If this story turns out to be true in any way, the conspiracy theorists will have a field trip with it. The problem with wanting to buy an NBA team is that they're not really on sale. There are only 30 of them, and especially with valuations going up, the only way you can buy a team is if someone's forced to sell, right? For instance, if the owner is involved in a scandal surrounding racism and sexism.
The drama in Phoenix
As ESPN reported, Robert Sarver seems to have a history of racism (using the N-word liberally) and sexism (asking women does he own them to determine if they work for him, offering to send a plane of women to "entertain" the players if they promise to be in bed by midnight). Most of all, Sarver has a reputation of being the most disliked owner amongst owners, now that Donald Sterling is out of the league - not a lot of people who make decisions would miss him.
As it turns out, Bob Iger, the guy who ran Disney from 2005 to February 2020, is reportedly interested in buying the Phoenix Suns. Do I need to remind you that Disney owns ESPN? Iger officially stepped down in February of last year but stayed on as an executive chairman to help steer the company through the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing has been made official yet, but you know how it goes. First, you float the idea to a couple of influential people. Then you test the waters by sending out a few test balloons to people who followed your industry and have a great reputation. Such as Matthew Belloni, a former Hollywood Reporter editor, now at Puck Media.
“Could Iger follow that path? It makes sense, according to a couple NBA insiders I asked. He’s close with Silver, thanks to years of Disney’s ABC and ESPN broadcasting games. And he’s even closer with Chris Paul, who was president of the NBA Players Association when the Covid “bubble” games were staged at Disney’s compound in Florida, and who happens to play for the Suns. “I consider him a very good friend,” Iger said of Paul last year. Iger has long harbored sports ambitions, at one point pursuing an NFL team in his L.A. hometown, which, of course, is just a short 45 minute private flight to Phoenix. And Iger and his family are close with billionaire private equity mogul Tony Ressler and his wife, Jamie Gertz (yes, the actress), who own the Atlanta Hawks. I’m sure Silver and the NBA owners would love to welcome a guy like Iger into the fold.”
Matthew Belloni, Puck
One thing we know for sure - NBA owners would love to substitute the guy with a reputation for being cheap and arrogant who recently added racist and sexist to words most used to describe him with one of the most respected CEOs in the United States. Not to mention Iger's been working closely with the NBA as one of their most important media partners. But as always, there is a but. Actually, a few of them.
Not so fast
First of all, there's a small detail of the fact the Suns aren't on sale. From what we learned, Robert Sarver isn't the kind of guy to go down without a fight - and it would take a fight. The NBA did launch an investigation into the accusations Baxter Holmes' story covered and hired the same law firm that did the Sterling investigation. Still, his transgressions don't seem to qualify DEFCON 1 we saw from Adam Silver and the NBA in the Sterling episode. But, as many people pointed out - if Sarver gets pushed out over this, there's (plenty of) other owners who would start sweating bullets - those owners also have a vote and may vote to keep Sarver in the Association simply to save their skin.
Let's say the other owners decide to force a sale; we heard minority owners of the team explored pushing Sarver out in the past. Some have sold their stakes, but some that didn't reportedly have the "right of first refusal on Sarver's interest."
And then we come to the price. Forbes's latest valuation has the Suns around $1.7 billion. So to make the bitter pill of making him sell the team go down easier, the NBA would probably let everyone know they have to start at $2 billion. As successful as he is, Iger isn't Steve Balmer - he doesn't have $2 billion in cash sitting in an account somewhere. (probably offshore for tax purposes).
So the way for Bob Iger to become the owner of the Suns is a long one. But the fact the idea's been floated out there means something's cooking. As Belloni concluded: "Silver holds a lot of power over the process, and what he wants tends to happen."