|Bryan Colangelo shakes hands with Wayne Embry as he is introduced as the Toronto Raptors president and general manager Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)
Before he uttered his first words to the media, before he met with Sam Mitchell and the Raptor players, before he even entered the Air Canada Centre yesterday, Bryan Colangelo already had delivered a more powerful impact on Toronto's NBA enterprise than any of his predecessors.
It's called credibility, and without it this franchise might just wither and die. That may sound extreme but if a professional sports team doesn't have credibility, it doesn't have anything. And for several years, this franchise has been teetering on the edge, both with its own fans and on a league-wide basis. Now they have a president and general manager whose very presence changes everything.
Colangelo, just 40 years old, brings 15 years of NBA experience, 11 as a general manager and seven as president of the Phoenix Suns, one of the league's most successful franchises over that period.
"The proven expertise was key," Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. CEO Richard Peddie said. "Credibility follows that pretty quickly. It's nice to have it all in one package."
You might wonder what the catch is. Why would such an accomplished NBA executive, with perhaps his best working years still ahead of him, be available on such short notice. After all, it has been only 34 days since Rob Babcock walked the plank. Now the Raptors have replaced him with the most significant hire in their history.
The answer rests with Robert Sarver. Two years ago, a group led by Sarver purchased the Suns from a group including Jerry Colangelo, Bryan's father. Even though Bryan continued to do a first-rate job running the basketball side for neophyte owners, there is a suspicion Sarver wants more control on the basketball side or at least wants his own man in place.
So, when the Raptors asked for permission to talk with Colangelo, then offered him the job, it was up to Sarver to make a counter-offer. That didn't materialize.
"There was never a contract offer," Colangelo said yesterday. "I'm not certain why. But, if anything that clarified my position with respect to coming here."
Colangelo has that self-assurance common to all the best managers. Pat Gillick has that quality. With the Blue Jays all those years, Gillick always credited his staff and advisers when so many things went right, and when there was blame to be shouldered, he took it all on himself.
At first blush, Colangelo, the NBA executive of the year in 2005, appears cut of the same cloth. In discussing the Suns and their successes, he deflected the glory on to his people.
"I appreciate people giving me all the accolades for all the things that happened but when I received that award last year I made sure to point out that everything we do is based on a consensus," he said. "And that's the way it will be here. I will not make a player transaction if Wayne (Embry) and Sam and anyone else in the basketball organization's process is not on board. I collect information, piece it together, I make sure we're happy making a decision and then move forward."
Once he settles in, there's little question a variety of changes will occur, but Colangelo isn't arriving with spurs jangling, anxious to sweep the place clean.
"I've told Wayne, I've told Sam Mitchell, I've told the team that everyone starts with an absolutely clean slate," he said.
"There are going to be questions about 'my' guys coming in and different things that might happen. But it's not going to be like that. It's about forming relationships about learning the culture of this organization as soon as I can, it's about integrating myself into this city.
"I'd like to think that the reason they came after me and the reason they hired me was to bring stability to the organization. Basketball-wise, this team hasn't always been up to par. They've given me the necessary tools to change that.
"I'm all about establishing a culture of winning, success and excellence."
Colangelo talked about locking up Chris Bosh and Mike James, about making this town a destination for free agents, about the roster possibilities that exist as a result of the clearing of cap space by his friend and mentor, Embry.
All that will happen in due time. Yesterday was all about stopping the bleeding, once and for all, with a tourniquet called credibility.