Colangelo’s career demonstrates what’s in a name
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
— Proverbs 22:1
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Jerry Colangelo has built a good name in his six decades as an administrator. He has built a lot of other things, too, everything from repositioning Phoenix as a major league sports city to revitalizing downtown to rejuvenating USA Basketball. But through it all, the only thing that has remained more consistent than Colangelo’s sterling reputation is the man himself.
Anyone familiar with Colangelo probably had heard at least bits and pieces of the tales he shared Thursday evening at Ethington Theatre in the first installment of “The Back Story,” a new series designed to bring leaders from across the community to Grand Canyon University. Colangelo regaled the crowd of 200 with memories of his many forays into a world where overcoming the odds was as natural to him as building relationships.
However, amid the many accomplishments were the main Colangelo messages: Faith in God. Good deeds, not just good ideas. It’s not about how much money you make. Find a way to get it done, and show that you’re trustworthy while doing it.
“I built a career on a handshake,” he said. “If I gave my word, people knew they could trust me. This isn’t about me necessarily. You need to pull and pick from it and see how it’s relational to you. Most of it is basic stuff.”
Dr. Ernie Scarbrough, an associate professor of finance in the Ken Blanchard College of Business, is the emcee for “The Back Story,” and Thursday he directed the conversation through a series of questions about Colangelo’s life and career. Colangelo took it from there with straight talk and solid advice. Some snippets:
- “Every person in this room has their journey, and it’s never a straight line, I can tell you that. The important thing is to have an attitude that you’re ready for the journey.”
- “There was no game plan here. The goal was to do the best I could on whatever I was doing at the time.”
- “Those who are willing to risk big are in line to get big rewards if the risks are calculated.”
- “You have opportunities to do things the right way, or you can take shortcuts.”
- “The community owes us nothing. It’s up to us to act properly.”
- “When people say you can’t, you need to show you can and take every opportunity to get it done.”
- “Don’t get hung up on mistakes you’ve made in the past. Learn from your mistakes and move on.”
Colangelo shared two funny stories about his mistakes.
There was the time, as the sales promotion manager of the newly formed Chicago Bulls, that he decided to put two real, snorting bulls on a flatcar and take them down the city’s Michigan Avenue in an attempt to sell tickets for the fledgling National Basketball Association team. “We got a lot of publicity but sold only a few tickets,” he said.
Later, he arranged a giveaway in which each child entering a Bulls game would get a real basketball and then be invited to come down to the court and shoot a shot at halftime. It quickly devolved into a disaster as balls started rolling around during the game and the halftime extravaganza couldn’t be marshaled. “Kids were losing balls, parents were yelling at me,” he said. “I learned that you give out coupons and hand out balls at the end of the game.”
Colangelo takes equal delight in sharing his affinity for GCU, whose story in many ways reflects his. It isn’t just the rise in athletics to NCAA Division I that excites him; it’s the transformation of the campus into the vibrant place it is today.
There was a time, Colangelo noted during Thursday’s presentation, when “if you wanted to find a place to get away from people, this was a place to come. Not anymore. Now I get my adrenaline flowing every time I park the car and walk into campus.” Afterward, when asked about where GCU is today and where it’s going, he called it “unbelievable” and said “the sky’s the limit.”
Scarbrough said he hopes to present “The Back Story” four times every school year if the facility issue can be resolved. Ethington’s busy schedule of theatrical productions makes it difficult to make that the regular site.
“I think there are phenomenal stories to be told,” Scarbrough said. “I think Mr. Colangelo shared some things that are in a textbook and some that aren’t. It’s practical. It’s real life. It worked. And it’s still working.”
Colangelo was the logical candidate to kick off of the series. Grand Canyon President/CEO Brian Mueller said he talks with Colangelo about twice a week and considers his association with the University meaningful “on so many levels. Obviously, he’s a fantastic businessman, a renowned businessman. But he also has a stellar reputation. He is a man of character and Christian values, and he has contacts in the Christian community.… We’re very fortunate to have him involved.”
And to have Colangelo involved is to have him be active, as he was in the hiring of one of his favorite Suns players, Dan Majerle, as GCU’s men’s basketball coach. As Henry Ford famously once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do,” and Colangelo has staked his good name to that mantra.
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.