Colangelo's Not the Real Local Hero

"I just wish that sometimes your paper could say 'Thank you' rather than taking shots!" Jerry Colangelo bellowed over the phone in October, the last time I was able to reach him for comment on his business endeavors.

The Godfather of Phoenix sports was angry because I had dared to put him in the same cover story with a hippie artist who has actually used her own money to redevelop parts of downtown Phoenix.

Colangelo was insulted to be in the same story with Beatrice Moore -- a flower-power peacenik who has dedicated much of her life to revitalizing a stretch of Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix by giving the oddballs and creative types a place to do their thing.

She's bought warehouses nobody wanted. Used her own sweat to refurbish them, creating spaces where artists can live and work. As the bohemians moved in, the crack dealers and lowlifes were pushed out.

A community was reborn -- with virtually no help from the city of Phoenix.

I wouldn't call that bad company to be associated with in an article on the future of downtown Phoenix. But Jerry saw it otherwise.

"To be used as a counter to Beatrice Moore was just demeaning," Colangelo whined.

What's the problem, Jerry?

Is it her peasant dress you don't like?

Or the fact that, unlike you, she's made her business plan succeed without the benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money -- cash that you have masterfully leveraged into a tidy family fortune?

Demeaning? I'll tell you what's demeaning, Jerry.

In fact, I'll give you 400 million examples of demeaning.

On April 16, you sat inside your palace called America West Arena and announced the sale of the Phoenix Suns for $400 million.

And you never even thanked us -- the men and women whose money has been used to help you build a financial empire and secure your hallowed spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

It's not surprising that Jerry's got it backward about who should be thanking whom.

After all, at the conclusion of the news conference announcing the sale of the Suns, most of the fawning Phoenix press corps gave the Colangelo family's financial windfall a standing ovation.

What in God's name were these geeks jumping to their feet over?

Jerry Colangelo's a wealthy man because the citizens of this city are dumping millions of dollars a year into his play pen. He should be walking around downtown Phoenix shaking every hand he can shake, saying: "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

But of course he doesn't have time for such displays of gratitude. He's too busy worrying about his legacy.

At the big press conference, Colangelo did recognize (kind of) that he's had a little help along the way.

"There are a lot of people that need to be talked about here," he said. "Our organization, our players, the management team, the city of Phoenix, who has been a great partner of ours in building this arena. And serving as a terrific partner: our sponsors, our advertisers."

Not a word of thanks to the taxpayers who have provided and will continue to fork over huge sums of money that allow Jerry Colangelo and his partners to laugh all the way to the bank.

"Yes, this is the highest price ever paid for an NBA franchise. It's $400 million," Colangelo said proudly.

Of this, $200 million will be cash paid by the new owners, led by Richard Sarver, a San Diego banker and real estate developer who hails from Tucson. Sarver's group will also assume $200 million of Suns debt.

When you take into account that the team was purchased in 1987 for $44.5 million, it's clear that the pockets of Jerry and his partners are stuffed with cold cash.

Colangelo has a 20 percent stake in the team -- meaning he could clear about $40 million in cash, before taxes.

What accounts for this significant run-up in the value of the Suns to set the record price for the sale of an NBA franchise?

It's not like Colangelo's team dominated the league. The team likes to brag that the Suns have the fifth-best overall record in the NBA. So what?

During the 16 years Colangelo owned the team, the Suns made it to the NBA Finals only once, losing to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in six games in 1993.

While they were in the playoffs almost every year and generally fielded competitive squads, the Suns were a clear notch below the dominant teams of this period: the Bulls, the Detroit Pistons, the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs -- all of which won at least two titles.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty