Ishbia takes over Suns, works to improve team culture
PHOENIX (AP) — Justin Ishbia came home from college one day to find his younger brother Mat shooting hoops over an 8-foot obstacle as he practiced for his upcoming high school basketball season.
The older brother asked why the 5-foot-10 Mat was doing that — after all, no one in high school was 8 feet tall.
“I’m going to be in the NBA one day,” Mat responded.
Turns out that was true. It just took a couple billion bucks to make it happen.
Mat Ishbia was introduced Wednesday as the new majority owner of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, after the NBA’s board of governors on Monday night approved his plan to purchase the controlling stake of those franchises from the embattled Robert Sarver.
The crowd for Ishbia’s high-energy speech included several former Suns players — particularly from the glory days in the 1990s — including Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was also in attendance.
“Basketball is my life — a huge part of my life — always has been,” Ishbia said. “So when I realized I wasn’t good enough to be in the NBA, how can I one day maybe own a team?
“I didn’t know how realistic that was, but when you set big goals, you start walking toward them.”
The 43-year-old Ishbia’s first order of business is cleaning up an organization that was rocked after the NBA suspended Sarver in September for one year, plus fined him $10 million, after an investigation found he had engaged in what the league called “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”
The punishment 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 he would be looking to sell the Suns and the Mercury. He bought the Suns in 2004 for $401 million, which at the time was an NBA record.
Ishbia agreed on Dec. 20 to the deal, one that put the total value of the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.
“I want to think big,” Ishbia said. “I want to think how to make this one of the elite franchises in the NBA and the WNBA. I want everyone to look at the Mercury and the Suns as the best. What does that mean? Best in class for fan experience, community engagement, culture and winning. How do we make it the best?”
No other sale in NBA history has been completed with a $4 billion valuation of the franchise involved. 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.
Now that it appears the franchise’s ownership issues are settled, the Suns have a lot of momentum.
They’ve got a good young nucleus of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson that made the NBA Finals less than two years ago before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. They’ve also got the reigning NBA Coach of the Year in Monty Williams and sold out 54 straight home dates at the recently renovated Footprint Center.
Ishbia also takes over as the NBA trade deadline approaches later this week.
Sarver’s tenure as owner of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a walk-on member of Michigan State’s NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin, will be alternate governor.
Justin Ishbia will be the team’s second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver’s stake as well as some holdings of minority partners.
Mat Ishbia also dealt with his first minor basketball ownership crisis on Wednesday. There was a report on Tuesday night linking Ishbia to his friend and former NBA star Isiah Thomas, who lost a sexual harrassment lawsuit when he was employed by the New York Knicks.
Ishbia said he had no current plans to hire anyone — including Thomas — but didn’t rule anything out in the future.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Forbes recently listed Mat Ishbia’s net worth as just over $5 billion. Ishbia’s company went public in January 2021 and is a rival to Quicken Loans — the company that has Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert as its founder and chairman.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story.
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