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Who might want to buy the Phoenix Suns?

Owner of Phoenix Suns, Mercury selling teams
Owner of Phoenix Suns, Mercury selling teams 00:18

With the NBA season set to start next week, one of the most pressing questions in professional basketball is who will become the next owner of the Phoenix Suns.

The team's current majority owner, Robert Sarver, said Wednesday he's selling the franchise along with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. His announcement comes one week after an NBA investigation found that Sarver used racially insensitive language, made sex-related remarks to female employees, and repeatedly berated other Suns and Mercury staff. Sarver, a real estate developer from Arizona, has been suspended from the NBA for a year and fined $10 million.

It is rare for NBA teams to go on the auction block. When they do, they fetch big bucks: Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for $2 billion; Tilman Fertitta bought the Houston Rockets for a then-record $2.2 billion in 2017; Joe Tsai bought the Brooklyn Nets for $2.3 billion in 2019; and the Minnesota Timberwolves were sold to Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez last year for $1.5 billion. 

The Suns, which Forbes valued at $1.8 billion, are likely to attract bids of at least $2.5 billion, experts told CBS MoneyWatch. That's because Sarver is selling two teams, both with strong fanbases and championship aspirations. 

"NBA teams are not merely rare trophy assets, they are high-profile assets that appreciate measurably over time," said David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California. 

But whoever eventually buys the Suns must first complete a months-long application and vetting process that starts with a $1 million application fee. The NBA will then conduct a thorough analysis of the buyer's financial history, including an examination of business dealings and relationships, potential conflicts of interest and personal history, Carter said. 

A committee of current NBA owners will ultimately determine who will buy the Suns. Until then, here's a list of potential bidders who could have interest in buying an NBA team. LeBron James, who has said he aspires to one day buy a team, is excluded because under NBA rules he cannot do so while continuing as an active player. 

Bob Iger

The former CEO of Walt Disney is among a list of wealthy individuals who could seek to buy the Suns, ESPN reported Wednesday. Iger, who stepped down at Disney in 2020, has not publicly expressed interest in buying an NBA team. 

"The King's Man" World Premiere - Arrivals
Bob Iger attends the World Premiere of "The King's Man" at Cineworld Leicester Square on December 06, 2021 in London, England. Karwai Tang

However, Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca approached Iger earlier this year to see if he would be interested in helping him purchase English soccer team Chelsea, according to Sports Illustrated

Since leaving Disney, Iger has joined a New York venture capital firm. With Forbes estimating his net worth at $690 million in 2019, he would likely need to partner with other investors to buy the Suns.

Larry Ellison

Ellison, the co-founder of software maker Oracle, has long sought to buy an NBA franchise. In 2010, he offered $350 million for the then New Orleans Hornets, but was outbid by the late Tom Benson, who also owned the New Orleans Saints. 

A year after the Hornets whiff, Ellison tried to get corral the Golden State Warriors by placing an offer just north of $450 million. Although he was among the final bidders for the club, he lost out to venture capitalist Joe Lacob. In 2012, Ellison tried to buy the Memphis Grizzlies but lost again, that time to Ubiquiti Networks founder Robert Pera.

Ellison has not publicly thrown his hat into the ring for the Suns, but has the financial might to buy the team on his own. Forbes estimates his net worth at roughly $94 billion. 

Other possible suitors from the tech world are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Laurene Powell Jobs. Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, is a minority owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards and was one of several outside investors in a $75 million round of capital funding for the WNBA earlier this year.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. 

The former boxing great told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in June that he wants to buy an NBA team, preferably one based in Las Vegas. Mayweather's comment came amid rumblings that the NBA may add two new teams, including one in Vegas and another in Seattle. But the NBA has made no formal announcements about expanding.  

Boxing great Floyd Mayweather (R) takes part in a training session at a gym in Tokyo on September 22, 2022, ahead of his planned exhibition boxing match against Japanese mixed martial artist Mikuru Asakura . RICHARD A. BROOKS/AFP via Getty Images

Across a nearly decade-long boxing career, Mayweather has amassed more than $1 billion in earnings, Forbes estimated in June. He already owns a stock car racing team — The Money Team Racing — that competes in NASCAR. 

Mayweather told the Review-Journal that he has been assembling a team of people to help him acquire a team since the beginning of this year. The Michigan native also told the newspaper that he's hellbent on buying a team whether it's in Las Vegas or not. 

Shaquille O'Neal

The NBA Hall of Famer expressed interest in buying the Orlando Magic — the team that drafted him 30 years ago — on his podcast in June. O'Neal said he would partner with former teammate Dennis Scott, who now does game commentary for Turner Sports, to buy the Florida team, which is currently owned by members of the DeVos family who are heirs to the Amway fortune. 

"Dennis, we got the money, you ain't got to worry about the money," O'Neal said. "But this message goes out to the DeVos family: If you're ready to sell the Orlando Magic, sell it to somebody that's gonna take it to the next level. That's us."

Since retiring from the NBA in 2011, O'Neal has built a multimillion fortune through savvy investing. He also owns several food franchises, car washes and fitness gyms. 

Krause House DAO

DAO stands for "decentralized autonomous organization." A DAO is essentially a group of cryptocurrency investors and blockchain enthusiasts who pool together their time, money and expertise to fulfill a collective goal. 

The Krause House DAO launched in 2016 with the purpose of buying an NBA team. Members describe themselves as "a community of hoop fanatics just crazy enough to buy an NBA team." Earlier this year, Krause House members bought partial ownership of the Ball Hogs, a team that plays in independent basketball league Big3. 

The DAO has more than 2,000 members and has raised $4 million, NPR reported last November. That's not nearly enough to buy the Suns, but Krause House said in a tweet Wednesday that it's willing to ride Iger's coattails to the path of team ownership. 

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