Milwaukee Bucks Sold to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for Reported $550 Million

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2014

Morry Gash

Updates from Thursday, May 15

The Bucks provide an update on the sale of the team:

NBA.com provides a statement from commissioner Adam Silver:

"We are pleased that Wes Edens and Marc Lasry have been approved as the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. "The Bucks and their fans will benefit greatly from their vast business experience, energy and strong commitment to Milwaukee. I would like to thank Senator Kohl again for his unprecedented and historic financial gift toward the construction of a new Milwaukee arena and for his outstanding service to the league and his community over his nearly 30-year tenure."

Updates from Wednesday, May 14

ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports when the sale of the Bucks is expected to be approved:

The $550 million sale of the Milwaukee Bucks to hedge fund billionaires Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry is expected to be finalized by the NBA on Thursday, a source involved in the process told ESPN.com.

In the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal, there was a push within the league to have an extra thorough vetting of the new owners, sources said. That process, however, is complete and the league's Board of Governors will approve the transaction that was initially signed last month.

The timing of the sale will allow Edens and Lasry to take control of the team before next Tuesday's draft lottery in New York, which was a priority. 

Original Text

The Milwaukee Bucks' long search for deep-pocketed ownership appears to be over.

A group led by New York-based investing giants Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry has agreed to purchase the Bucks from current owner and former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl for $550 million, pending league approval at the next Board of Governors meeting.   

ESPN's Marc Stein first reported the news of a deal:

Kohl later confirmed the deal in a statement on the team website:

"My priority has always been and will continue to be keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee," said Kohl. "This announcement reinforces that Milwaukee is and will continue to be the home of the Bucks. Wes and Marc agree, and they share my commitment to the long-term success of this franchise in Milwaukee."

Kohl, a longtime senator in the state of Wisconsin, has owned the small-market Bucks since 1985 when he purchased the team in an effort to keep it in Milwaukee. A beloved figure in his home state, the 79-year-old has been staunchly committed to keeping the Bucks in Wisconsin—even as legislature has continually balked on giving the team a new and lucrative stadium deal.

"This has been one of my life-long interests, the NBA and Milwaukee," Kohl told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in December. "And there is no way I would allow people under the Milwaukee Bucks tent unless they have full level of commitment to keeping the team here."

Speculation has run rampant since Kohl admitted he was inquiring about new investors—with the most notable names being Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen, the billionaires who nearly moved the Sacramento Kings to Seattle last year. Kohl's unwillingness to sell to an ownership group not planning to keep the team in Milwaukee eliminated Ballmer and Hansen from the running.

Grantland's Bill Simmons first reported Edens and Lasry had emerged as the front-runners. Simmons also noted there was a fever-pitch negotiations process going on behind the scenes, though the identity of Edens and Lasry's competition is still unknown.

Edens, 52, is the founder of Fortress Investment Group LLC, now a publicly-traded private equity firm based in New York City. He currently serves as the company's Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors, per Forbes. In 2008, it was estimated Edens was worth $1.2 billion, though that was before the economic downturn hit Fortress hard. 

Lasry is the co-founder of Avenue Capital Group, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund investment group. Forbes listed the 53-year-old's net worth at $1.7 billion earlier this year. He nearly left the firm last year when President Barack Obama offered him an appointment to be the United States' ambassador to France. Lasry is a well-known Democratic Party supporter.

The new ownership group commented on the purchase in the statement as well:

"We would like to thank Senator Kohl and his team for their support and cooperation throughout the purchase process. The Senator has provided the Bucks with nearly 30 years of dedicated stewardship, and we are very excited to join Bucks fans, the city of Milwaukee and the NBA to build the long-term success of this franchise. Having attended various sporting events in Milwaukee and Green Bay over the years, it is easy to see why the greater-Milwaukee area is such a storied sports atmosphere.

"We are lifelong basketball fans who are committed to the success of the Bucks and the identity of the team as a part of the city of Milwaukee. It is our vision for this franchise to be admired both locally and nationally for its success on the court, the quality of its organization and the loyalty of its fan base. Having each built competitive teams in the business world, we will apply that same intensity and determination as owners of the Milwaukee Bucks. We are as passionate and energized as Bucks fans are about bringing home an NBA championship to Milwaukee."

Kohl's decision to sell means the two very likely promised to make a real effort to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. Whether that's a feasible goal or not is up for discussion.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center opened in 1988 and is the third-oldest NBA arena, behind only Oakland's Oracle Arena and New York City's Madison Square Garden. The Golden State Warriors have already announced plans to leave Oracle and move back to San Francisco, pending approval. Madison Square Garden has undergone numerous transformations to bring it into the modern age, most recently with a $1 billion renovation finished last year.  

Milwaukee's investment in keeping the Bradley Center in the upper echelon of NBA facilities has been minimal. In 2009, the state offered only $5 million of the $23 million in aid needed to add new features and renovate parts of the building badly in need of remodeling.

Morry Gash

“At the end of the day compared to other modern arenas in the league, this arena is a few hundred thousand square feet too small,” commissioner Adam Silver told Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal. “It doesn't have the sort of back-of-house space you need, doesn't have the kinds of amenities we need."

Already a small market, the Bucks' on-court product has not engendered the type of faith typically needed to land new arenas. Milwaukee has not won a playoff series since the 2000-01 NBA season, finishing with more than 42 wins just once since that run.

Despite that, after the agreement was announced, it was confirmed that Kohl and the new ownership group will both contribute toward a new arena (via the Bucks):

While Kohl consistently emphasized chasing a back-half playoff seed to get the fanbase invested, the plan backfired in 2013-14. The Bucks head into Wednesday night's season finale with a 15-66 record—worst in the NBA.

It will be interesting, then, to see how Lasry and Edens handle the fanbase. It seemed impossible at this time last year that Sacramento would help subsidize a new arena for the Kings. Yet a persistent call from Mayor Kevin Johnson and Vivek Ranadive's faith in the city wound up paying off.

We'll have to see if new ownership for the Bucks will have a similar effect.

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