By TIM REYNOLDS
Mortgage executive Mat Ishbia has agreed in principle to buy the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury from the embattled owner Robert Sarver for $4 billion, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
It is the first step in a process that is expected to take several weeks to complete, according to the person, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because neither Ishbia nor the Suns had disclosed the agreement publicly.
ESPN first reported the agreement between Sarver and Ishbia — who is chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, which bills itself as the nation’s largest mortgage lender. Forbes recently listed Ishbia’s net worth at $5.1 billion.
Ishbia, a former Michigan State player and a member of the Spartans’ NCAA championship team in 2000, will now be subject to a vetting process by the NBA. Once that process is completed, the NBA’s board of governors will have to approve the sale. The board isn’t scheduled to meet again until March, though it could convene virtually if the vetting process is successfully completed beforehand.
If the sale closes at $4 billion, it would be the largest purchase in NBA history. 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 only other NBA franchise known to be sold for $2 billion or more was the Los Angeles Clippers, when Steve Ballmer acquired that team in 2014.
“I had a great call with fellow Spartan Mat Ishbia congratulating him on his purchase of the Phoenix Suns,” Magic Johnson, another Michigan State alum, tweeted Tuesday. “He’s going to do great things not only for the Suns organization, but for the entire league. All of the other 29 NBA teams better watch out because Mat’s a winner!”
Ishbia’s company is built around team aspects, and he often speaks of the lessons he learned while playing for Tom Izzo and with Mateen Cleaves at Michigan State. His company even has an intramural basketball program with an on-site full-court gym.
“This is not that complicated,” Ishbia recently told HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for a profile, discussing his strategy with people. “Get the best people to join your team, 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.”
Justin Ishbia, Mat Ishbia’s brother, also is expected to be a prominent investor in the sale and would be part of the new ownership group, the person told the AP.
The NBA suspended Sarver in September for one year, plus fined him $10 million, after an investigation found that he had engaged in what the league called “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”
The findings of the league’s report 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 that he would be looking to sell the Suns and the Mercury.
Sarver bought the Suns in 2004 for $401 million — then an NBA record, and roughly 10 times less than the sale price that Ishbia is willing to pay.
Ishbia has been mentioned before as a possible buyer of pro franchises, and he is a prominent Michigan State donor. He helped fund the $95 million deal that the Spartans gave football coach Mel Tucker last year. He played in 48 games for Izzo during his time as a walk-on guard in East Lansing.
Ishbia in November confirmed to the AP his interest in buying the NFL’s Washington Commanders after owners Dan and Tanya Snyder hired a firm to explore potential transactions. It was not immediately clear if buying the Suns would take him out of the process with the Commanders.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
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