Mat Ishbia gains one of greatest unseen sport stories with purchase of Suns

Dec 20, 2022, 1:41 PM | Updated: 5:58 pm
Former Michigan State player Mat Ishbia laughs as he are introduced along with Michigan State's 200...

Former Michigan State player Mat Ishbia laughs as he are introduced along with Michigan State's 2000 national championship NCAA college basketball team during halftime of the Michigan State-Florida game in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

(AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

There’s an old saying about the devil you know and the devil you don’t.

That will not apply to the sale of the Phoenix Suns.

The franchise is being sold to Mat Ishbia, a billionaire mortgage lender from Michigan. Unlike the exiled Robert Sarver, Ishbia is already in good standing with the NBA. And here’s the best part:

Ishbia knows what championship basketball looks like. He was a walk-on basketball player at Michigan State. He played under legendary head coach Tom Izzo, participated in three Final Fours and was part of a national championship team in 2000.

He’s also very generous to the teams he cares about, having donated a reported $32 million to the MSU athletic department in 2021. Think of what he might do for the Suns.

There are no guarantees that the new guy will avoid the vanity trap and adrenaline rush that comes with owning a sports franchise. There are no assurances Ishbia will pour ample resources into the Suns while refraining from the hands-on meddling that can derail a franchise, which we’ve seen too often in Arizona.

But I like our chances.

Either way, the impending sale will finalize one of the biggest breaks we’ve experienced as a Major League sports town, mitigating some of the horrible stuff we’ve endured along the way.

That’s because a bad owner can ruin everything. And for nearly a decade, Sarver disgraced a great basketball town with his dysfunctional approach.

Maybe Sarver was getting better with age. Maybe the worst of him was in the rearview mirror, including a toxic workplace culture that ultimately prompted the NBA to force his hand and sell the team. But a heritage franchise and a proud fan base deserved far better. So did the people who worked for him. And now, we have been liberated.

Sports towns rarely get this kind of reprieve.

To his credit, Sarver was smart enough to cash out. He sold the Suns and the Mercury for roughly $4 billion, or 10 times the purchase price. This is not a subject I plan to broach with Jerry Colangelo anytime soon.

But had Sarver chosen to fight, digging in for a prolonged battle against the NBA, his players would’ve been placed in an untenable position. They would’ve had to side with their boss or protest with their fellow players. And if you thought the Suns don’t get fair treatment from NBA officials in their current form, imagine if Sarver chose to burn it all down.

Instead, Sarver chose the goldmine, the $3.6 billion increase in franchise value from when he purchased it. And maybe he can leverage his windfall to buy the Washington Commanders, where he would actually be an upgrade.

So, welcome, Mat Ishbia. Please understand this franchise is very important to us, from Al McCoy to the mascot. Connect with the generous businessman in town who wants to help fund a statue park outside the Footprint Center to properly honor Colangelo, McCoy, Charles Barkley and Diana Taurasi. Appreciate that you are now in possession of one of the greatest untold and unseen sport stories left in this country, the day that Phoenix can host a victory parade for their beloved NBA franchise.

Make it happen. Whatever it costs.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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Mat Ishbia gains one of greatest unseen sport stories with purchase of Suns