PHOENIX — Jahm Najafi moved to the United States when he was 12 years old. He said his family moved to Phoenix because they knew someone here.
Najafi moved to the Valley just in time for the 1976 Phoenix Suns attempt at a championship. He didn't know English at the time and turned to sports for help.
“Suns were playing against the Celtics and, of course, everybody knows about Gar Heard’s shot heard around the world," Najafi said. "I was actually sitting there in a chair watching the game learning English.”
Fast forward to today and Najafi is a part-owner of the team he credits with helping him learn English.
But it's not the only orange team Najafi is associated with.
He's also Vice Chairman of McLaren Racing. The team and Formula 1 have always been popular internationally but interest in the United States is quickly growing in light of a popular Netflix series, "Drive to Survive", which follows the sport and the lives of the twenty drivers who race in it.
“It’s a fun, fun sport to watch. The characters, the individuals behind it, and what each driver has to go through," Najafi said.
This weekend, McLaren's two drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, are helping Najafi's sports worlds collide. They are representing the Phoenix Suns during their home race on the other side of the world, the British Grand Prix.
Their papaya-colored cars are decorated with the Valley's famous orange logo.
“It’s wonderful to see the teams supporting each other and the Suns logo on the car," Najafi said.
Najafi is also applying his passion for social justice to both programs. He's focused on doing his part to diversify the Formula 1 sport and has personally donated $10 million to the NBA Foundation which will go towards economic empowerment for Black communities.
Now, as the multi-sport, vice-chairman looks forward, he remembers his 12-year-old self, hoping his dream of witnessing a Suns championship can finally come true.
“I continuously pinch myself to be in the position I am. The team belongs to the Valley the team belongs to the City of Phoenix and all of Arizona," Najafi said.
"We are temporary stewards of what that team is and it’s amazing what we’ve accomplished over the past several decades.”
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