Is it any coincidence the 202007-08 Phoenix Suns gave their first real display of grit, pep and verve on the same night Jerry Colangelo was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor? After all, the man practically invented grit, pep and verve.
Jerry Colangelo, shown here with his wife, Joan, after being inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor. (NBAE Photos)
Prior to Colangelo arriving in the Valley in 1968 with the mission of bringing a game called professional basketball to the sunburned masses, Phoenix wasn’t even on the sports map. Oh, sure, the ASU Sun Devil football team under Coach Frank Kush had some pretty good seasons, but who knew about them? Not the major media, that’s for certain – perennially underappreciated in the polls, the Sun Devils wouldn’t become national “somebody’s” until the Pac-8 decided to swell to ten some years later. And there was a rumor that there was a professional baseball team in town, but they were what the rest of the sporting world considered Phoenix to be – strictly minor league.
But Jerry Colangelo understood what it meant to be out in the then-Wild West, so like any good rodeo rider, he grabbed the reins with utter confidence, endured the inevitable bumps and bruises, and eventually tamed the Valley, showing them that basketball was good, it was fun, and it was worth rooting for. In a mere two years, he had the franchise in the playoffs, where they almost upset a team with guys named West, Baylor and Chamberlain. The Suns won the hearts of the city, and the team was firmly, forever, theirs. Colangelo was barely thirty years old.
And he was just getting started.
Over the next thirty-five years, he’d build the team into a perennial contender. He’d make the organization into a prominent player in local and national charities. He’d spearhead the drive to revitalize downtown Phoenix (maybe not the right word, actually, since downtown Phoenix may have never been “vitalized” to begin with) with the construction of US Airways Arena. He’d introduce the Valley to arena football. He’d bring Phoenicians their very own professional baseball team, which would play in its very own downtown stadium, and win its very own World Series trophy. And he’d bestow upon Phoenix a women’s pro basketball team that’s done pretty well for itself too, particularly lately.
With Colangelo’s face taking its place in the Ring of Honor, there’ll be lots of talk about the passing of an era. I don’t buy it. The Colangelo Era will continue in Phoenix for as long as the arena stands, for as long as the ballpark stands, for as long as the Suns are in the city, for as long as there’s a downtown. The history of Phoenix itself since 1968 has been written in large measure by Jerry Colangelo, and he’s left his fingerprints on its future for decades and decades to come. Those who follow him in professional sports in Arizona’s capitol will build their own legacies and, perhaps, dynasties, but they will do so while standing on Colangelo’s broad shoulders.
Without him, I wouldn’t be writing this. And you wouldn’t be reading this.
We are fortunate, as Suns fans, as sports fans, and as Phoenicians, to know him.
Thank you, Mr. Colangelo. May the rim always grant you the friendly bounce.