Colangelo sculpture unveiled on GCU campus

February 09, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Even as he received one of the biggest honors of his life, Jerry Colangelo was trying to help – and teach – the students at Grand Canyon University.

Jerry Colangelo speaks to the crowd in front of GCU Arena after the statue in his honor was unveiled Saturday. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

A larger-than-life sculpture with Colangelo’s likeness was unveiled Saturday before the men’s basketball game against New Mexico State. But both during the ceremony and afterward, the man widely considered the most influential in Arizona history was far more concerned with the intention than any extra attention.

“God has a plan for each one of you,” he told the assembled members of the Havocs student cheer section, who had chanted “Jerry! Jerry!” as he was introduced. “I would hope that this statue, for what it is, can serve as some kind of inspiration for the students here, that anything is possible in life. You have to dream big, you have to work hard, and God will lead you down that path.”

That still was his focus a few minutes later as he looked out from the Antelope Reception Center and tried to get used to the idea of his own statue, which he called “a little unnerving to me” and “very humbling.”

“You feel a little uneasy, uncomfortable with that much attention being brought to you,” he said. “But I really meant what I said when I said that can serve as a little bit of an inspiration. A lot of things can happen in life. God does have a plan in everyone’s life, but if you work hard, go for it. In other words, you’ve got to shoot high and great things could happen. I would hope that’s the message that emanates from that statue.”

The sculpture is 9 feet tall and weighs more than two tons. (Photo by Gillian Rea)

Mel Shultz and David Eaton, the other two-thirds of Colangelo’s longtime firm, JDM Partners, estimate it was two to three years ago when they first started discussing ways to honor Colangelo’s considerable legacy.

“We probably know him better than most people because we’ve been together in all circumstances,” Eaton said. “He has this huge public persona, but he’s a really fine human being. We know the little things, and they are big.”

They settled on the idea of what wound up being the 9-foot, 4,100-pound sculpture, which officially is from them, their wives (Beth Shultz and Carol Eaton) and their families.

“Our families are honored to be able to present this sculpture as a gift to Grand Canyon University,” Mel Shultz said.

The sculptors are Gary Tillery and Omri Amrany of the Chicago-based Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, which has produced approximately 300 pieces, many of them depicting famous athletes such as Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Colangelo sculpture is particularly meaningful to Tillery because he grew up just a few blocks from GCU, near 27th Avenue and Hazelwood Street, before leaving in 1966 to join the Air Force and eventually moving to suburban Chicago. He was the main sculptor on the project, which took about 18 months to complete.  

The sculpture was the idea of Colangelo’s business partners, David Eaton (left) and Mel Shultz (right). (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

It is painstaking work. There were several meetings with Colangelo, at which time the sculptors took multiple photos of him and then went back to the studio and worked to perfect the design through computer grids. They had to make 47 adjustments to the face on the sculpture, a number that Tillery said is “a little excessive but not too bad.”

The best part of the undertaking, in Tillery’s mind, was the size of the statue. The reason: It creates more pressure to get it exactly right.

“It’s more satisfying to do something bigger than life-size,” he said, adding that if the facial or other details aren’t precise, people will notice more readily than on a smaller piece.

Amrany feels the pressure, in every sculpture, of creating an image that is freeze-framed in the minds of people from that era. “The hardest thing is to find the right measure to agree on,” he said.

The Colangelo statue has three panels at the bottom.

The left panel contains a famous quotation from Colangelo – “The community owes us nothing. We owe the community everything.” – and this tribute: “Jerry Colangelo is a man of integrity and loyalty, dedicated to faith, family and community. A tireless and committed catalyst in the growth of the Phoenix community, he wants to be remembered for one thing – ‘He cared.'”

The two other panels feature his most important roles and honors, including Chairman and CEO of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, Chairman and Managing Director of USA Basketball, inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and namesake of GCU’s Colangelo College of Business.

Colangelo called it a “pretty good likeness” but was humbled that his partners wanted to do it. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

It also notes that he presided over the Diamondbacks when they won their only World Series title, in 2001, and when the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams won the last three Olympic gold medals. There also is a line noting that he was voted the NBA’s Executive of the Year four times for his work with the Suns.

The sculpture is angled toward GCU Arena and the 16-month-old museum in Colangelo’s honor next door. He hadn’t seen the statue before Saturday.

“Pretty good likeness, I think,” he said.

With an even better message.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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