Jerry Colangelo (born November 20, 1939 in Chicago Heights, Illinois), is an American businessman and executive in the field of sports.
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, which is now in bankruptcy.
He is the national director of USA Basketball and of the team that 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. NIAF also serves as the voice for Italian Americans in Washington, D.C.
Colangelo grew up 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.
Colangelo arrived in Phoenix in 1968, after a stint as an assistant coach of the Chicago Bulls; he was hired as the first general manager of the expansion Phoenix Suns. In his autobiography, "How You Play the Game," Colangelo tells of working at a tuxedo rental shop, the House of Charles, in his native Chicago Heights out of college. He wrote that when the family left for Arizona, he had $200 in his wallet.
Colangelo got off to an unlucky start, losing a 1969 coin flip to the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to UCLA phenom Lew Alcindor (a.k.a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). But the Suns remained competitive most of the 1970s, and they almost made Colangelo's dream come true when they reached the Finals in 1976, 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 pulled off 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.
While in Chicago for a Suns game, Colangelo attended a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Soon thereafter he decided to inquire to Major League Baseball to bring the big leagues to Arizona. He put together 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 a Major League Baseball expansion team: the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D'Backs began play in 1998, one year after another Colangelo team, the Women's National Basketball Association's Phoenix Mercury, also started. The Mercury reached the WNBA finals, losing to the Houston Comets. Another Colangelo team, the Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers, gave Colangelo his first championship in 1994, and once again in 1997. The Rattlers have been playing since 1992. Colangelo was also involved in bringing the NHL to Arizona in the form of the Winnipeg Jets, in 1997 (making Phoenix one of a select few metropolitan areas with franchises in all four major North American professional sports leagues). The team now plays in the local suburb of Glendale as the Phoenix Coyotes.
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 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 Phillies. They were co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series.
With the help of Mark Grace, Tony Womack, Luis Gonzalez, Schilling and Johnson, the Diamondbacks were able to grant Colangelo his wish: a World Series title. They beat the New York Yankees in seven thrilling games in 2001 to win the World Series. Colangelo delivered the first major sports championship to 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 his managing general partner post in the late summer of 2004 and Ken Kendrick took responsibility as the lead among the team's investors.
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.
He received several community awards and eventually turned over the Suns' presidency to his son Bryan (who eventually left the organization to become GM of the Toronto Raptors).
A strained relationship with Charles Barkley has improved with years. Colangelo declared himself a born-again Christian, a reason that he credits for his change of heart about Barkley.
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.
Colangelo was the founder and owner of the Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers from 1992 until 2005. Under Colangelo's guidance, the Rattlers won Arena Bowl championships in 1994 & 1997. They were also one of the AFL's model franchises and were a perennial playoff team. Some noteworthy Rattlers players who worked for him include Sherdrick Bonner, Hunkie Cooper, Randy Gatewood and Bo Kelly. According to published reports, the Rattlers struggled to stay afloat as a franchise after Colangelo sold the team.
Jerry Colangelo along with group of his partners are planning a 300,000+ residents development called Douglas Ranch and a smaller 7,000 acres (30 km2) development called Trillium in the town of Buckeye, Arizona .
Colangelo has been named the NBA's Executive of the Year four times (1976, 1981, 1989, 1993).
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. Later that month, Colangelo sold the Suns, Mercury and Rattlers to an investment group headed by San Diego businessman and Tucson 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. 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.
In the summer of 2005, Colangelo was named director of USA Basketball.
He is an honorary member of the Marchegiana Society of his hometown, Chicago Heights, IL. A street in that city bears his name.
On November 4, 2007, Colangelo was inducted into the Phoenix Suns "Ring of Honor" during an emotional halftime presentation in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Mr. Colangelo is also the National Leadership Director of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and is also a Hall of Fame inductee. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame is in Chicago, IL where the building on Taylor Street bears his name.
Mr. Colangelo recently just purchased the bankrupt Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park AZ to turn it around and start making money for the company.