Billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia’s purchase of a majority stake in the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury at a $4 billion valuation is expected to go official in the next two weeks, with Ishbia taking control before the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline, team and league sources told ESPN.
The NBA board of directors is expected to ratify the purchase of Ishbia with a vote in early February, sources said.
Although the league suspended former Suns majority owner Robert Sarver in September after a 10-month NBA investigation into his owner conduct, he has retained authority over signing, acquiring or trading any player with a salary greater than the average player salary in the entire league. sources said.
The current average player salary is $10.8 million and the salary of disgruntled forward Jae Crowder, for whom the team has not found a deal, is $10.2 million.
Ishbia, who becomes the team’s official owner by the February 9 trade deadline, will pave the way for him to oversee the team’s deals with the front office. Ishbia is eager to begin his involvement in basketball operations and is expected to be a hands-on team building owner, sources said.
Ishbia agreed to buy controlling interests in both teams on December 20, ending Sarver’s tenure of nearly two decades as owner, a position Sarver held after leading a group in 2004 to buy the Suns for a then- record $401 million. Ishbia’s group includes his brother Justin, one of the founders of Shore Capital private equity.
The deal gives Ishbia more than 50% ownership of the teams, including Sarver’s interest plus a portion of that of minority partners. During a sale process, the NBA conducts criminal, financial, and background checks on proposed owners. Potential buyers must also meet with the league’s advisory and finance committee — a group of nearly 10 owners — and be approved by a three-quarters vote of the 29 other NBA owners.
Ishbia, president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, a Michigan-based company, has been chasing NBA and NFL teams for the past few years and has struck a deal to take ownership of the Suns. He was a walk-on for Michigan State and was a member of the Spartans national championship team in 2000. He has a close relationship with Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo and has previously made a $32 million donation to the basketball program.
On Friday, Ishbia attended his first Suns home game since agreeing to buy a majority stake in the team while courting the team’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets at Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix.
“I think it’s great for the team, the organization and the community to have someone like Mat in place,” Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters. “Having him in court finally allows everyone to put a face to everything that’s been talked about and hasn’t officially happened, but it kind of lets everyone know that this is our guy.”
Williams told reporters he had met Ishbia.
“It was short, but everything I’ve heard about Mat and his family and the way he runs his business has been pretty cool to hear,” said Williams. “I’ll get a chance to talk to him [Friday] was something I was looking forward to, but I’m sure our fans can finally say, hey, that’s our man and move on.”
The NBA commissioned its investigation, led by New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, in the wake of a November 2021 ESPN story detailing accusations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as owner.
As part of the league’s punishment, announced on September 13, Sarver was fined $10 million and suspended for one year, though growing outrage led him to announce shortly after that he was selling the Suns and the Mercury.