Mortgage manager Mat Ishbia has agreed in principle to buy a controlling stake in the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury from embattled owner Robert Sarver for $4 billion, the sites announced Tuesday.
The sale is expected to last several weeks. Ishbia — who is chairman, president and chief executive officer of United Wholesale Mortgage, which bills itself as the nation’s largest mortgage lender — is subject to a review process by the NBA, and once that’s complete, the league’s board of governors must approve the sale.
The board is not due to meet until March but could meet virtually if the review process is completed before then.
Forbes recently listed Ishbia’s net worth as $5.1 billion. Ishbia is a former Michigan State player under coach Tom Izzo and was a member of the Spartans NCAA championship team in 2000.
“I am very excited to be the next governor of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Ishbia said in a statement Tuesday night. “Both teams have an incredibly vibrant fanbase and I’ve loved experiencing the energy of the Valley over the past 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, to become the number one mortgage lender in America, and I’m confident we can bring the same success to these great organizations on and off the floor.”
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 bought the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in 2017.
The only other NBA franchise known to have 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 my fellow Michigan Stateman Mat Ishbia, congratulating him on his purchase of the Phoenix Suns,” said Magic Johnson, another Michigan State alumnus. tweeted Tuesday. “He’s going to do great things not just for the Suns organization, but for the league as a whole. All other 29 NBA teams better watch out because Mat is a winner!”
Justin Ishbia, Mat’s brother, will also be part of the ownership group, subject to approval. Mat Ishbia will be the team’s governor and Justin will be the assistant governor.
Ishbia’s company is built on team aspects, and he often talks about the lessons he learned playing for Tom Izzo and with Mateen Cleaves at Michigan State. His company even has an in-school basketball program with an on-site gym.
“It’s not that complicated,” Ishbia told HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel for a profile recently, discussing his strategy with people. “Get the best people for your team, just like in sports. Train them, coach them to become the best versions of themselves like Izzo used to do with us. And then treat them so well they never want to leave.”
The NBA suspended Sarver for a year in September and fined him $10 million after an investigation found he engaged in what the league called “workplace misconduct and organizational failings.”
The league report’s findings 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 during his nearly two-decade tenure as the franchise’s head.
Shortly thereafter, Sarver announced that he wanted to sell the Suns and the Mercury.
Sarver bought the Suns in 2004 for $401 million — an NBA record at the time and about 10 times less than the price Ishbia was willing to pay.
“Mat is the right leader to build on the franchise’s legacy of victory and community support and lead the Suns and Mercury into the next era,” said Sarver. “As a former college basketball player and national champion, Mat has just the right spirit, dedication, and resources to pursue championships.”
Ishbia has previously been mentioned as a potential buyer of pro franchises, and he is a prominent Michigan state donor. He helped fund the $95 million deal the Spartans gave football coach Mel Tucker last year. He played 48 games for Izzo during his time as a walk-on guard at East Lansing.
Ishbia confirmed his interest in buying the NFL’s Washington Commanders to the Associated Press in November after owners Dan and Tanya Snyder hired a firm to review potential transactions. It wasn’t immediately clear if the Suns’ purchase would remove him from the process with the Commanders.
“This is a dream come true for my entire family, including my parents, my three children and my brother Justin, who will make a significant investment with me and bring his incredible business acumen and shared passion for basketball,” said Ishbia. “I appreciate Robert Sarver’s time and support throughout the process. We are honored to be the next stewards of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, with the approval of the NBA.”