Even when owners and players clashed about salaries and salary caps, one man always had respect on both sides of the table.
Jerry Colangelo long has been one of NBA Commissioner David Sterns most trusted confidants, yet liked enough by players that he almost got everyone he asked for when he built the U.S. national basketball team program.
And now hes ready to share some of whats made him so successful and maybe help little Grand Canyon University realize its big-time athletic dreams.
The Phoenix school announced Tuesday the formation of the Colangelo School of Sports Business, and the namesake plans to be involved.
People need to be encouraged, be given opportunities, and I have a lot I can share with my experience over 40 years, Colangelo said. And so, you can (only) learn so much out of textbooks. A lot of it is in the trenches, a lot of it is being around people who have done it.
Colangelo certainly has, responsible for much of Phoenixs professional sports history since arriving in 1968 as the expansion Suns general manager. Some of it will be on display in the schools arena, where it envisions hosting Division I sporting events in a few years. Colangelo will donate medals, trophies and other items from his personal collection maybe even the baseball that was hit to win Game 7 of the 2001 World Series for the Diamondbacks.
From a local standpoint, theres an incredible history of whats transpired, and Ive got a lot of stuff to support that story, Colangelo said.
Colangelo has moved beyond the Phoenix sports scene, selling the Diamondbacks and later the Suns, with whom he still holds a largely ceremonial title. But his roles as chairman of USA Basketball and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame board have kept him active.
The private Christian university, founded in 1949, believed Colangelos contacts could help facilitate a move to college sports highest level. Schools no longer can make the jump to Division I as an independent, they must be invited to join a conference.
Jerry knows and has lots of credibility with conference commissioners, with athletics directors, with university presidents, and we think he can help us as were making our sales pitch to different conferences about who we are and what we could bring to a conference, Grand Canyon University chief executive officer Brian Mueller said.
Colangelo, though, was more interested in the business school, so he resigned from the Grand Canyon board position to focus on that. Hell do some lecturing, help line up guest speakers from around the sports world, and each year, an outstanding second-year student will be mentored by him.
Through experience, through my journey, I can share what things worked for me and how circumstances led from one thing to another, Colangelo said.
The only way you become a candidate for these top jobs is by being well rounded and having work experience and creating expertise in different areas, and that prepares you in case you do get that opportunity.
Colangelo said pro sports was Mom and Pop in terms of scope when he started with the Chicago Bulls in the mid-1960s, when the franchise value was $1.25 million, the team payroll was $180,000 for 12 players, and coaches and general managers topped out around $15,000.
Now the NBA brings in $4.3 billion in revenues, and owners have locked out players while they fight over how to divide it up. But Colangelo still relies on personal communication, the same way he did then while negotiating the leagues first sneaker deal with Converse in Chicago.
Thats why he doesnt share the concerns coach Mike Krzyzewski recently expressed about the impact a season-long lockout could have on the Americans Olympic title defense. Colangelo has been talking to players and agents, and they all tell him theres no way theyre passing on London if the lockout is ongoing.
There has been no indication from agents or players who are part of our national team that they would not be playing, he said. Quite to the contrary, the calls and communication that Ive had is that they all are in, they all intend to play.
For now, hes focused on the Grand Canyon project.
Im going to have an involvement, its not just a name, he said.
The school will host the first game in its new arena next month against Arizona State and aspires to be a Gonzaga or Marquette, a small, religious school but a basketball power. Its goal is 12,000 students on campus in three years and 1,000 in the sports business program major, created just last year, within five years on campus and online.
The first thing Jerry has, I think, is a tremendous amount of credibility with every significant audience, Mueller said. He was really well respected by his fellow owners, very well respected by the players, because of the way he dealt with them and the relationships he was able to build with them. Hes very respected by the fan base, and so hes got a lot of credibility with all the important constituents.
But the other thing was Jerrys well known, especially around here, having built as a businessman, having built really high quality organizations. We can use him not only as somebody whos got a great record and lots of experience around professional athletics but also as somebody who from a general business perspective knows how to build great organizations.