Mat Ishbia, the billionaire chairman and president of US mortgage lender United Wholesale Mortgage, has agreed in principle to buy a majority stake in North American basketball teams the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury from beleaguered owner Robert Saver for $4 billion.
The sale of the men’s NBA Suns and women’s WNBA Mercury will take several weeks to complete, and Ishbia will be subjected to a vetting process by the NBA before the league’s board of governors approves the sale.
While the board is scheduled to meet in March, it could assemble early virtually if the vetting process is completed beforehand.
Should the deal go through, Ishbia will become the team’s governor, while his brother Justin, also part of the ownership group, will be its alternate governor. At 42 years old, Ishbia will be the youngest owner in the NBA.
Ishbia is a former Michigan State University basketball player and part of the Spartans team that won the National Collegiate Athletic Association title in 2000. He also worked alongside head coach Tom Izzo for a year before joining United Wholesale Mortgage.
Forbes recently reported Ishbia’s net worth as $5.1 billion.
Justin Ishbia, meanwhile, is a founding partner of Chicago-based private equity firm Shore Capital and an investor in United Wholesale.
In a statement last night (December 20), Ishbia said: “I am extremely excited to be the next Governor of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury.
“Both teams have an incredibly dynamic fan base and I have loved experiencing the energy of the Valley over the last few months.
“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.
“I’ve spent the last two decades building my mortgage business, United Wholesale Mortgage, into the number one mortgage lender in America, and I’m confident that we can bring that same level of success to these great organizations on and off the floor.
“This is a dream come true for my entire family including my parents, my three children, and my brother Justin, who will be making a significant investment with me and bring his incredible business acumen and shared passion for basketball.”
The $4-billion price tag will make the deal the largest purchase in NBA history and almost double the amount of other recent NBA transactions.
Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai acquired the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center for $2.35 billion in 2019, while Tilman Fertitta purchased the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in 2017.
The potential sale comes after the NBA suspended incumbent owner Sarver in September for one year and fined him $10 million after an investigation found he had engaged in “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”
The findings came as part of investigations by the governing body into allegations of historic racist, misogynistic, and hostile incidents by Sarver over his nearly two-decade tenure at the franchise.
A month after the suspension and fine, Sarver announced he would be looking to sell the Suns and Mercury and appointed global financial advisory firm Moelis & Co. to handle the potential sale.
Moelis & Co. led the record sale of English Premier League soccer side Chelsea FC to a consortium led by US billionaire Todd Boehly in May.
Sarver, who acquired the Suns in 2004 for $401 million, said: “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.
“As a former collegiate basketball player and national champion, Mat has exactly the right spirit, commitment, and resources to pursue championships.”
The two teams are home to some of basketball’s biggest stars including the Sun’s Charles Barkley and Steve Nash, as well as Mercury’s Brittney Griner, who was recently freed after being jailed in Russia for 10 months.
Griner, who returned home following a prisoner swap between the US and Russia, said in her first public statement that she intends to resume her playing career.
The two Phoenix basketball teams are just one pair of several top-tier sports teams currently on the market, with Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels and Washington national both up for sale. English Premier League soccer sides Liverpool and Manchester United have also recently indicated they are exploring their options.