Son set to rise to challenge

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Bryan Colangelo has found his desert.

It turns out to be Toronto and if the setting is an unexpected twist for an NBA executive groomed in the sunbelt, he will find plenty that is thorny and poisonous here, too.

Colangelo becomes the new president and general manager of the Raptors today because of a trip to the desert taken when his father was 38. Bryan is 40 now.

There are parallels. The father sees it, no doubt so does the son, out of reach until the announcement today.

The Colangelo story is a story of three fathers.

"I grew up in a situation where I didn't have a relationship with my father," Jerry Colangelo once told the Arizona Republic. "I never played ball with my dad. We never went to a game. There wasn't anything there. I was on my own."

Life made Jerry Colangelo a hustler. He once left his home in suburban Chicago for the University of Kansas, convinced that he would play with Wilt Chamberlain. When he got there, he found Chamberlain had signed with the Harlem Globetrotters. Even the dogged Colangelo could not follow him there.

He played at Illinois, got into the tuxedo business, met a man named Dick Klein and helped found the Chicago Bulls. Two years later, he arrived in a barren frontier.

"My wife and I went to Phoenix with three kids, nine suitcases and $300," Colangelo was saying over the phone yesterday.

But there was grit in his gut. The elder Colangelo was removed from his son's life for 35 years. As a father, Jerry Colangelo faced the two choices presented to those with absent, neglectful or abusive parents. He could emulate his father or try to set things right with his own kids.

That need, along with familial love, explains why Bryan Colangelo, after he had been nicely educated back east at Cornell, was called back into the family business.

Having Bryan on hand gave Jerry the other end of a father-son relationship out of which Jerry had been cheated.

It worked for everyone. Bryan was a remarkable, lifelong study. "In his case the learning came much earlier than just the 10 years he was GM (of the Suns)," Jerry said. "He was indoctrinated early on. The good news for Bryan was that he was two years old when we came here and he was able to see how things were done, the good and the bad.

In Phoenix, Jerry Colangelo, who helped build baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks into a World Series champion, who worked his way into the Basketball Hall of Fame, who pretty well founded the WNBA and signed the first Iron Curtain player, is no more famous than the Pope.

The charge that his father's status as GM, then president and CEO of the Suns, is Bryan Colangelo's greatest qualification sticks much better in losing seasons than winning ones. Since the Suns have been in the post-season eight of the past 10 years, the argument doesn't hold much traction.

DO THE JOB

"Anyone who says that doesn't know me," the elder Colangelo said. "If Bryan couldn't do the job, he would have been gone."

"I do believe he (Bryan) is a qualified general manager," former coach Danny Ainge once told the Republic, "but here's the problem. The people that love Jerry want him to be just like Jerry, and that's a hard standard to uphold. The people who don't like Jerry say that Bryan's only there because of his last name."

Now, the son is escaping the land of the long shadows, in another country, where his name never will mean as much as Sittler or Keon or Sundin even if he wins that poor thing that passes for the NBA championship trophy.

He arrives in Toronto at the peak of his reputation.

"Bryan is young and he's bright," said an agent who knows him well. "He will answer every call and when he talks to you, you can tell you're dealing with a bright guy. I mean, somebody in Phoenix must have had a plan to make that team look the way it does."

In 2002, Colangelo was the butt of jokes as the GM whose trades made contenders of New Jersey, Detroit and Boston.

The reigning NBA executive of the year, he rebounded with a total rebuild of the Suns that included the acquisition of Canadian Steve Nash. The Suns, despite injury problems, still are championship timber.

Now he gets to try it here, in a justly embittered market.

"I think Toronto is an ideal situation," said Jerry Colangelo, who knows a little something about making a wasteland work. "There's good ownership. There's talent. There's cap room. He has the chance to be the architect of something special."


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