sentence in the bill says, "The owner of a baseball team cannot be held liable," and you are one,'" Goldstein says. "I said, 'There is not one person at the Legislature who does not think this bill is about you.'"
Says Colangelo of the exchange, "I did not say 'enemies.' I said, 'I have a long memory.'" Why? "Well, for one thing she was a smart aleck on the phone with me. I called specifically with one request, and that was to ask her to not make this issue personal [by attaching his name to it]. I told her that it was not appropriate to make it about me."
Goldstein asserts that Colangelo did indeed tell her, "I know my enemies," and that his claim that he merely wanted to depersonalize the issue is outlandish. She says he "absolutely" tried to dissuade her from opposing the bill, which has since been watered down.
"I have been a lobbyist for 20 years and have never felt threatened," she says. "Clearly that was his intent."
"I am not trying to threaten her at all," Colangelo says. Throughout his interviews with New Times, he frequently spoke of the pain of being scapegoated and "used" by the media because he is in the public eye.
"This is a very good example of being used," he says of Goldstein's claims. "That is amazing. That is absolute amazing."
Whether or not he pressured Goldstein, he has pressured others.
Many guesses circulate, some already posed here, regarding the reasons for Colangelo's hypersensitivity. Perhaps the one closest to Colangelo's own comes from Margaret Mullen, a personal friend of Colangelo's who heads the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.
She refers first to Colangelo's well-known role as a benefactor to local charities, to his investor status in the Orpheum Theatre, the Arizona Science Center, the Phoenix Symphony, the ASU downtown center--"investments" that will never see a profit because of the organizations' nonprofit status.
She says that he does so much, and is acknowledged so little, that he is frustrated.
"I used to think he wanted people to like him," she says. "Now I think he just wants people to understand that he is not doing all this for the money. He is rich, but not from the arena and stadium. He is rich because he took a risk on the Suns when they were going down the toilet and he turned them around, and that franchise is worth a lot of money now.
"He gets tired, feeling that all he gets is crap and not a thank you. And he also feels that the people who talk him into [projects and charities] don't stand with him during the tough times, particularly politicians." (Surely she can't mean Mary Rose Wilcox, who still has a slug in her butt.)
Less charitable is the Republic's Benson. "I think that Jerry has an insatiable need to prove that he is successful, lovable, acceptable," he says. "If he could build a sphinx with his face on it, he would."
Religion and Politics
He is a Christian man. The story of his conversion is a simple one.
As a child in an Italian-American family, he was raised a Roman Catholic. He learned his catechism dutifully and attended weekly Mass. His mother delivered him to a Catholic school on his first day. "After half an hour, I was asked to leave," he says. "The daughter of a lawyer was given my seat; it was the last seat. There weren't many lawyers in my neighborhood."
He attended public schools.
In college he met his wife, Joan. "She was different than most girls I had known," he says. "As I came to know her, I realized that she was a Christian and had a different outlook in life than me." The two were married in college.
After graduation, Colangelo went into the tuxedo-rental business with a friend from the old neighborhood. The friend promised him a partnership. When the partnership did not materialize after several years, he walked away. "It was a matter of what had been agreed to never being put on paper," he says. He was deeply disappointed in his friend.
Colangelo had lost direction. He began to attend church with Joan and found as a born-again what he had never found in Catholicism: a personal relationship with God.
"As a young guy, I was very self-reliant," he says. "At that point, I realized I needed more than what was inside of me. I became less self-reliant and more dependent on having this personal relationship with Christ. And a year and a half after that, the Chicago Bulls opportunity became a reality, and a year and a half after that, we came to Arizona."
He says he has "put some time into the pecking order of life. I know that my faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ is number one. Number two is family. Number three is work. The most difficult thing to do is continually keep that in mind.
"Those who are unable to keep things in perspective end up falling by the wayside," he says. "I have seen successful business people who have lost family and relationships, who are lost souls.
"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.
A theme heard around town is that, if he's so all-fired focused on team character, Colangelo should not have allowed any of these hotshots to continue to play.
It's a fairly silly point. Colangelo is a businessman playing in the big leagues, literally, where the inflated salaries of star employees can easily translate into feelings that the rules are for underlings. Whatever efforts he puts into recruiting men of good character--and he refers to careful background checks that turn up such red flags as emotional problems, drug use and illegitimate children--he is also personally competitive and in the business of trying to win championships. Sometimes his best chances lie with the slicksters, as was the case with Charles Barkley.
(Not that he ever has won a championship. The Suns have twice gone to the NBA Finals, in '76 and '93, but never all the way. Says Sports Illustrated's Verducci, "There is this national reputation that Jerry Colangelo is the man with the magic touch. But he has never won a championship." Is he overrated? "In terms of the sports business, no," Verducci says. "In terms of what he has done for downtown Phoenix, it is definitely an A-plus. But if you are just a sports fan and your bottom line is wins and losses, the answer is yes.")
Colangelo refuses to discuss his reasons for retaining players who've disgraced themselves personally, saying, "We are not going far down this road, because I know things you don't know."
The exception is that he wants to talk about Charles Barkley, perhaps the most beloved Sun ever to play in the Valley.
"The fact is that when Charles Barkley came here, I felt we offered him a wonderful opportunity to change his m.o., his reputation. He was excited to get out of Philadelphia and get a new start. And I very specifically talked about: This could be a great experience for him, he could retire from here.
"And I asked him to lead in a positive way, not a negative way. And the fact is, Charles is Charles. Most people looked the other way when a lot of things happened here. It was only a matter of time before he wore out his welcome. He chose to leave on his own terms."
He continues, "There is leadership on the court and off the court, and leadership off the court was just as important to us. It always has been and it always will be.
"I do believe professional athletes are role models." He is referring to Barkley's infamous statements, including a national commercial, wherein he reminded parents that he isn't a role model and they should raise their own kids. "Young people look up to professional athletes, so there is a responsibility to the public. If somebody is not able to accept that, they should not be an athlete. They should go pump gas or work in an office.
"I would never say a negative word about Charles Barkley in terms of his ability to perform. Ninety-nine out of 100 he went out there and got it done. His lifestyle off the court was something I was very disappointed in because it was a reflection on our organization.
"He wore out his welcome."
When Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets, the departure was played in the press as though Barkley, yearning for a championship he felt would not be won here, forced the trade. Colangelo is now implying that Barkley found a good situation for himself when he realized Suns management was ready to trade him.
Colangelo's spin on the story could be interpreted as sour grapes over his star's departure. Conversely, Barkley's behavior at the time of leave-taking could have been a matter of personal face-saving that management allowed to go on.
We will probably never know the full story. But if Colangelo's intention had anything to do with gaining more stable players with the Barkley trade, he made a poor deal. The four players received from the Rockets for Barkley included Sam Cassell, a talented but well-known flake, and Robert Horry, a brooding underachiever who would eventually make ESPN's SportsCenter for throwing in the towel--directly in Danny Ainge's face. Both Cassell and Horry were soon traded. One of the other two former Rockets, Chucky Brown, has moved on. Only power forward Mark Bryant remains with the Suns.
(A spokesman for the Houston Rockets tells New Times that Barkley refuses phone interviews and could not respond to Colangelo's statements. A written request to the Rockets, attached to a copy of Colangelo's comments, elicited no response.)
None of this explains why Colangelo kept Barkley on long after the Suns president understood Barkley's dark side. Neither should the point need explaining: Any good manager will give a thousand chances to a player of Barkley's ability.
As for other tarnished players, all of them are gone except for KJ, against whom nothing was ever proved and who is now part owner of the Suns. A knowledgeable insider of the sports industry says that Johnson regards Colangelo as a father figure. He also says, "I think he [Johnson] does a lot of good within the community and it was viewed as a one-time thing. I also think [management] looked at what he didn't do [which was have intercourse with the teenager who accused him], compared to what some athletes do. I mean, teenage girls just throw themselves at him." He adds, "For years there were gay rumors about him, and in one way the story actually helped his image."
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."
Others are more specific about Colangelo's ability to get a seeming thousand things completed at once.
"He will not take no for an answer from anybody--from government, from other business leaders, from me," says Mullen. She remembers Phoenix's NBA All-Star weekend in the winter of '95, when parties for VIPs were planned at several downtown sites. Mullen pronounced the scenario impossible because of security risks that would be created as revelers traipsed from one soiree to another. "He said, 'Pretend like you work for Nike, Margaret. Just do it.'"
She points also to the streetscape projects along Monroe, Adams and Second streets, implemented start-to-finish in 23 weeks in preparation for the All-Stars. "City staff came in and said, 'It is not possible for you to do this project in 23 weeks.' Jerry said, 'We can do it.' He looked at me and said, 'You can do it.'
"He never lets anybody convince him that something cannot be done. But he is also really good at getting others on board."
And thus, says nearly everyone, he has brought downtown to the moment of its renaissance. At last week's ballpark dedication, Mullen whooped that the new ball team's economic impact will exceed $300 million a year. That about 1,500 jobs will be created.
According to its boosters, it's a panacea, this new monument in which the Diamondbacks will play. (Play and lose this season, according to knowledgeable sources. Says Sports Illustrated's Verducci of the Diamondbacks, "They're not terrible. Expansion teams used to be terrible. But they have absolutely no depth. They will lose 90 games."
Says Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter, "Tom [Verducci] is a writer I respect. I think we'll lose more than 90 games.")
Economists are not so sure our flashy ballpark will be much of a boon to the local economy, however. Experts who study the effects of ballparks and stadiums say that the venues don't make much difference in the end, except to matters of community spirit.
"I would not tell people not to vote for a stadium," says Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College and co-editor with Roger Noll of Stanford of Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums. "Just don't do it because you think it is going to help the economy."
In their book, Zimbalist, Noll and other economists have studied effects from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Nineties of new stadiums on their cities. They have taken apart local claims that these venues are a shower of greenbacks for their communities, and have concluded that jobs and sales taxes are not created by stadiums, they are merely relocated by them. That someone working at a downtown hotel is simply not working at a hotel in Scottsdale. That a family of four that forks out $100 or more per ballpark outing will cut budgetary corners and not spend that same money on movies, in bowling alleys or by frequenting a Burger King drive-through.
The authors also assert that stadiums actually cause money to flow out of the local economy. That the majority of the money spent at ball games will go to team owners and their players. Owners are usually well-heeled already and will put their share of the money into investments that involve the international economy. Players, whose careers are short, are even more likely to invest than spend, according to Zimbalist.
To run any of this by Colangelo is to be witness to a minor explosion. "There are those who believe in the economic benefit based on development and there are those who say these are just recirculated dollars!" he cries, as though the issue is a matter of faith. "Every time a story appears about economic benefit, the same two professors are quoted. People who sit in an office and have never been in the trenches."
"I am in the trenches as much or more than Jerry Colangelo," responds Zimbalist. "I go to sporting events and I get invited to consult on these projects, so I have a broad base. Plus, I do not have an ax to grind.
"Jerry Colangelo and his cohorts are in the business of getting cities to finance these stadiums and that is why he says what he says. Any owner I have ever spoken to does not get these studies because they have not thought about it in analytical terms. There is no reason for them to. And there is reason for them not to.
"My cousin is Abe Pollin, who owns the Washington Capitals [a hockey franchise] and the [NBA's] Washington Wizards. In my view, he is one of the more advanced people intellectually [among team owners]. I was on a panel with him in November, and I went through the arguments about why there is not a positive economic impact. His response was that he has hired economic studies done by eminent accounting firms that showed there was an economic impact.
"These accounting firms are in the business to legitimize these projects. Their sole concern is pleasing the owner and politicians. They are very biased and, unfortunately, they are using methodologies they don't understand."
So we will just have to see. Mullen cites significant retail and housing projects going in downtown--perhaps most interestingly, loft-style condominiums planned for Buchanan Street by local Tom Pacione, who describes himself as an "entrepreneur type, okay?", and who is emphatic that he wouldn't have considered his project except for the stadium. His proposed lofts sound like just the sort of big-city urban living experience that city boosters have long hoped for.
Even Zimbalist concedes that, while stadiums only recirculate dollars, they can improve a downtown if further development follows.
And maybe that concern isn't most essential today, as the ballpark prepares to open. Many Phoenicians are in the clutches of Diamondbacks fever. They have their team and their official hats and balls and tee shirts. They crowd into the ballpark for a preview whenever it is open to the public. Although the odious sales tax is not forgotten, it is certainly fading.
"The money will keep popping up whenever any little problem happens at the stadium," predicts Montini. "It will be drowned out for a while, but it will keep popping up and be annoying, like a mild chronic skin infection, but not really threatening."
Perhaps it will truly be as Colangelo always dreamed it.
Colangelo is asked, Are the built-ins in your office mahogany? Are the rugs Oriental?
"Why does everyone write about the furniture in my office and the kind of suits I wear?" he asks. "I want to be remembered for who I am, not what I am. I would not like to be known as one who had all this success. But if that is mentioned, I want it to be emphasized that I was an honorable person who was a good husband and family man, and member of his community who wanted to bring as much positive attention to his community as he could."
But your wealth--your office, your suits--is part of who you are.
Also, I want to thank you for giving me all this time. I want to thank you up-front, because you won't like the article.
"What are you going to say?"
That your standards for how others should perceive you is impossibly high. That you want them to see you as you see yourself, and that perception won't happen between someone with your resources and the guy in the street who's worried about his kid's doctor bills.
"Those are the people who you would like to get one-on-one and say, 'I know what you are going through. Because I have been there.'"
That isn't going to change anyone's mind. You will still be seen as a rich guy. You are a rich guy.
And you can't get one-on-one with everyone.
You expect too much.
He asks, as though he isn't sure and as though it is a knowable thing: "Does that make me a bad man?"
No. Just a man who will know a lot of disappointment and frustration.
He considers a moment. He says without ambivalence:
"If given a choice of being disappointed and frustrated or being thick-skinned or oblivious, I choose the former. Because if I ever accepted the latter, it would be a real inconsistency in my life, to be hard and cold. If that is the way I have to deal with life because there are people who say, 'He's a rich guy,' then I will continue saying until it is over: If they ever got to know me personally, they would have a different impression."
Contact Deborah Laake at her online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.