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Report: Robert Sarver To Sell Suns To Mat Ishbia For $4 Billion

Ishbia holding court
Image via CNBC

Robert Sarver's 18-year-reign as the owner of the Phoenix Mercury and Phoenix Suns is about to come to a merciful end, reported ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday afternoon. Mat Ishbia, the billionaire founder and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, is reportedly going to pay Sarver $4 billion for the team. The NBA's Board of Governors will have to approve the sale, though that seems like a formality, as Ishbia is reportedly friends with a bunch of the league's owners, and is "well-known and well-regarded" in the league office.

When the sale goes through, it will set a new high-water mark for an NBA franchise, significantly surpassing the $2.5 billion that Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. Sarver bought the Suns in 2004 for just $401 million, which means he will make a ridiculous profit on a franchise he owned and ran like a horrible petty tyrant for less than two decades, until the world found out how awful and racist he was and what a rotten culture of cruelty and mistrust he fostered in Phoenix. ESPN's Baxter Holmes reported the details of Sarver's stewardship of the team, a period defined by bullying, rampant sexual harassment, and open, casual racism. Holmes's report dropped in November 2021, though Sarver didn't face any consequences until the findings of an independent investigation commissioned by the NBA and carried out by the the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz were made public this past September.

Despite the magnitude and volume of evidence against Sarver, the NBA merely suspended him for a year and fined him $10 million, which enraged the NBA's labor base, provided a useful lesson on solidarity within the billionaire class, and made it clear that Adam Silver works for the owners. Thankfully, Sarver felt enough pressure that he announced he would sell the team one week later, citing our "current unforgiving climate" as an accelerant and underlying factor that pushed him to begin the process of becoming several billion dollars richer.

So, who is going to pay him all that money? Ishbia is a 42-year-old business guy who took over his dad's mortgage company after graduating from Michigan State. United Wholesale Mortgage is one of the largest and fastest-growing mortgage companies in the United States. They don't sell mortgages to normal people, like Dan Gilbert's Rocket Mortgage; they fund mortgages then sell them to middlemen, like banks or other third parties. Ishbia also walked onto one of the best Michigan State teams of all time and won a National Championship with the Spartans in 2000. He hit nine shots in his career, finished 47 percent from the line, and played seven total minutes across four NCAA Tournament games.

Ishbia has been MSU's biggest booster for years, donating $32 million in 2021 and announcing that UWM would sponsor every athlete on the football and men's basketball teams ahead of their 2021 seasons. Interestingly, Ishbia's donations are at the heart of a dispute between the university and the Detroit Free Press, which sued the school after it denied FOIA requests seeking information about the gift arrangements between Ishbia and the athletic department after Ishbia helped fund a massive contract extension for football coach Mel Tucker. UWN also sponsors the patches on Detroit Pistons jerseys, though presumably they will have to find a new sponsor now. According to another Holmes story from earlier this week, Ishbia will inherit an organization with a truly rotten culture, one that has been pretty thoroughly poisonous for years and extends far beyond Sarver's own individual transgressions. Good luck, man!

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