Jerry Colangelo, former Mayor Richard M. Daley and other members of the Chicago contingent were on a Copenhagen bus seven years ago, headed for the 2016 Olympic host city vote, when someone got a message on their Blackberry.
The International Olympic Committee, which started the vote without them, eliminated Chicago from contention.
In a four-city race, it hadn’t even medaled.
Rather than continue to the convention center, the bus turned around. It headed for the venue the once-confident Chicago group had booked for dinner celebrating their Olympic bid victory.
“We went there and we had a wake instead,” Colangelo said.
The reason for Chicago’s elimination still bothers Colangelo, the Chicago Heights native who serves as the 76ers’ chairman of basketball operations and the chairman of USA Basketball.
He suspects Chicago lost a rigged race.
“You can speculate about what caused the vote to be what it was, but all that really truly is, is speculation,” he told the Sun-Times on Monday. “But I experienced what I did, and I’m just telling you what I believe.”
Earlier Monday, he told ESPN Radio that the vote was “wired,” and the decision was “made before the vote even took place” on Oct. 2, 2009.
“We were just kinda confounded by the result,” said Colangelo, who attended Bloom High School and played basketball at Illinois before buying, and selling, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns. “It’s pretty hard to finish fourth in a four-team race —when it was overwhelming in terms of who was first.”
The winner, Rio de Janeiro, has been experiencing an economic and health crisis, among myriad calamities, in the months leading up to the Games, which start Aug. 5.
Seven years ago, the Chicago pitch included President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Daley and others. Colangelo said Chicago had assembled the best package “financially, aesthetically, as far as infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, venues, what was going to be constructed.”
“It wasn’t even close with the other three (cities),” he said.
After making their presentation, members of the Chicago contingency went back to their hotel to watch the other presentations — Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo — on a big screen.
“And with each city doing it, we felt emboldened,” Colangelo said. “We felt stronger each time.”
Because South America had never hosted the Olympics, Colangelo thought that, “under the worst of circumstances,” Chicago might have faced off against Rio de Janeiro in the final two.
Instead, Chicago was the first city eliminated.
“It was an incredible result,” Colangelo said. “That’s all I can tell you.”
Colangelo said the Chicago group couldn’t have done anything different, in retrospect, calling the pitch “a great effort on the part of the committee and the people.” The Chicago group lobbied delegates and believed the city had “the strongest package,” he said.
The 76-year-old dreamed of the Games in hometown — and so did Mike Krzyzewski, the USA men’s basketball coach who attended the now-defunct Weber High School.
Monday, Colangelo shared a bus with the Duke coach in New York City, shuttling to USA Basketball events.
“For both of us, both coming from Chicago, we dreamed about going full circle for both of us — to come back and get another gold medal and walk off into Lake Michigan,” Colangelo said. “But that wasn’t meant to be. That’s just the personal … We were very disappointed. That would have been a great way to do it.”
Instead, Colangelo is left wondering, even seven years later.
“It would have been great for Chicago,” he said. “Chicago would have been a great host city — I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
“I would much rather be in Chicago than Rio. How’s that?”