Jerry Colangelo

Jerry Colangelo (born November 20, 1939), is an American businessman and sports executive.

He formerly owned the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, the Arizona Sandsharks of the Continental Indoor Soccer League, the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League and the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball. He was also instrumental in the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL to Phoenix to become the Phoenix Coyotes.

In the summer of 2005, Colangelo was named director of USA Basketball whose team represented the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 FIBA World Championship. Colangelo also serves as Chairman of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), a nonprofit nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes Italian American culture and heritage.

Colangelo has been known for a no-nonsense ownership style. Players like the Suns' Dennis Johnson and Jason Kidd and the Diamondbacks' Bobby Chouinard have been traded or released after their personal problems became public.

Early life

Colangelo was born and raised in Chicago Heights, Illinois where he played basketball and baseball for Bloom Township High School. He graduated from the University of Illinois, where he captained the basketball team and was a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity.

In his autobiography, How You Play the Game, Colangelo tells of working after graduating college at the House of Charles, a tuxedo rental shop in Chicago Heights.[1]


Colangelo began his career in professional basketball with the Chicago Bulls. He worked as a marketing director, scout, and assistant to the president of the team.[2] In 1968, he left the Bulls and was hired as the first general manager of the expansion team, the Phoenix Suns. When he and his family left for Arizona, he had $200 in his wallet.[1]

Colangelo got off to an unlucky start, losing a 1969 coin flip to the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to UCLA phenom Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). The Suns remained competitive most of the 1970s, making it to the NBA Finals in 1976, but losing to the Boston Celtics in six games. Colangelo had two stints as head coach during that decade, compiling a record of 59 wins and 60 losses.

During much of the 1980s, Colangelo's Suns faced trouble. Some players, including 1976 NBA Finals player Garfield Heard, were involved in an infamous drug scandal, young center Nick Vanos perished in a 1987 plane crash and, from 1985 through 1988, the Suns failed to qualify for the playoffs. Colangelo put together a group that bought the Suns in late 1987, in the wake of the drug scandal. He subsequently made a trade for Kevin Johnson in 1987.

The Suns made one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history in 1988–89, nearly doubling their win total (from 28 wins to 55) and making the first of 13 straight playoff appearances. In 1989, Colangelo was an essential part of the group that planned to build America West Arena (now US Airways Center), providing financial backing. In 1992, Colangelo traded Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley. The trade proved to be productive for the Suns, and they reached the NBA Finals for the second time in 1993, this time losing to the Bulls in six games. Barkley's relationship with Colangelo, however, grew sour over the years, and in 1996, he was traded to the Houston Rockets.

He eventually turned over the Suns' presidency to his son Bryan (who eventually left the organization to become general manager of the Toronto Raptors).

A strained relationship with Charles Barkley has improved with years. Colangelo declared himself a born-again Christian,[citation needed] a reason that he credits for his change of heart about Barkley.

Colangelo's additional sports activities

Colangelo has been involved in many professional sports teams in Arizona.


While in Chicago for a Suns game, Colangelo attended a Chicago Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field. Soon thereafter he decided to inquire to Major League Baseball about bringing an expansion team to Arizona. He assembled a group of investors in 1994 to buy a franchise, the year prior to MLB's proposed expansion selection meetings. In 1995, Colangelo's group was granted an expansion team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks began playing in 1998. For his new baseball club, Colangelo hired Joe Garagiola, Jr. as General Manager. He also brought in Buck Showalter coming off a successful stint as manager of the New York Yankees. Showalter and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner did not agree to a contract extension, so Colangelo quickly hired Showalter as future manager of the Diamondbacks. These hirings proved to be instrumental to the expansion franchise's quick success. Notable moves made by Garagiola included the signing of Randy Johnson in 1999 and a trade for Curt Schilling in 2000 from the Philadelphia Phillies. They were co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in seven games. This was the first major professional sports championship for the Phoenix area.

However, his ways of spending caused the Diamondbacks to fall to near bankruptcy starting in 2003. The team was losing money at an alarming pace. He was forced to resign as managing general partner in the late summer of 2004. Ken Kendrick took responsibility as the lead among the team's investors.

Women's basketball

In 1997, Colangelo's team in the Women's National Basketball Association, the Phoenix Mercury, began playing. The following year, the Mercury reached the WNBA Finals but lost to the Houston Comets.

Arena football

In 1992, Colangelo founded the Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers and owned them until 2005. Under Colangelo's guidance, the Rattlers won Arena Bowl championships in 1994 and 1997. They were also one of the AFL's model franchises and were a perennial playoff team. According to published reports, the Rattlers struggled to stay afloat as a franchise after Colangelo sold the team.[3]


Colangelo was also involved in bringing the National Hockey League (NHL) to Arizona, transferring the Winnipeg Jets to the area as the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. The move made Phoenix one of only a few metropolitan areas with franchises in all four major North American professional sports leagues). The team plays in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.


Colangelo, as a friend of promoter Bob Arum, also helped to bring professional boxing to Arizona. He was one of the individuals behind the construction of the Dodge Theater in downtown Phoenix. The Dodge is currently a top boxing and performing arts venue in the American Southwest.[citation needed]

Exit from sports

In April 2004, Colangelo sold the Suns, Mercury and Rattlers to an investment group headed by San Diego, California businessman, Tucson, Arizona native Robert Sarver for $401 million. The sale allegedly came in part to keep his family from having to pay high estate taxes upon Colangelo's death.

Late in the 2004 baseball season, Colangelo sold his controlling interest in the Arizona Diamondbacks to a group of investors led by Jeff Moorad.[4] The estate tax issue played a role, though another factor was that Colangelo's partners were upset at the team's large debt. The D-Backs were almost $150 million in the red at the time, largely because of Colangelo's "win now" strategy.

Other interests

Jerry Colangelo is part of an investment group planning development in Buckeye, Arizona. They have planned a 300,000+ residence development called Douglas Ranch and a smaller 7,000 acres (30 km2) development called Trillium.[5]

Colangelo purchased the bankrupt Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Arizona.


Colangelo has been named the NBA's Executive of the Year four times (1976, 1981, 1989, 1993). He is an honorary member of the Marchegiana Society of his hometown, Chicago Heights, Illinois. A street in that city bears his name.

On May 9, 2002, Colangelo was awarded an honorary degree from Arizona State University.

On April 4, 2004, Colangelo was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.[6]

On November 4, 2007, Colangelo was inducted into the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor at the halftime of a Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He is the National Leadership Director of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and is also a Hall of Fame inductee. It is located in the Colangelo Building on Taylor Street in Little Italy, Chicago.


  • Colangelo, Jerry; Sherman, Len. How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports, AMACOM, 1999. ISBN 0-8144-0488-X

Personal life

Colangelo's son Bryan Colangelo is President of the NBA Toronto Raptors.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Colangelo, Jerry; Sherman, Len. How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports, AMACOM, 1999. ISBN 0-8144-0488-X
  2. Charles, Mike. "Jerry's story". Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  3. "Arena Football League to Fold, R.I.P. Arizona Rattlers". Sports Arizona Online. 2009-08-03. Retrieved 2009-09-01.
  4. Colangelo sells controlling interest, Diamondbacks website
  5. Padgett, Mike (May 16, 2003). "Buckeye history favored as future projects unfold". Retrieved May 16, 2003..
  6. "Chicago Bulls: Sportsmen of Legends". Retrieved May 16, 2011.

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