A couple years ago at a function honoring Jerry Colangelo, I overhead a critic grumbling, “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. The guy’s made a whole pile of money.” I didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t help thinking, “He sure did, and how fortunate we are that he made it in our town.”

Jerry Colangelo was inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor on November 4. 

(NBAE Photos)

Talk about giving back to the community!

If it was a good day for Jerry when he arrived in Phoenix in 1968, it was an even better day for the Valley. Not just for basketball and baseball, but for just about every aspect of Valley life.

As the all-purpose go-to guy here for most of the last four decades Jerry not only was the driving force for in building the Suns from the ground up, but was also the driving force behind the new arena that kept the franchise here. And along the way he built such a reputation for getting things done that Major League Baseball agreed to put a franchise here only if he would agree to get involved.

And as impressive as his sports legacy is, he is about a lot more than sports. He was also the driving force in civic and charitable activities and, as the song they played during the moving halftime Ring of Honor ceremonies said, he did it all his way — which is to say with class.

Most people who become such powerful forces in a community usually are heads of big corporations or wealthy philanthropists, or holders of powerful public office, or the like.

But when Colangelo came here it was to head an organization in a sport that was little more than a cult sport. And while he had nothing to do with an NBA franchise being located here, he had everything to do with building it into one of the most respected and admired organizations in all of pro sports.

In fact, he is to my knowledge the only man ever to build pro franchises in two different sports from the ground up. He was (and still is, for that matter) a unique combination of first class basketball and business skills, not to mention a blend of compassion and competitiveness.

If his success at so many different levels could be reduced to one word, it would probably be trust.

People instinctively trust him. Players trust him, political leaders trust him, his employees trust him, and people with lots of money trusted him enough to invest in the big dreams he brought with him from Chicago.

Admission to the Ring of Honor was of course a foregone conclusion, and putting him in the center position was also a nice and fitting touch. But the Ring is only a basketball honor. At some time it would be appropriate for the community at large to recognize all of his contributions to our quality of life with a statue in some public place.

As the participants filed out after the Ring ceremony Cotton Fitzsimmons widow, JoAnn, leaned over and said, “This is the end of an era.”

Fortunately, it’s not the end of Colangelo, who is still very active, most notably in his capacity as director of USA Olympic basketball fortunes. But in a sense she was absolutely correct. The ceremony indeed marked the formal end of The Colangelo Era.

And if an “epitaph’ is needed for that era, it could well be, “He made a difference — and we are not likely to see his like pass our way again any time soon.”

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