Arena Audience Hears From Colangelo About What It Takes to Be Great

March 30, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Ruth Nsubuga

Sports pioneer Jerry Colangelo conveyed his recipe for success around faith, family and business Thursday at GCU Arena.

Colangelo spoke alongside GCU CEO Brian Mueller and Olympic gold-medal swimmer Misty Hyman as part of the midday panel discussion titled “Achieving Competitive Greatness.” The free public event drew about 350 students, faculty and staff.

Former Olympian Misty Hyman and sports executive Jerry Colangelo field questions at Thursday's event at GCU Arena.

The Phoenix Suns founder and former owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks — who also serves as managing director of the star-studded, London-bound USA men’s Olympic basketball team — told students he planned on sharing his business experiences more often now that he’s personally linked to GCU through the Colangelo School of Sports Business.

The hope, Colangelo said, is that his background in shaping organizational cultures would rub off on GCU’s best and brightest. He and Mueller both expressed concern in their presentations about a generational disconnect prevalent in American culture. They urged students to dream big with their own business ventures, but also to remain grounded through mentors, community and teammates.

“There’s so much you can do in your lifetime to make not only something of yourself, but I’m saying to really enjoy what life has to offer, if you’re willing to pay the price,” said Colangelo, who last appeared publicly at GCU in October at the unveiling of his namesake sports business school.

“By sharing those experiences, I think I can help you a lot, and I want to do that,” he told the audience. “That’s my commitment to you.”

Colangelo touched briefly on his family background, rising through sports from a low-income neighborhood of Italian immigrant families in Chicago. He characterized his ascent as a professional sports executive, and success such as winning the 2001 World Series and a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as the result of both hard work and respect for successful businessmen who came before him.

He appeared to speak directly to GCU students when he reminded the audience to “show respect before you earn respect,” using Team USA basketball as an example. When he took over the national squad, the U.S. was ranked below other international teams and mired in a sense of Olympic inadequacy since the original 1992 “Dream Team” of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

Colangelo said he drew ideas from competitors in Argentina and Spain. He also demanded to run the U.S. team his way. Three years after taking over, the U.S. — led by superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant — beat Spain to take the gold in China.

About 350 attended Thursday's presentation on "Achieving Competitive Greatness," sponsored by the Colangelo School of Sports Business.

Asked about apathy in society today, Colangelo told the audience he worried about people losing touch with their dedication to God and to their families, which is reflected in the decay of U.S. business and economic systems.

“We have a very permissive society,” Colangelo replied to one question. “As we’ve lost our moral compass, it’s changed a lot of things. A lot of the things that are acceptable today, as far as conduct, you wouldn’t have seen 40 years ago.”

Hyman, who worked to reinvent herself as a coach and corporate speaker after professional swimming, led off the discussion by showing a scratchy, VHS-quality recording of her underdog victory in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Few people considered her chances of winning the event, she said. Australian Susie O’Neill was heavily favored on her home turf. But Hyman, an Arizona native, said she found herself smiling and at peace the day of her race, knowing she had prepared well. A sense of calm washed over her before the race.

A few minutes later, after springing out of the blocks and chopping through the pool, the then-21-year-old Hyman was shown on camera shouting “Oh my God!” from the end of her lane as she repeatedly checked the scoreboard to make sure she had actually won.

“In our life and in sports, the whole reason we do everything that we do is because on any given day, anyone who’s done the work, and who has the courage to stand up and try, has the chance to win,” said Hyman, now 33. “And that’s how I felt that day in Sydney.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the discussion, Colangelo was asked about prospects for developing a graduate component to GCU’s sports business school. He deferred briefly to Mueller and explained that his hope was simply to make the undergraduate program the best it could be before any expansion.

If anyone knows about expansion, it’s Colangelo. He was instrumental in creating the Suns, founding (and naming) the expansion Diamondbacks, and turning the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets into the Phoenix Coyotes.

More than 300 students currently study through the Colangelo School, known as the only school of its kind in Arizona. Colangelo added that personal relationships with Mueller and others at GCU helped ensure him that the business school venture would be a rewarding long-term experience similar to many of his successes in professional sports.

“If you buy into a culture, and believe in it, it can take you a long way,” Colangelo said.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or

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