Mat Ishbia Buying Suns, Mercury for Roughly $4B After Robert Sarver Probe

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVDecember 20, 2022

Mat Ishbia (right) in 2000
Mat Ishbia (right) in 2000AP Photo/Al Goldis

Billionaire Mat Ishbia has reportedly agreed to buy the NBA's Phoenix Suns and WNBA's Phoenix Mercury from suspended governor Robert Sarver for $4 billion, the Suns announced on Tuesday night (via Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium).

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the deal would be completed in the "near future."

Sarver announced his intention to sell the Suns and Mercury in September amid massive public pressure from fans, NBA players and sponsors after an investigation found he used racial slurs, made sexist comments, mistreated employees and presided over a hostile work environment during his ownership tenure.

Commissioned by the NBA, the independent investigation conducted by the Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz law firm found Sarver used the N-word on at least five occasions despite being told by other employees his use of the word was inappropriate. He also made lewd sexual comments toward women, had inappropriate physical conduct with men in the workplace, engaged in inequitable treatment of women and bullied employees.

The NBA suspended Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million for his actions, but those punishments received an overwhelmingly negative reaction. There was almost unilateral agreement that the punishment did not fit the severity of Sarver's transgressions, with LeBron James, Chris Paul and Draymond Green criticizing the NBA for falling short.

LeBron James @KingJames

behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this aint it.

While the NBA could not force Sarver to sell, it became increasingly apparent the public pressure would not relent. PayPal, the team's jersey sponsor, said it would not renew its deal with the Suns if Sarver remained involved with the franchise after his suspension.

In his press release announcing his intent to sell the Suns and Mercury, Sarver blamed an "unforgiving climate" for his selling the team:

"As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner's one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.

"But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible—that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past."

Ishbia is the chairman and CEO of UWM Holdings, a Michigan-based mortgage lending company. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $5.1 billion, which has dropped from $9.7 billion in 2021.

Basketball fans may recognize Ishbia's name from his time as a reserve on Michigan State's basketball team from 1999-00 to 2001-02. He was part of the Spartans' national championship roster in 2000.

Ishbia will almost certainly be an instant hit among Suns faithful, who were already disenchanted with Sarver's propensity for penny-pinching even before news of his actions became public. Many fans blame Sarver's frugal ownership style as the main reason the Seven Seconds or Less Suns never won a championship.