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SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/Families In Sports Fathers And Sons
After a franchise sale, battling empty-nest syndrome NBA-style
Published June 12, 2006
Jerry Colangelo still finds it strange leaving the Phoenix Suns’ headquarters at the end of the day, knowing that the office around the corner from his is empty.
|Jerry Colangelo (left) remains in Phoenix,
but Bryan has moved on to Toronto.
But franchises change hands and power is transient. Jerry Colangelo agreed to sell the franchise to Robert Sarver for an NBA record $401 million in 2004. Though Colangelo has remained as CEO, Sarver owns the team.
So it is that it was Sarver’s call when Bryan Colangelo asked to renegotiate his contract this season. Sarver said no and opened the door for him to talk to other teams. On Feb. 28, Colangelo left the only team he’d ever worked for — and rooted for as a boy — accepting a five-year, $20 million offer to become president and GM of the Toronto Raptors.
“When that office emptied out, that was a very strange time,” said Jerry Colangelo. “And it still is for me. He’s not there. He’s thousands of miles away, in another city in another country.”
It also has been a strange, albeit busy, time for Bryan Colangelo. While preparing for the draft and crafting an offseason plan for the Raptors, he watched his old team advance through the playoffs, hoping it might finally land the championship that has eluded his father for 38 years. He figures this might have been Jerry’s last chance, at least with the Suns.
“I wanted to help make that happen for him so badly,” Bryan Colangelo said. “It was a goal for me, personally, but more than that it was something I wanted for him, because of what he built.
“When people would suggest that I had big shoes to fill working for Jerry, I’d always explain that it wasn’t hard for me because I wasn’t competing with him. I was competing for him.”
Severing that basketball connection was hard on both men. But when Bryan asked his father’s advice, Jerry told him, “If it were me, I’d go.”
“On a personal note, it was gut-wrenching to me,” Jerry Colangelo said. “He had grown up with only one franchise, and that was the Suns.”
Still, in business matters, Colangelo is a realist. When he sold the franchise, he turned over control. Those who follow him will hire and fire as they see fit. That’s a concern that Colangelo raised with his son before he sold the franchise. He said Bryan encouraged him to take his hard-earned profits and leave him to look out for his own career.
“When the sale was put in place, the handwriting was on the wall,” Jerry Colangelo said. “There were no guarantees Bryan would be there. He just didn’t know. So he had to do what was appropriate for himself and his career and his family. As a result, he’s now in Toronto, Canada. I’m still not over that shock.”
Bryan Colangelo was born in 1966, the year that his father signed on as marketing director, scout and assistant coach with the startup Chicago Bulls. Two years later, Colangelo moved the family to Phoenix to take over the expansion Suns as general manager. Bryan Colangelo went to work for the Suns as a scout shortly after finishing college.
Jerry Colangelo can’t remember a time when his son didn’t have strong opinions on basketball, and particularly on who should or shouldn’t be traded. He was among the legions who blasted his father for trading Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey in 1983. Bryan was 17 at the time.
“He still brings it up,” Jerry Colangelo says. “And it’s been how much time that has passed?”
As a GM, Bryan Colangelo understands now that his father made the deal for reasons that stretched beyond the baselines. Johnson didn’t get along with the Suns coach, John MacLeod. It happens. Still, the son isn’t sure he’d have dealt with it the way his father did.
“I kid with him about that stuff, but it’s always been important to me to give my opinions, right or wrong, because when you’re working for your dad people want to think that you’re a little bit of a yes man,” Bryan Colangelo said. “I didn’t want to be that way. I thought I could speak up, but still learn, and I think I did.
“The best way to sum it up is that I pretty much learned everything I know about the business from Jerry.”