Jerry Colangelo Interview

By Paul M. Banks

Jerry Colangelo is a sports mogul. He’s the former owner of the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was instrumental in the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets to become the Phoenix Coyotes, who are now in bankruptcy. (and rumored to be soon owned by Chicago Bulls/White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.)

Colangelo has been named the NBA’s Executive of the Year four times (1976, 1981, 1989, 1993). On April 4, 2004, Colangelo was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Last month he visited Chicago as the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Foundation held their inaugural “Court of Honor Gala” at Union Station. The Gala celebrated the achievements and contributions of Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Suns and managing director of the USA Basketball senior national team from 2005-2008. Colangelo, a Chicago native and University of Illinois graduate, assembled the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, coached by another Chicagoan, Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Colangelo and Krzyzewski guided the “Redeem Team” to Olympic gold in Beijing this past summer. At the Gala, Coach K. presented Colagelo with this “lifetime achievement” award. I caught up to him at the gala where both his speech and his interview answers provided the media numerous insights on life in the NBA and basketball in general.

Colangelo was born and raised in one of the roughest suburbs of Chicago (Yes, it may sound a bit oxymoronic to describe a suburb as being socio-economically depressed, but I’m from a suburb that’s quite close, and trust me Chicago Heights is not a place where you walk late at night by yourself) The SICA native, repped the S-I-C-A and reaffirmed his rags-to-riches story:

“So when I look here and I see so many friends and people I’ve competed with and against, it’s a humbling experience. It’s the only way to describe it and sometimes you pinch yourself and say did this really all happen? I’m still the kid from Chicago Heights.  But I guess it did and it helps to put it in proper perspective…To start out where I did and end up where I am now is truly living the American dream,” Colangelo said.

Jerry then answered inquiries about residing at the top of the basketball pantheon and accepting his award in the windy city.

“This is a fraternity, it’s a fraternity of a lot of the people who have the same passion for a game, for a sport in particular, for a city I was asked where would I want this event to take place and I said Chicago, it’s where I’m from these are my roots and it’s a great gathering spot, it’s a very exciting time,” he responded before answering a question about his involvement in the push to get Chicago the next Summer Olympic games which are still up for grabs.

“Well I’m on the 2016 committee and I’m doing everything I can to be of help. I was here with the IOC members, and it would be very easy for people to say well Jerry, you’re prejudice, but I’ve seen Rio de Janiero, I’ve seen Tokyo and Madrid, I’ve seen plans of all the cities and there’d be no better host than Chicago. It’d be a great place to have it and I’m hopeful and prayerful that we get it because it should happen,” Jerry said
Today, we have a president who plays basketball and who filled out a very well-publicized bracket during March Madness. Colangelo articulated how far the sport has come since its inception as a time-filler between baseball and football season.

“Thank goodness somebody needed to find something between football and baseball season, the thing that really surprises me is that it took them 6 months to cut the bottom of the basket because they got tired of going up with a ladder to take the ball out of the basket. And it’s had such an effect on the lives of so many people in this room. The game of basketball has opened up so many doors and introduced me to so many people and experiences that I would not have otherwise had,” Colangelo expressed.

He also spoke about the equal opportunities provided in basketball (provided you’re much taller than the population at large or course)…

“Let’s grow this game together on all levels because there’s lessons we can learn from it. It balances the playing field, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what neighborhood you come from, what color, what means of life, it’s the great equalizer once you get on the court and you lace ‘em up, that’s what it all about, the competition,” Colangelo said.

Jay Bilas Exclusive

Paul M. Banks interviews the former Duke star and current college basketball analyst for ESPN and CBS

Jay Bilas served as master of ceremonies when the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Foundation held its inaugural “Court of Honor Gala” at Chicago’s Union Station. The Tuesday evening Gala celebrated the achievements and contributions of Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and managing director of the USA Basketball senior national team from 2005-2008.

Sports Illustrated called Bilas the best analyst in college basketball. In both 2007 and 2008, Bilas was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by a Studio Analyst. Bilas joined ESPN in 1995 as a college basketball analyst, serving as co-host of ESPN’s studio broadcasts since 2000, including College GameNight and College GameDay. Bilas makes frequent appearances on SportsCenter, ESPNEWS and ESPN Radio, and is a featured basketball writer on “The Bilastrator” is also featured during halftime segments of some games.

In 2003, Bilas joined CBS as a game analyst for the network’s coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, being paired with Dick Enberg. A member of the Screen Actors’ Guild since 1987, Bilas has appeared in national television commercials and the feature-length movie “I Come in Peace.”

Bilas received his law degree from Duke University School of Law (while also serving as an assistant coach under Coach K.) in 1992. He is currently Of Counsel to the Charlotte office of Moore & Van Allen, where he maintains a litigation practice. Bilas most notably worked on the case Lyons Partnership v. Morris Costumes, Inc., where he successfully defended the costume business against trademark and copyright claims brought by owners of the popular children’s television character, Barney the Dinosaur.

I had an exclusive with Bilas at the NABC’s ESPN Zone mixer on Monday night.

Paul M. Banks: The word student is listed first in the term student-athlete for a reason, talk about the role of academics in the world of big-time college basketball

Jay Bilas: There’s a duality to it, I’ve always found it kind of funny that after a press conference after a NCAA tournament game they call them student-athletes, that’s when it’s ok to call them players. When they’re in class they’re students, when you’re playing you’re a player, so I believe in the term even though I think it gives a lot of the guys a short trip. In the educational foundation I have in Charlotte, we believe in education not just for athletes, but for everybody. It starts at the very beginning when kids are in pre-k, kindergarten, at the earliest stage, getting them into reading, getting them into learning, and learning for learning sake. It’s a lifelong pursuit, and part of what the NABC is doing with their Ticket to Reading Rewards program and something that’s really worth while”


PMB: I just actually flew in from Charlotte this morning, great city by the way, tell me more about your foundation there

JB: I work with Dell Curry, the former NBA star whose son Stephen is the Davidson star that electrified the NCAA tournament last year. We have a foundation called Athletes United for Youth. Although athletes headline it, it’s an educational foundation for underserved youth in the Charlotte area and we run after-school programs and computer learning centers and summer camps that give kids that maybe haven’t had a chance the tools they need to be successful. While Athletics may play a part in their lives, it’s a small part, and we want to make academics the primary part and something they gravitate towards instead of shying away from.


PMB: The institution within which you did both your undergrad and graduate work, Duke has quite the prestigious reputation, do you have a relationship with the school today, and to what extent?

JB: I grew up in Los Angeles, neither one of my parents went to college, so college wasn’t necessarily an expectation for me when I grew up and through basketball I got recruited by some schools that I probably would not have looked at outside of my want to play basketball and having gone to Duke was a really fortunate turn for me. I still stay in close contact with the school.

I’m a contributor and go back as often as I can. Any college is about people and I have good relationships with the people there. The reason I contribute money to where I went to school, both high school and college, is not for some philanthropic cause, it’s because you want the next person’s experience to be better than yours and I was really lucky- my experience was really good. There are so many good colleges and universities around the country that have good people and do great things, I was lucky I went to one of them, but they’re all over the place. I know people feel the same way about where they went to school as I do about where I went to school, so we’re all brothers in that regard.

PMB: You must be especially proud that an icon of Duke helped restore the prestige and reputation of Team USA basketball?

JB: Coach K. is the reason I went to Duke, I’d like to say that I had some other higher goal in mind: that I went to Duke for its own sake, but I went there to play for him and if he would have been somewhere else I would have gone somewhere else. I played USA Basketball on the lower level- I played for Gene Keady on the U.S. National Select Team one year. I’m really proud of that.

PMB: You must be pretty excited about your MC duties tomorrow night?

JB: I’m really excited. It’s going to be one of those rooms where’ its going to be really humbling to be in it. With all the people who have been great doers in the game of college basketball. Maybe we {media members} look at ourselves as talkers more than doers, but to be in that room with so many people that have accomplished so much in the game, I’m honored to be a part of it”

PMB: Tell me about how USA basketball turned around under Jerry Colangelo

JB: I think the biggest development we’ve had over the last 30 years in USA basketball is when Jerry Colangelo took over as Executive Director and formed a real program that we can now build on. We’ve had so many great coaches and players over the years in USA basketball, but we haven’t had the structure to give them the tools they need to be as successful as they can be.

I think now the program put in place by Jerry Colangelo, working with Coach K and everybody at USA basketball- that was a big home run they hit in Beijing, but it was also over a three-year period. What they did the three years before was perhaps more important: with the structure, organization, how they choose the team, the commitment that all the players made, it wasn’t just a commitment for that summer in ’08 in Beijing, it was a three-year commitment, and it sounds like some of them want to keep committing.


PMB: Finally what are your thoughts on Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid and their chances?

JB: I don’t know much about the process, but I can tell you it would be great if it was here. Anyone who’s been in Chicago in the springtime and the summertime knows that this would be a heck of a place to have the Olympics and have the world come to Chicago would be pretty extraordinary.