How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports

How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports

by Jerry Colangelo, Len Sherman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814437094
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 04/15/1999
Pages: 260
Sales rank: 541,086
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

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How You Play The Game

Lessons for Life From the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports

By Jerry Colangelo, Len Sherman


Copyright © 1999 Jerry Colangelo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3709-4


Back to the Beginning


For more than thirty years, Phoenix has been my home. It is where I settled my young family so long ago and labored to build a business, a reputation, and a life.

But there was a time for me before that, a life before Phoenix, and it began in Chicago Heights, a working-class suburb south of Chicago. And today I have returned to Chicago Heights, to my first home. Today I have come full circle.

This is not to suggest that I haven't returned in three decades. Not at all. Not by a long shot. I still have family here. I still have friends here.

I still have my roots here.

Nonetheless, today—these past few days, in fact—are special, for reasons that are both personal and professional. For starters, I did not travel to Illinois alone, but accompanied the Arizona Diamondbacks, Major League Baseball's newest team, scheduled to playa three-game stand against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs were the first team I loved, the team I loved and followed and supported during my early years-until March 9, 1995, when a group of investors I assembled and led was granted a MLB franchise that would soon become the Diamondbacks, a franchise I would head as the managing general partner.

And Wrigley Field.... Wrigley is a special gem of a ballpark, as beloved as the Cubbies themselves, and the stadium where I attended my first professional sports event. How old was I then? Seven years old? Eight? The place seemed immense, unbelievably gigantic. This was pretelevision, so the closest I could get was listening to the games over the radio. Seeing the players live, face-to-face, to actually be there, was incredible.

Back then, of course, I was happy—thrilled, even—to sit in the bleachers. Now, my seat is directly behind the visitors' dugout—the Diamondbacks' dugout. And I'm surrounded by dozens of old friends from the old neighborhood, whom I invited for this occasion.

Wrigley epitomizes what is best about baseball, with its foul lines set close to the stands, the ivy growing up the wall, the fans yelling and cheering from every corner. Wrigley is an integral piece of Chicago, part of the fabric of the community, as vital to Chicago as the subway or parks. Approaching Wrigley Field on the elevated train, affectionately known as the EI, the cars jammed with those going to the game, riding through the neighborhoods and past the apartment buildings and houses, so many of which have rickety wooden porches and staircases grafted onto the backs, facing the tracks, Wrigley slowly comes into view, big, solid, commanding. The energy on the streets surrounding the ballpark pulsing and electric; the sounds of the gathering inside Wrigley echoing in waves of exhilarated anticipation; the smells of the ballpark—hot dogs and peanuts and pizza and beer—mixing together, brewing a heady, unmistakable elixir; the roofs overlooking the ballpark filled with fans getting a free view of the game; traffic halting as people rush around buying hats and miniature bats and tickets; so much motion, so much excitement, so much laughter....

This is Chicago. This is baseball. This is terrific.

I recall another Cubs game in June 1993, almost exactly five years ago. I was in town because the Phoenix Suns were battling the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. The team had an off night, and I came to Wrigley Field to take in a game. It was a night game, the first one I had ever seen at Wrigley, and the stadium was filled and the place was jumping. I sat there and imagined how terrific it would be to have Major League Baseball in Phoenix.

Two weeks later, I had a visit from a couple of fellow Arizonans—a politician and a lawyer—intent on achieving exactly that dream, bringing a major league expansion franchise to Arizona. They wanted my assistance; actually they wanted me to take the lead. I had to think long and hard and do some diligent investigating before determining if I was willing to assume that imposing commitment. A couple of months later, I made the decision to put together an investment group and raise the money and try to get that franchise for Arizona.

Now, half a decade later, I'm back at Wrigley, back with the Arizona Diamondbacks, back to take on the Cubs. The Diamondbacks won the first game, 5–4, before a sellout crowd. To return home with our own team and win ... amazing. The memories flood back. I remember being about nine years old, sitting in the upper deck at Wrigley, and Roy Campanella of the Dodgers, future Hall of Farner, smacked a foul ball right at me. I reached out my hand and the ball landed in my palm.

Which was more amazing? A nine-year-old's foul ball or a grown-up man's team winning one from the Cubs?

Why choose?

It has been a whirlwind trip, punctuated by events, flavored by family and friends, resonating with those memories. A couple of nights ago, the National Italian American Foundation held a dinner in my honor. Mayor Richard Daley was in attendance and declared Thursday, July 2, 1998, Jerry Colangelo Day throughout Chicago.

The Diamondbacks moved on to Houston this afternoon. After taking that first game from the Cubs, we lost the next two. We'll work to do better next time, and better yet the time after that. Count on it.

I've stayed in town because I've been invited to serve as the grand marshal for Chicago Heights's 1998 Independence Day parade, this year held on July 3. And so this morning we drove south to the Heights, a small caravan in tow, the cars filled with three of my four kids and seven of eight grandchildren. Having my family along with me to enjoy these events and this week renders it all that much more special.

We stopped at Louise and Frank Narcisi's house. I've known Frank since I was a kid. We played together and then, for a short while worked together, before I joined Dick Klein, and together we created the Bulls. Frank stayed in Chicago Heights, recently retiring as the superintendent of maintenance of Bloom Township High School, our old high school. I make sure that he and Louise travel to Phoenix each year for an extended visit.

Frank greeted us as we parked in his driveway. He and Louise had breakfast waiting, highlighted by a huge box of long johns, donuts stretched like long, thick cigars, topped by vanilla icing. Long johns are a tradition between us, reaching back to our youth, when we used to eat two each in the early morning to start the day.

The parade was much like those experienced across small-town America. The route wound down Chicago Road, which was lined with older people seated in their lawn chairs, families spread out on blankets, children chasing each other in circles.

A brief review of classic cars kicked off the parade, followed by a police motorcycle, a fire engine, both with sirens blaring, and a Marine Corps color guard. Politicians running for office-governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, so on-were interspersed throughout the ranks. Ronald McDonald waved to the kids from his perch on top of a giant shoe. A seven-man Mexican band played, courtesy of a local

Mexican restaurant. Teenage cheerleaders from the Chicago Heights Park District leapt about the street. Senior citizen square dancers from the Chicago Heights Happy Swingers swung their partners to the urging of a caller. The Order of Sons of Italy of America, Lodge 1430, was represented, as were the members of the Catholic High School marching band, Polish-American dancers, the Majestic Star Casino, the Lions Club, and the Jesse White Tumbling Team.

That was Chicago Heights. And right in the midst of all this working-class diversity was a float with a staircase on either side, forming a pyramid, covered with white paper and streamers, and adorned with the words "Phoenix Suns" and "Arizona Diamondbacks." That was the Colangelo family float, and we climbed aboard, Joan and myself, and all the kids and grandkids, and were driven along the parade route, waving to the townspeople we had known all these years. That's the way it is with Fourth of July parades in small-town. America-even when they're held on July 3.

Afterwards, we all went to the Crossroads Festival of Chicago Heights, the local carnival with games and rides and food. When I was in high school, I used to attend the local fairs and act as the designated shooter for my buddies. They would give me their quarters; I would find the basketball toss concession, score, and win dolls or other prizes for them. For my efforts, I was informally banned from more than one such attraction.

On the stage, I was introduced to the crowd by Mayor Angelo Ciambrone. "Chicago Heights has a long history," the mayor said, and he talked about a community that was diversified, schools that nurtured, families that cared.

"And one native son has always felt Chicago Heights is his native city," he said, presenting me with a plaque commemorating the occasion. "Jerry, you make us proud."

Burt Moore, my high school basketball coach, was next up, and he presented me with my old jersey, number 23. "I don't know who had it first," he said, "you or Michael Jordan."

He recalled how I went out for the team as a freshman, causing him to ask his assistant coach, "How in the devil are we going to put some meat on this guy?"

It was my turn at the microphone, and I handed Joey Longo the trophy representing the first Jerry Colangelo Award, lauding the eighth grader and basketball star for leading his team in several categories and "exemplifying an attitude of hard work, dedication, and commitment."

It had been a busy day, and a busy week, but the climax of the trip still awaited. The family, Frank and Louise, and Mayor Ciambrone drove over to 22d Street, on Hungry Hill. I don't know for certain why Hungry Hill was so named, though I suspect it was because the people were hungry—hungry for work, hungry for success, hungry for security—and probably just plain hungry, too.

I was raised on Hungry Hill, on 22d Street: 156 22d Street, to be exact. And now we are there again because my hometown is putting up a marker in front of my old home.

With minimal fanfare, a cardboard cover is removed to reveal the marker, prepared by the Chicago Heights Historical Association:

Boyhood Home of Jerry Colangelo
Dedicated July 3, 1998
City of Chicago Heights
Mayor Angelo A. Ciambrone

It is a wonderful moment. The couple who live in the narrow house now-reshingled and its green exterior repainted white with blue trim-graciously invite the family inside to see where I grew up. And as they walk up the few steps, the grandchildren eagerly mounting the stairs ahead of the adults, my mind whirls back half a century ago, to when I was maybe seven years old and my grandfather would bang on the pipes to wake me up for my paper route.

Giovanni and Rosina Colangelo immigrated from a mountain village east of Naples around the turn of the century. They made their way to Chicago Heights, a working-class town south of Chicago, dependent upon its steel mills and foundries. A lunch-bucket community with large concentrations of Italian and Polish immigrants. Every corner had a saloon, and the successful entrepreneur owned a small grocery store.

I learned about roots before roots were popular. Chicago Heights was a close community. Homes were kept unlocked and open, and a closeness existed between families and between neighbors that must seem inconceivable to many younger people today.

Sometime during the 1920s, my grandfather, who worked as a laborer for the city, county, and state, built our house with his own hands, using the lumber from two railroad boxcars for his primary construction material. It was a small, two-story affair, with a kitchen, living room, and bedroom downstairs, and two rooms upstairs. He and grandma had five children: Angelo, Hugo, Christina, Levio, and Dorothy. Levio, who went by Larry, was my father.

My grandmother was not only a great cook but also the neighborhood medic, dispensing Old. World remedies to all in need.

When I was born, my grandparents lived downstairs, along with an aunt and uncle. My father and mother slept upstairs. My mother's name was Sue, and she came from Joliet, Illinois. As was common at the time, she left school after the fourth grade. Although she was of Russian-Czech heritage, she adapted to the Colangelo family Italian mores and manners.

I also slept upstairs and shared a room with my younger sister. When grandfather judged that she and I were getting too old to sleep in the same room, he took his tools and built another upstairs bedroom. This was my room, but it was so small that, as I grew to six foot four, my feet literally stuck out the door, back into my sister's room.

The family, frequently along with other relatives as well, would congregate downstairs for our meals. Everyone in the neighborhood had a tiny garden, where vegetables were meticulously grown. It was a simple existence; few people finished school and continued on to college but rather went to labor in the local factories and foundries. People worked hard, and they' often played hard, too, keeping the taverns open until late, drinking and arguing and laughing, and playing bocci ball. The 3-Star Ristorante (which was more of a saloon than a restaurant back then) was just two doors away, and its outdoor bocci court was inevitably busy. Most nights I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of bocci balls clicking against one another.

Mine was a typical Italian upbringing; we shared everything with one another, knew everybody's business, our sense of family extended far beyond our four walls, and we felt safe and secure and loved.

Then there was grandfather. As I've mentioned, he would grab a spoon and bang on an exposed water pipe between five and five-thirty in the morning to wake me so I could deliver newspapers. Beginning around the age of nine, I delivered five newspapers: two in the morning, two in the afternoon, and the Chicago Heights Star a couple of days a week. Grandpa would give me a cup of coffee to get me going, and, when it was cold enough—and nothing beats a really cold Chicago dawn—toss in a drop or two of whiskey. I remember two dogs from the neighborhood—Spot and Tippy—who used to wait for me outside my door, and accompany me on my route. Funny what you remember after so many years.

When I got a little older, I also caddied at Idlewild Country Club, in nearby Flossmoor. Hitchhiking back and forth to the club, I earned three dollars for carrying a bag for eighteen holes, double if I could manage two bags. I knew the meaning and the value of hard work early on, for that was one of the lessons the family and the neighborhood taught, with unmistakable clarity.

Nonetheless, I can't claim that work dominated my youth. Nor, truth be told, did school. Sports were my passion, my preoccupation, my purpose, and my point.

I'd leave the house with a salt shaker stuck into my pocket, and snatch a tomato off somebody's vine for lunch, not letting anything slow me down on my way to the next game. We mainly played baseball and basketball, and we played wherever we could find a park, schoolyard, field, or alley.

Our equipment was makeshift at best. The baseball bat we used was held in one piece with literally dozens of nails, and the ball was more tape than ball.

I was a dedicated athlete and achieved a modest amount of recognition in the neighborhood. By the time I was a teenager, I had already learned about the work ethic and responsibility; soon, my athletic successes would make me feel that I had a further responsibility in representing my family and my town. This feeling would only grow with time, and I still carry it with me, in everything I do, in representing not just Chicago Heights now, but also Phoenix and Arizona.

I was a diehard Cubs fan, and many a night I fell asleep listening to the game on the radio. I dreamed about one day pitching at Wrigley Field for the home team. There were only eight teams in the National League and eight in the American, and many of us young fans could name every player on not only our hometown teams but many other teams, too.

I encountered one stumbling block on my own path to glory. In seventh grade, I was cut during tryouts for the junior high basketball squad. A southpaw, I couldn't shoot a layup with my right hand with any consistency. The cut constituted a severe setback to this playground athlete, and I worked for a year until I had the layups down pat. I returned to tryout for the team in eighth grade and was the last person kept. By the end of the year, I was in the starting lineup.

In high school, I pitched for the baseball team and played guard for the basketball team.

Anyone who follows high school basketball—or saw the movie "Hoosiers"—knows just how competitive and important the sport is in secondary schools throughout Illinois and Indiana. When I was in my teens, the best basketball in the country was being played in those neighboring states. My goal—my one, overriding, absolute goal—was winning the state championship for Bloom Township.

In my junior year, our team was 22–6. I was confident this was it, this was our time, even though our starting team was kind of young, with three juniors, one sophomore and one freshman. However, we ran into Oak Park in the first round of the championship tournament, a matchup that should have occurred a lot further down the road. We fought down the wire, but we ended up losing. I still see the score in my mind's eye: 62–57.


Excerpted from How You Play The Game by Jerry Colangelo, Len Sherman. Copyright © 1999 Jerry Colangelo. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by David Stern, ix,
Foreword by Allan H. (Bud) Selig, xi,
Acknowledgments, xiii,
Prologue, 1,
1. Back to the Beginning, 5,
2. The Birth of the Bulls, 25,
3. From Chicago to Phoenix, 49,
4. Synergy and the Sports Business, 95,
5. Character and Characters, 117,
6. Thinking Baseball, 141,
7. Protecting Your Investment, 169,
8. The Stadium, 183,
199, 9.,
213, 10.,

What People are Saying About This

David Stern

Colangelo's lesson is that meticulous attention to every aspect of a franchise operation, venue, and place in the community yields success. (David Stern, NBA Commissioner, quoted from a Forbes magazine interview)

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How you Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Aguilar91 More than 1 year ago
"How you play the game" is a book that really inspires you to succeed in life.Jerry Colangelo is a very well respected person in the sports world and he is a real example of the American Dream. One of the things that i noticed is that he never gives up, he fights any obstacle till he achieves his goal. No matter how difficult it is, he never gives up. I really want to be like Jerry and succeed in life. This is a great book and I recommend it to everyone and anyone to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jerry Colangelo's book inspired me to go out in life and don't hesitate when an opportunity comes my way. Not to many opportunities come, so when they do you just have to go all out and not fear failure. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who feels as though they want to achieve something in life. Actually I strongly recommend anyone to read this book, because Jerry teaches so many life lessons, and he has all the experience, success,and money to back it up.
patrickhan001 More than 1 year ago
It's a great book that explain how  professional Sports Team owner run their team !
Juan-R More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book because of the way that the author shows us how he got to his success. It explains the methods he used to create his sports team. From a student that's greatly interested in entrepreneurship this book does an amazing job at giving advice on how to start a franchise. Overall this book was great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jose14 More than 1 year ago
How You Play The Game is a very interesting book about the life of Jerry Colangelo. It is well written and keeps you interested while learning how the business works. This book is great for anyone who is interested in going into business it gives you an understanding of what it takes to make it. This book is a good book and it shows you just how hard you have to work and also how you can start out ordinary and achieve extraordinary things. Though this book Jerry Colangleo tries to teach you How You Play The Game.