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Mat Ishbia agrees to buy Phoenix Suns, ending Robert Sarver’s tenure

Billionaire CEO Mat Ishbia, shown during a celebration at Michigan State in 2020, was a walk-on to the Spartans’ basketball team and a seldom-used guard on its title-winning squad in 2000.Al Goldis/Associated Press

Mat Ishbia, the billionaire CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, has agreed to purchase the Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury from disgraced owner Robert Sarver for approximately $4 billion, two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed Tuesday.

The agreement comes three months after Sarver, a real estate investor who purchased the Suns in 2004, started the process of selling the teams in the wake of an investigation commissioned by the NBA which concluded Sarver had repeatedly used racist and misogynistic language in the workplace, among other examples of office misconduct.

Ishbia, a graduate of Michigan State, was a walk-on to the Spartans’ basketball team. The seldom-used guard was a member of Michigan State’s title-winning team in 2000 that featured future NBA players Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves, and Charlie Bell. first reported that Ishbia had reached an agreement to purchase the Suns and Mercury.


After graduating from Michigan State's business school in 2003, Ishbia joined United Wholesale Mortgage, which had been founded by his father, when it had a dozen workers. Ishbia became CEO in 2013, and the Michigan-based company, which became the country's largest wholesale mortgage lender in 2015, has since grown to nearly 7,000 employees.

In a recent HBO Sports feature, Ishbia explained that his corporate philosophy had been shaped by Tom Izzo, Michigan State's legendary basketball coach.

"This is not that complicated," he said. "Get the best people to join your team. Right? Just like in sports. Train them, coach them, to be the best version of themselves, like Izzo used to do with us. And then treat them so well that they never want to leave."

Before his agreement to purchase the Suns, Ishbia had pursued NFL ownership opportunities by unsuccessfully bidding for the Denver Broncos and saying in November that he was weighing a bid for the Washington Commanders.


The $4 billion is the highest sum paid for an NBA franchise, surpassing the $2.35 billion that Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. By comparison, Sarver purchased the Suns for $401 million just 18 years ago.

The Suns were valued at $2.7 billion by Forbes in October, ranking 13th among the NBA’s 30 teams. Led by star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Phoenix reached the 2021 NBA Finals and posted a franchise-record 64 wins last season. Though the Suns have never won a championship since joining the NBA in 1968, they have reached the Finals three times and have had three MVP winners in Charles Barkley (1993) and Steve Nash (2005 and 2006). Despite the ongoing uncertainty around its ownership group, Phoenix entered Tuesday’s action as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed with a 19-12 record.

Before Sarver’s decision to sell, the NBA had suspended him for one year and fined him a record $10 million. However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stopped short of issuing a lifetime ban, a punishment that he had given former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was caught on tape making racist comments in 2014. Local politicians, civil rights activists, and prominent NBA stars including LeBron James quickly argued that Sarver’s punishment hadn’t gone far enough, and PayPal, a key sponsor of the Suns, announced plans to end its partnership.

After vigorously contesting a 2021 ESPN report that included many workplace misconduct allegations from current and former employees, the 61-year-old Sarver finally relented amid the mounting pressure in September, saying that he didn't want to be a "distraction" and that he "wants what's best" for the Suns and Mercury.


“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,” Sarver said. “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.”

Silver said at the time that he “fully supported” Sarver’s decision and that it was “the right next step” for the Suns. New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, thanked Sarver “for making a swift decision that was in the best interest of our sports community.”