Big Men on Campus
Loyal, high-powered boosters support university athletic programs with hearts, minds and wallets
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006
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Click's sincerity has proven terrifically lucrative. Even when the auto industry has a slump, it rarely seems to affect rapidly growing Tucson, and it almost never affects Click's two dozen dealerships. But beyond a passion for racing cars and a private plane, his lifestyle shows few of the trappings of such success. He still lives in the same comfortable but hardly grandiose house he bought three decades ago.
Instead, Click likes to give his money away. He tries to support as many organizations as he can, from the Boys and Girls Club to Junior Achievement, from hospitals to charities for the homeless. "I even bought a monkey one time for a kid who was dying," he says. What they have in common is Tucson. "Tucson has been extremely good to me," he says. He wants everyone to know that he has tied his fortunes to the city.
But as much as any city of its size in the country, Tucson's fortunes are tied to its university. And because he's a fan and a former player, and because you can't plausibly walk through campus cheering on its laboratories and libraries, Click has focused on the athletic department—and more specifically the football team, though it's Lute Olson's basketball Wildcats who have staked out a permanent place in the Top 25 and won the 1997 national championship. (Click attends basketball games and is a friend and supporter of Olson, but says, "Basketball's been such a winning program, they've got the whole town behind them. They don't need me.")
In his office, Click has photos of himself with two presidents named Bush, one named Clinton, one named Ford, one named Reagan. His friends and associates are some of America's most successful people. Yet it takes an extraordinary occasion to make him miss a game—such as when his business partner's daughter got married last season on the same night that the Wildcats upset undefeated UCLA. When he misses a road game, he waits at the airport to greet the team plane, win or lose. "I just want to show them support," he says.
"I've seen people like this at Oklahoma, at Kansas State, everywhere I've been," says Mike Stoops, Arizona's head football coach. "With the great ones, it's not so much the money as their support. You want people there through the bad times, as well as the good times. We've struggled through some excruciating games here, and Jim sees the progress. He calls me every Monday and let's me know we're doing a good job."
Click's involvement with the program has generated friendships in high places, but he doesn't request favors. He won't even offer unsolicited opinions. "He likes to be part of the process," says Livengood. "But in the 12 years I've been here with him, he has never once called and said, 'You should do this.'" Still, when Livengood was headed to Norman, Oklahoma, to interview Stoops, then an OU assistant, he asked Click to come. "I wanted him on board," Livengood says. "It's not so much that we needed his buy-in, but someone as successful as Jim can sense the drive to succeed that someone has. He understands people." It goes without saying that Click tore up his schedule on a moment's notice. He even contributed his plane.
Click's around so much that he often knows news about the Wildcats before almost anyone else. He can be counted on to keep secrets, unlike some supporters, who get a kick out of being able to disseminate information as cocktail-party chatter. That only happened once with Click, and nobody could blame him for it. In 2004, he was in Phoenix attending a rally for George W. Bush. He'd been an early supporter of Bush and had come to know him well. At the time, the Wildcats were just completing the process of hiring a new football coach, and had managed to keep their choice confidential. Standing at the podium, Bush saw Click across the room. He called out, "Hey, Click, who's your new football coach?"
"I can't tell you, Mr. President," Click responded. "Well, come up and whisper in my ear."
Click dutifully mounted the podium. "It's Mike Stoops," he told Bush. "We're hiring Stoops." Bush approached the microphone with a mischievous grin. "Click says it's Stoops," he called out to Click's dismay.
The next day, senior associate athletic director Chris del Conte received a phone call from Arturo Moreno. The owner of baseball's Los Angeles Angels and another big Wildcats supporter, Moreno had also attended the fund-raiser. Now he was calling, only half in jest, to find out why Click had known the identity of the next coach and he hadn't.
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