San Francisco Chronicle
Suns’ new owner looks to implement culture change
Mat Ishbia said his first major project as owner of the Phoenix Suns will be to listen to employees and figure out what problems they've faced.
After that, he'll start fixing. The tenure of beleaguered Robert Sarver as owner of the NBA's Suns and WNBA's Phoenix Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a member of Michigan State's NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over the role. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin Ishbia, will be alternate governor.
Justin Ishbia will be the team's second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver's stake as well as some holdings of minority partners, and the sale valued the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.
“I'm going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia said. “That's a huge part of my success here in Michigan and it will be a big part of our success now in Phoenix. I don't have enough information to know what exactly it's been like, but I will dig in and roll up my sleeves and figure it out over the next three, four, five monthsplus.”
Ishbia, 43, was announced as the owner-in-waiting of the Suns on Dec. 20, and the last hurdle before the purchase became official was cleared Monday night when it was revealed that the NBA's board of governors approved him as the next owner.
The transaction was completed Tuesday. Ishbia will hold a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Sarver was suspended for one year by the NBA in mid-September after an investigation found he engaged in workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees. About a week after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension and $10 million fine — the most allowed by league rule — Sarver said he would start the process of finding a buyer.
Ishbia's name had been linked to other potential sales of pro sports teams in the past, including the NFL's Washington Commanders. And the self-described basketball nut jumped quickly to acquire the Suns and Mercury.
“This is what I wanted the whole time,” Ishbia said. “My name got linked to a lot of things. That doesn't mean it was actually necessarily right. The Phoenix Suns, in my opinion, is one of the elite franchises in one of the elite cities in America. To have a chance to be one of the owners of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury is a dream come true.”
Ishbia's company, UWM, employs about 7,000 people. It had over $226.5 billion in mortgage originations in 2021, which the company says is a record for wholesale volume.
“We're all about culture,” Ishbia said. “We're all about people. We're all about the word ‘team.' It's almost like a match made in heaven — the city, the location, the NBA, my love of basketball. And I can come in, take some of the really good things they're doing but maybe make some changes from a culture perspective.”
There is one immediate order of business: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.
The Suns — who went to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing a 2-0 lead and falling to Milwaukee in six games, and had the best regular-season record in the league last season — are in a muddled Western Conference playoff race this season.
Ishbia said he and team president of basketball operations James Jones, who is also the general manager, have talked and will keep talking while Jones gauges the market to see what moves, if any, are right for the Suns.
“We've got to make sure we put ourselves in a great position,” Ishbia said. “I think we have an amazing team and I think we're in a great position right now. Will I be involved? Yes. Are we highly active? Yes. But at the same time, I think we have a championship-contending team without doing anything over the next two days.”
Ishbia played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he got into the 2000 title game against Florida at the end. He knew he was out of bounds when he picked up a loose ball in the final moments, but no referee blew the whistle. Sensing opportunity, Ishbia tried a reverse layup at the buzzer; it missed, but he celebrated anyway.
He senses another opportunity now.
“For me, this is a lifelong dream,” he said.