SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Colangelo is one of the most decorated figures in NBA history, in addition to being one of its most influential men.
When USA Basketball was a mess, he became its executive director and created a program that restored national dominance, requiring a commitment from players for back-to-back summers that many didn’t believe was possible.
He did it.
He was arguably the most important figure in Phoenix Suns history, serving as team owner and general manager of basketball for separate periods.
So when he talks about the future of basketball, it would be wise to take notice – or at least understand that he’s not just riffing.
The president of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced the Hall finalists and stayed Friday after Dwyane Wade and Pau Gasol took the stage. He was part of the Suns expansion group and he thinks the league is ready for more teams now.
“Personally, I am. OK, I do,” Colangelo told Yahoo Sports. “And I think you just hit a few markets that make the most sense (Seattle and Las Vegas).”
Thirty-two teams seems a bit too much at first glance, but Colangelo feels the talent can sustain 30 more jobs. During the biggest expansion boom of the late 1980s to mid-1990s, the league grew from 24 teams to 30.
Minnesota, Orlando, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver and Charlotte were added during this period. Some would say the league suffered because of talent dilution, and the Chicago Bulls dominated starting in the early ’90s when they had no top talent peers.
“The stars keep coming,” Colangelo said. “(Mikal) Bridges in Brooklyn, he gets 45 in his (third) game. This is a news (star). I’m not worried, ‘Well, how are you going to populate these new teams?’ There is a lot of talent and more stars on the rise.
“I think basketball is in great shape. I think the game has grown so much. And I can think back. I used to hear things said about other players in the league. Well, who going to replace Oscar Robertson, who’s going to replace Jerry West, who’s going to replace Bill Russell, there’s been another wave of people, and another wave and the waves keep coming.
“You look at some of the individuals today, there are a number of international players who are (Hall) finalists – Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Gasol, right. It’s amazing that the growth of the game itself in the world keeps blowing up. And I think it’s going to continue, you know why? Because it’s a great game.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked about it, saying there had been no direct talks about the expansion, given the more pressing needs to strike a new collective bargaining agreement.
“What I’ve said before, because the topic comes up a lot, I would say mostly people asking me or other league members about it is that it’s natural to some point an organization grows,” Silver said. “In this case, because we’re in both a CBA cycle and a national (rights) media cycle, our current deals are up in two and a half years.”
Expansion fees are sent to each team when the league expands, so teams probably wouldn’t mind. And with the recent $4 billion purchase of the Phoenix Suns by Mat Ishbia, the market is set for franchise scorers.
It looks like things are lining up that way, especially with Silver’s note on the ABC and the media rights deals.
“The view from our governors has been, let’s find out exactly what the new ABC looks like, let’s find out what our new media deals look like. So let’s think about expansion,” Silver said.
“So invariably, we will. There are no active discussions in the league office at this time, but we will come back to this in a few years.
At the moment, Silver had to call a vote to endorse Ishbia, which was adopted unanimously. And Colangelo was a welcome sounding board for early Ishbia.
“I met him and his brother. They are two enthusiastic young guys, they are engaged,” Colangelo told Yahoo Sports. “Mat is a basketball player in the sense that he played at Michigan State. Not much, but he played. And we had the chance to meet in Phoenix, he contacted me and I told him that I was there to help in any way possible.
On Ishbia’s first day, he pushed for more star power and Kevin Durant was acquired – someone Colangelo has known for nearly two decades.
“Well, I’m so happy for Kevin, because I think he’s happy to be where he is,” Colangelo said. “I can’t say enough about him. I like this guy. I like this. His attitude – he’s a hooper. Yes, he just wants to play basketball. Yeah, I’ll tell you this about the Phoenix team. Now when you look at Chris Paul, you look at Booker, you look at Durant. There is no high maintenance. These are guys who just want to play. I’m just excited for the whole team.
And even at 83, Colangelo still finds excitement and new things on the horizon.