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PHOENIX – April 2004 was a significant month in Phoenix Suns history.
For an NBA record $401 million franchise selling price, businessman Robert Sarver and his investment partnership, Suns Legacy Partners, purchased the team from Jerry Colangelo.
“At the time, the Suns were considered one of the most elite NBA franchises around under Colangelo,” Arizona Republic reporter Craig Harris said. “He had built that franchise up from nothing. … He had built them up to that value.”
Sarver, a Tucson native, was a banking and real estate guru at the time but had few ties to the basketball world.
Although it came as a shock to many that Colangelo was selling the team he had owned since 1987, many Suns fans expressed confidence that the transition would be smooth.
“At the time of the purchase,” Harris said, “I don’t really think that people cared because Jerry was going to stay on for several years, and for better or for worse, people trusted Jerry Coangelo. He’s a man of his word.”
Colangelo remained the franchise’s chairman, chief executive and mentor to Sarver for the next three years.
Sarver stressed that his role would be primarily focused on finance and revenue – the business side – and that he would leave day-to-day operations to the management team that was already in place.
Much has happened in 16 years. From the time of the purchase until now, Sarver and the Suns have been through nine coaches and eight general managers, including the departure of Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr, two of the biggest names in basketball.
“Robert’s problem – and he’s even admitted it – he’s meddled too much,” Harris said. “He gave bad contracts to people. He’s made bad hires for (general manager). … He was so successful in banking and so successful in real estate, he just thought he’d be successful in running a basketball team.”
The Suns have not made the playoffs since 2010 and have not had a winning season since 2014. The decline of the team’s performance has frustrated fans.
“I think for better or for worse, the Suns would not be in this 10-year drought of not being in the playoffs if Colangelo still ran the team,” Harris said. “He would not have let it happen.”