The billionaire CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, Mat Ishbia, revealed on Tuesday that he and his brother Justin had agreed to pay $4 billion to oust disgraced owner Robert Sarver as the majority owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
The Ishbia brothers will hold “more than 50 percent ownership in the franchise, including all of Sarver’s interest, and a share of the interest of [current] minority partners,” according to the terms of the agreement, which needs to be approved by the NBA Board of Governors. Justin Ishbia will serve as the franchise’s alternate governor, with Mat Ishbia serving as the governor.
BREAKING: Billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia is finalizing a purchase of the Phoenix Suns, sources tell ESPN. The deal, expected to be completed in the near future, would end the tumultuous tenure of owner Robert Sarver.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 20, 2022
The arrangement was reached three months after Sarver, a real estate investor who bought the Suns in 2004 and began selling the organizations due to an NBA-commissioned probe carried out by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Investigators found that Sarver frequently used sexist and racial words at work among other instances of wrongdoing.
“I am extremely excited to be the next Governor of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Ishbia said in a statement. “Both teams have an incredibly dynamic fan base. … I appreciate Robert Sarver’s time and support throughout the process. We are so honored to be, with approval by the NBA, the next stewards of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.”
Ishbia, a Michigan State alum, played basketball as a walk-on for the Spartans. The infrequently used guard played on Michigan State’s 2000 NCAA championship squad. ESPN initially announced Ishbia’s agreement to buy the Suns and Mercury.
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Ishbia joined the business his father had started, United Wholesale Mortgage, after earning his business degree from Michigan State in 2003. Since Ishbia took over as CEO in 2013, the Michigan-based business has expanded to roughly 7,000 people, helping it become the largest wholesale mortgage lender in the nation in 2015.
Ishbia said Tuesday that “basketball is at the core of my life,” He explained in a recent HBO feature how his corporate philosophy was shaped by Tom Izzo, Michigan State’s legendary coach.
“This is not that complicated,” he said. “Get the best people to join your team. Right? Just like in sports. Train them, coach them to be the best version of themselves, like Izzo used to do with us. And then treat them so well that they never want to leave.”
Ishbia sought NFL ownership prospects before his deal to buy the Suns, making an unsuccessful attempt for the Denver Broncos and announcing in November that he was considering a bid for the Washington Commanders.
The $4 billion agreement surpasses the $2.35 billion Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 to become the largest NBA team acquisition ever. Sarver bought the Suns for $401 million.
The Suns were given a $2.7 billion valuation by Forbes in October, placing them 13th of the league’s 30 franchises. Phoenix made it to the NBA Finals in 2021 and set a team record with 64 victories last season under the leadership of standout guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The Suns haven’t won a title since they joined the NBA in 1968, but they have made it to the Finals three times and had MVPs in Charles Barkley (1993) and Steve Nash (2002). (2005 and 2006). Phoenix enters Tuesday’s game against the visiting Washington Wizards as the third-seed in the Western Conference with a record of 19-12, despite the uncertainty surrounding its ownership group.
“Mat is the right leader to build on franchise legacies of winning and community support,” Sarver said in a statement. “I know he shares my unwavering support for women’s basketball and I look forward to watching him become a unifying force across the Valley of the Sun.”
The NBA had fined Sarver $10 million and suspended him for a year before his choice to sell. Commissioner Adam Silver did not impose a lifetime suspension, as he did with the former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded in 2014 uttering racial remarks. Sarver’s penalty was criticized by politicians, human rights advocates, and renowned NBA players, notably LeBron James, for not being harsh enough. A significant sponsor, PayPal, disclosed plans to sever ties with the Suns.
The 61-year-old Sarver, an Arizona native, vigorously disputed a 2021 ESPN report that contained numerous allegations of workplace misconduct. However, under increasing pressure in September, he gave in, declaring that he didn’t want to be a “distraction” and “wants what’s best” for the Suns and Mercury.
Sources: Billionaire Mat Ishbia is purchasing the Phoenix Suns and Mercury for $4 billion. Robert Sarver has agreed in principle to sell. Ishbia was a national champion on Michigan State‘s basketball team in 2000.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 20, 2022
“As a man of faith, I believe in the atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my controversy from the teams I and so many fans love,” Sarver said. “But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past.”
Silver said at the time that he “fully supported” Sarver’s decision and that it was “the right next step” for the Suns. New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, president of the National Basketball Players Association, thanked Sarver “for making a swift decision that was in the best interest of our sports community.”
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Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports that the Phoenix Suns have a buyer. Mat Ishbia, the multibillionaire president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, is close to buying the NBA team. The range is close to $4 billion.
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