Billionaire mortgage lender has agreed to buy Phoenix Suns, Mercury for $4 billion, reports say

FILE -Former Michigan State player Mat Ishbia laughs as he are introduced along with Michigan...
FILE -Former Michigan State player Mat Ishbia laughs as he are introduced along with Michigan State's 2000 national championship NCAA college basketball team during halftime of the Michigan State-Florida game in East Lansing, Mich. 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, Dec. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)(Al Goldis | AP)
Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 10:56 AM MST|Updated: Dec. 20, 2022 at 10:05 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organizations may have a new buyer, sources told ESPN Tuesday morning. Mortgage executive Mat Ishbia is reportedly finalizing a deal to purchase the Suns and Mercury from embattled owner Robert Sarver for $4 billion, according to ESPN and The Associated Press. 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 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. Ishbia attended Michigan State University from 1998 until 2002 and played as a point guard for Michigan State’s basketball team. He won four Big Ten championships, made three NCAA Final Four appearances, and won the 2000 NCAA national championship. He also worked for a year with the team after graduating as a student assistant coach.

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 Associated Press reports that 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.

Ishbia released the following statement on the agreement:

Sarver was suspended in September for one year, plus fined $10 million over workplace misconduct that included racist speech during his time of ownership. 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 ten times less than the sale price that Ishbia is willing to pay.

Sarver issued the following statement on the purchase agreement with Ishiba:

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.

Magic Johnson, another Michigan State alumn, posted his congratulations to Ishbia on Twitter:

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.”

His company has an intramural basketball program with an on-site full-court gym, the AP reports. 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.

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams addressed the agreement in a press conference on Tuesday, saying, “I think any time you have some gray as far as who owns the team, who’s going to own it. I’m sure that when you finally do get some sort of direction when it comes to the ownership that allows for you to know who you’re reporting to and that could allow for you to make more decisions going forward. It’s pretty obvious we haven’t done anything along with other teams.”

The Suns Legacy Partners, LLC, which manages and operates the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, issued the following statement on the purchase: