To NBA fans who sneered at Bryan Colangelo's meteoric rise within the Phoenix Suns' organization, the 39-year-old is ready to share his secrets on corporate-ladder climbing.
"Okay, I had an outstanding relationship with the owner," Colangelo cracked.
Steve Nash, who leads the NBA in assists, has helped lead Phoenix to the top of the Western Conference.
(Douglas C. Pizac - AP)
The Suns' owner at the time was Jerry Colangelo, Bryan's father. He sold the franchise last summer for $401 million, but is regarded as the founding father of professional sports in Phoenix: He launched the Suns and had a hand in bringing MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes to Arizona.
While Jerry is revered by Suns fans, Bryan had been dismissed by critics as an empty suit, the "boss's son." Ever since becoming general manager in 1995, Bryan has heard the whispers about nepotism, how he is "no Jerry," and is undeserving of his station, even from within his own organization. He refuses to discuss the criticism but acknowledges that it was often painful. What could he do but bite his lip, bide his time and wait for a chance to prove himself?
His chance appears to have come.
Six months after the sale of the team and being retained as president by the club's new owner, Bryan Colangelo can take credit for assembling a roster that has posted an NBA-best 31-6 record, and has steamrolled over such top teams as the Seattle SuperSonics and the Shaquille O'Neal-led Miami Heat, with what NBA insiders say is one of the league's most balanced attacks.
"All the pieces seem to fit," said agent Mark Bartelstein, who has sat across the negotiating table from the Colangelos for more than 20 years. "It's a bunch of guys who all play the same style and each piece complements the other."
Phoenix plays the Washington Wizards tonight at MCI Center, in a battle of two of the league's highest-scoring teams.
The Suns' bread and butter is the fast break, anchored by point guard Steve Nash, the league leader in assists (11.1 per game) and the free agent Colangelo wooed away from the Dallas Mavericks last summer. Nash played only 11 minutes last night in the team's 101-83 loss at Indiana before leaving the game early in the second quarter with a bruised left thigh. He is listed as questionable for tonight's game.
The Suns' inside game features Amare Stoudemire, Bryan's steal of a draft pick in 2002, who possesses some of the league's niftiest inside moves and has the fourth-highest scoring average (26 points per game). For long-range shooting, the club relies on swingman Joe Johnson, for whom Bryan Colangelo traded three years ago, and has this season posted the NBA's fifth highest three-point percentage (45.9).
"This is Bryan's team," said Suns principal owner Robert Sarver, a banking and real estate mogul.
"We have the league's youngest roster and the fourth-lowest payroll," said a proud Jerry Colangelo. "Bryan is the one who mapped it out."
As an organization, the Suns want to put to rest the belief that Jerry Colangelo is responsible for all of the team's successes and Bryan is responsible for all of its blunders.
They know that credit rarely has gone to Bryan Colangelo for any of his accomplishments, and he's taken more than his share of blame for the Suns' blunders.