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21 Dec, 2022 11:08

‘Disgraced’ NBA owner finds record buyer for franchises

Robert Sarver is set to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury for $4 billion
‘Disgraced’ NBA owner finds record buyer for franchises

NBA owner Robert Sarver has announced that he has sold his majority stakes in the Phoenix Suns and Mercury basketball franchises for a record $4 billion to mortgage lender Mat Ishbia.

Sarver revealed in September that he would be selling the Suns and Mercury, who play in the NBA and its female counterpart the WNBA respectively, after the NBA revealed its findings from a 10-month investigation into his conduct. 

The investigation was triggered by an ESPN story in November last year that detailed racism and misogyny allegations during his 17-year tenure as owner.

On September 13, Sarver was fined $10 million and suspended for a year before outrage prompted him to announce that he was selling the Suns and Mercury. 

Sarver has found a buyer in Ishbia who is well-known by the league and its commissioner Adam Silver, after having developed relationships with a series of NBA owners. 

“I am extremely excited to be the next Governor of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Ishbia said in a statement published on the Suns' website.

“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 over 50% of the teams includes all of Sarver's stakes plus a portion of that which belonged to minority partners. Ishbia’s brother Justin Ishbia will also make a significant investment in the franchises. 

Ishbia, who is the president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, had been in the market for an NBA or NFL team in recent years and has finally landed on a deal for the Suns.

The record sale is the latest in escalating valuations of NBA franchises. In 2014, Steve Balmer bought the LA Clippers for $2 billion before Tilman Fertitta paid $2.2 billion for the Houston Rockets in 2017.

Joe Tsai handed over $2.35 billion for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019, with the LA Lakers valued at $5 billion before Chelsea and Los Angeles owner Todd Boehly paid approximately $1.35 billion for a 27% stake in June last year.

Sarver said in his statement announcing the sale that Ishbia “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’s 18-year run with the Suns ends with the sale after he paid a then-record $401 million for them from Jerry Colangelo in 2004. 

He was forced to sell his two teams after sponsors such as PayPal began to pull out amid the racism and misogyny row, and said he didn’t want to “be a distraction” when putting them on the market.

“I want what's best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA,” he insisted.

“In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past.”

Sarver lamented that the findings of the investigation could “overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together.”

“As a man of faith, I believe in 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 personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love,” he added.