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Billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia has agreed to purchase the majority stake of the Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Mercury for a record price of $4 billion, Ishbia and current owner Robert Sarver announced on Tuesday.
The deal will end Sarver’s tumultuous tenure.
Ishbia is well-known and well-regarded within the league office, including with commissioner Adam Silver, and has developed relationships with a number of NBA owners. He will have to undergo a background check and a vote of approval from the board of governors, but that’s expected to be a formality, sources said.
Justin Ishbia, Mat Ishbia’s brother and a founding partner in Shore Capital, will make a significant investment and serve as alternate governor.
“I am extremely excited to be the next Governor of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Mat Ishbia said in a statement. “Both teams have an incredibly dynamic fan base and I have loved experiencing the energy of the Valley over the last few months.”
Ishbia’s acquisition of more than 50% of the teams will include all of Sarver’s interest plus a portion of that of minority partners.
The Suns’ record sale marks a new day in the escalating valuations of NBA teams. Joe Tsai bought the Brooklyn Nets for an NBA-record $2.35 billion in 2019. Prior to that sale, Tilman Fertitta purchased the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in 2017, with Steve Ballmer buying the LA Clippers for $2 billion in 2014.
The Lakers had a minority share sold for a higher valuation than the Suns’ $4 billion purchase, landing a $5 billion valuation.
Ishbia, president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, a Michigan-based company, has been pursuing NBA and NFL teams in recent years and finally landed on a deal to own the Suns. Ishbia was a walk-on for Michigan State and part of the Spartans’ 2000 national championship team. He has remained close with Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo, and he previously made a $32 million donation to the basketball program.
“Basketball is at the core of my life, from my high school days as a player to the honor of playing for Coach Izzo and winning a national title at Michigan State University,” Ishbia said in his statement.
The sale will end Sarver’s tenure with the Suns, which dates back to 2004, when he led a group to buy the team for a then-record $401 million from Jerry Colangelo.
“Mat is the right leader to build on franchise legacies of winning and community support and shepherd the Suns and Mercury into the next era,” Sarver said in his statement.
Two current members of the Suns ownership group told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes that they learned of Ishbia’s impending purchase Tuesday and that they were surprised by the speed of the process.
One investment banking official familiar with the process told ESPN that an especially motivated buyer — and one the league is familiar with — can greatly expedite a sale.
Jack Selby, the managing director of Thiel Capital, and Jason Pressman, who is the managing director of Shasta Ventures, had submitted a $3 billion bid to buy the Suns and Mercury. They told ESPN’s Holmes that Ishbia’s bid “was news to us.”
“We haven’t heard from anyone involved in the process,” Selby and Pressman told ESPN. “If we were involved, we would have put together a great group.”
Sarver announced Sept. 21 that he would be selling the Suns and the Mercury in mid-September, soon after the NBA announced its findings from a 10-month investigation into his conduct as majority owner of the Suns.
The NBA commissioned that investigation, led by the New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, in the wake of an ESPN story in November 2021 detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as owner.
As part of the league’s punishment, announced on Sept. 13, Sarver was fined $10 million and suspended for a year, though growing outrage led to him announcing that he was selling the Suns and the Mercury soon after.
Sarver chose the investment bank Moelis & Company to oversee the sale, and investment bank officials who have managed the sales of professional sports franchises previously told ESPN that they expect the transaction’s final price to set a record.
In September, Suns executive vice president and CFO Jim Pitman relayed to team employees that a fully executed sale of the team could take six to nine months, team sources said then, a timeline that would stretch through the 2022-23 season.
But in recent weeks, team employees told ESPN that groups of prospective bidders were seen touring team facilities. Sarver owns about a third of the franchise, but he has the authority as the team’s managing partner to sell the team in full, sources have told ESPN.