Old country meets new

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

Near the end of an interview for this column, Angelo Persichilli, the editor of Toronto's Italian daily newspaper Corriere Canadese, asked for a favour.

"Here's my cellphone number," he said. "Give it to him. Tell him if he needs anything, schools, anything, just call."

And so, another quiet cultural lifeline was extended to Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors new president and general manager, his wife Barbara and their two children.

Colangelo might be calling. Two of the big three GMs here in the City of Nations are of Italian descent, but it would be hard for Blue Jays boss J.P. Ricciardi to match Colangelo's pride in his heritage. Man, has he come to the right place.

"It's obviously a big part of my life, being Italian, American-Italian." Colangelo said.

Colangelo's wife was born in Italy. Though he doesn't speak the language fluently, the couple's two children are bilingual, English and Italian.

The Colangelos maintain a summer home in Italy and one of the advantages to coming to Toronto, Colangelo said, was that it offered his wife's family a shorter flight for visits.

While he was the general manager and president of the Phoenix Suns, the out-of-office hangout for Colangelo, his dad Jerry and the front office staff was an Italian place in Phoenix.

"A goodly number of deals were done there," said David Griffin, Colangelo's assistant GM in Phoenix. The Suns are coached by a man named Mike D'Antoni. He has an assistant named Marc Iavaroni. And another, his brother, Dan.

You get the idea.

"We used to joke that if your name ends in a vowel," Griffin said, "you gained a much closer proximity to what really was going on."

Bryan Colangelo's story is that of the third or fourth generation immigrant whose father built a business from the ground up. After he took over the Suns, Jerry Colangelo would bring his son to the Italian neighborhood of his Chicago youth and connect him to his culture.

"I actually was born in Chicago and got to go back quite often with Jerry to see how he grew up," Colangelo said. "I saw the neighbourhoods, and got to know his family so well. They adopted me into their own culture. I'd go back and visit and to this day I still have terrific relationships with all the people back in the neighbourhoods in Chicago."

The younger Colangelo spent four years at Cornell University and then another four in New York City, but the pull of family brought him back to Phoenix and to the family business.

"In Europe, it's encouraged that people grow up in their family business," he said. "In North America it seems to be frowned upon. That's the dynamic you have to deal with."

The question of nepotism always was present in Phoenix, but growing up inside any business all-but imbues the realities and values of the industry into a young person's DNA. It is precisely why, at age 40, Colangelo boasts the experience and contacts of a man 20 years his senior.

VALUES

The Colangelos ran their business with a nod to the old country and it is broadening, this view of a world whose values extend past the borders of a continent.

Rather than see the city as some burg with different money and the metric system, Colangelo saw a perfect destination for the increasing flow of European players thanks to the very kind of welcome offered by the warmhearted Mr. Persichilli.

"If I'm an international player, I would feel a lot more comfortable coming here than some NBA cities," Colangelo said.

For now, Bryan Colangelo will be welcomed as the biggest Italian point of pride this side of former police chief Julian Fantino. And soon, he will be assimilated, just another one of the 500,000 or so people in what is the biggest, truest collection of Italian heartbeats this side of the Mediterranean.

"In about six months, he will be the best tour guide and host the city will have," Griffin said.

"He'll know all the best restaurants, not the most expensive ones, the best ones."

Colangelo already has the scene sussed out.

"Certainly," he said, grinning, "there's a lot better selection of Italian restaurants here than in Phoenix."


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