A Former College Basketball Walk-On Just Bought The Phoenix Suns For The Highest Valuation In NBA History

By on December 21, 2022 in ArticlesSports News

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver announced earlier this year that he was planning to sell his stake in the teams. The NBA had recently suspended him for one year and fined him $10 million after allegations of racism and inappropriate workplace behavior. About three months later, it seems Sarver has already found a buyer.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia is finalizing a purchase of the Suns and Mercury. The deal is valued at $4 billion, though, as Eben Novy-Williams pointed out, Sarver doesn't own the entire stake of the franchises. Ishbia will buy "more than 50%" of the team. That includes all of Sarver's share and a portion of the minority partners' interest. Though the exact percentage hasn't been disclosed, it's fair to assume the Ishbia group is paying somewhere between $2 and $2.5 billion. Ishbia's brother Justin will also be a major investor in the deal and serve as the alternate governor.

The deal represents the highest valuation ever paid for an NBA team but it is not the most amount of money spent by an individual to become an owner. Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta spent $2.2 billion on the Houston Rockets in 2017, and in 2019, Joe Tsai bought the parent company of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center for $3.3 billion. In both cases, those owners were buying larger stakes in their respective teams.

Robert Sarver (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is Mat Ishbia's basketball history. He played as a walk-on at Michigan State, appearing in 48 games throughout his career and winning a national title during the 1999-00 season. He's now president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage. He still has ties to Michigan State, donating $32 million to the school earlier this year. He also has three former Michigan State teammates working for him, including former NBA guard Mateen Cleaves.

Before the Suns and Mercury opportunity came along, Ishbia had been trying to buy an NFL team, most recently displaying an interest in the Washington Commanders. And here's a fun fact: after this purchase, Ishbia is worth more than Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dwyane Wade, guys who have played more than 60 collective years in the NBA.

The move from college walk-on to NBA owner is pretty impressive. While Ishbia's dad started the company, Ishbia has been largely responsible for developing the company into the behemoth it is today.

The Suns, who reached the NBA Finals in 2020, are still among the top teams in the league. If they can get over the hump and win a title this year — their first in franchise history — that would be a cool full-circle moment for Ishbia.

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