The Phoenix Suns and Mercury are officially for sale.
So who's going to buy them?
After an NBA investigation revealed a pattern of racist and misogynist behavior from Robert Sarver, the teams' controlling owner announced on Wednesday that he's started the process of finding a buyer. Sarver's decision arrives on the heels of a public and financial pressure campaign for his removal from the NBA.
LeBron James and Chris Paul led the player movement last week in criticizing the NBA's one-year ban and $10 million fine of Sarver as insufficient. Meanwhile, corporate partner PayPal vowed to cut ties and end its multi-million dollar sponsorship of the Suns as long as Sarver was still around.
So Sarver is out. Or on his way, at least. Now comes the process of finding a new owner. Some heavy hitters are reportedly interested. According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, ex-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, former Disney CEO Bob Iger, ex-Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Washington Wizards minority owner Laurene Jobs — the widow of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs — are all expected to throw their hat in the ring.
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There can be only one controlling owner, of course. Who that is will ultimately be Sarver's decision. Per ESPN's Baxter Holmes, Sarver's ownership stake in the Suns is around one-third but as managing partner, he's in control of the sales process. The NBA has not stripped him of that control.
Logic dictates that the Suns will go to the highest bidder regardless of who's in charge of the sale. With the names involved, that price promises to be lucrative. Bezos, for example is the world's third-wealthiest man with an estimated worth of $146.9 billion as of last week.
Meanwhile, Forbes estimated in 2021 that the Suns were then worth $1.8 billion. But the price promises to exceed that number in a competitive sales market with deep-pocketed bidders. Will it approach $3 billion?
Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was ousted from the NBA amid a long-term pattern of racist behavior, is likened as a parallel to Sarver. His wife Shelly Sterling oversaw the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. That was in 2014. Prices have since gone up.
Since then, the Houston Rockets sold for $2.2 billion. Alibaba magnate Joe Tsai reset then the market in 2019 with a $2.35 billion purchase of the majority stake of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov. That was for the remaining 51% of the team that he didn't already own, placing the full purchase value of the Nets at roughly $3.3 billion when factoring in debt.
But that was for a New York team. Smaller-market teams have since sold for less than $2 billion. The Utah Jazz sold for an estimated $1.66 billion in 2020 while the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx sold for an estimated $1.5 billion in 2021. The larger-market Suns amid a perpetually hot sports franchise market — see the Denver Broncos $4.65 billion sale in June — promise to fetch more. Whatever the price, it will greatly exceed the $401 million Sarver's group spent to purchase the Suns in 2004.
Sarver may be leaving the NBA a pariah. But he'll do so with a significant payday.