Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law


J. S. Ruffner

First Page



In late spring of 1987, I received a telephone call that changed my law practice. Jerry Colangelo, General Manager of the Suns since its arrival in Phoenix as an expansion NBA franchise in 1969, called me to discuss representing a group of investors he was putting together for the purchase of the franchise. At the time, the Suns franchise was the only major professional sports team in Arizona and had been very successful. Unfortunately, the reputation of the team, carefully nurtured from its arrival, recently had been tarnished by allegations and investigations concerning drugs. Jerry explained that the Tucson and California owners of the Suns were considering selling the franchise or moving it from Phoenix. True to an unwritten understanding with the owners, Jerry was being given an opportunity to buy the franchise if he could meet the price the owners had set. Jerry recounted that he had begun contacting investors by meeting with John W. Teets, Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Greyhound Corporation, and Greyhound's General Counsel, L. Gene Lemon. He proposed that Greyhound consider becoming a lead investor. During the discussions with Greyhound, I had been recommended to assist in putting together the investment group. Having just received the call from John Teets that he was waiting for--confirming that the Board of Directors of Greyhound had voted to put up $6 million for a 25 percent interest in the team--Jerry thought it was time for me to get involved.

I had moved my family to Phoenix in 1972 after obtaining an L.L.M. from the Graduate Tax Program at New York University. By 1987, I was primarily a transactional lawyer and it was as a result of several large projects for Greyhound that I became involved with the Suns. Except for a few areas (such as the organization and structure of the professional leagues and associations, player contracting and certain aspects of arena and stadium development matters), "sports law" differs very little from any other business practice. Needless to say, with its increasing popularity, the markets for related merchandise and business interest in seeking sponsorship and promotion opportunities, professional sports has become big business. This article covers my involvement in Phoenix during what has been a period of unprecedented growth.