NBA approves sale of Phoenix Suns, Mercury to Mat Ishbia
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PHOENIX (AP) — Mortgage executive and former Michigan State guard Mat Ishbia is the new majority owner of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, after the NBA’s board of governors approved his plan to purchase the controlling stake of those franchises from Robert Sarver.
The league announced the approval Monday night, saying the transaction will be finalized later this week. The vote was 29-0, with the Cleveland Cavaliers abstaining, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the final decision had not yet been announced publicly.
Ishbia agreed on Dec. 20 to the deal, one that put the total value of the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion. Ishbia and his brother Justin said then that they would be acquiring more than 50% of the franchises, which includes the entirety of the embattled Sarver’s share as well as some holdings from minority partners.
Mat Ishbia will be the Suns’ governor, Justin Ishbia will be alternate governor. They now can assume those roles just days before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, and with the Suns squarely in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race.
There are tentative plans to introduce Mat Ishbia on Wednesday at a news conference in Phoenix.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 04: Incoming Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia smiles during the game between the Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns at Little Caesars Arena on February 04, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
No other sale in NBA history has been completed with a $4 billion valuation of the franchise involved. Joe Tsai bought the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center for $3.3 billion in 2019, and Tilman Fertitta purchased the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in 2017.
The sale was finalized hours after Jason Rowley — who was the Suns president and CEO — decided to leave the team in anticipation of the leadership changes, a person familiar with the matter told AP. That person, speaking on condition of anonymity because Rowley’s resignation was not shared outside the organization, said Rowley’s departure was "shared internally" within the Suns organization on Monday.
Mat Ishbia is the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, which bills itself as the nation’s largest mortgage lender. He had to successfully complete a vetting process by the NBA before the transaction could be finalized, and then the league’s other owners cast their ballots for or against the move.
Forbes recently listed his net worth as just over $5 billion. Ishbia’s company went public in January 2021 and is a rival to Quicken Loans — the company that has Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert as its founder and chairman.
Ishbia played at Michigan State under coach Tom Izzo and was a member of the Spartans’ NCAA championship team in 2000.
The NBA suspended Sarver in September for one year, plus fined him $10 million, after an investigation found he had engaged in what the league called "workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies."
The punishment came nearly a year after the NBA asked a law firm to investigate allegations that Sarver had a history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents over his nearly two-decade tenure overseeing the franchise.
Shortly afterward, Sarver announced he would be looking to sell the Suns and the Mercury. He bought the Suns in 2004 for $401 million, which at the time was an NBA record.
Ishbia has been mentioned before as a possible buyer of pro franchises — the NFL’s Washington Commanders, among them — and he is a prominent Michigan State donor.