Suns Owner Ishbia Seeks Playoff Success

Suns Owner Ishbia Seeks Playoff Success

New Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia wants nothing more than to cap his first year with a championship.

It’s been a busy first year for new Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia, as among other initiatives, he spearheaded the campaign to get Phoenix an All-Star Game // Photo Credit: Phoenix Suns social media
It’s been a busy first year for new Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia, as among other initiatives, he spearheaded the campaign to get Phoenix an All-Star Game // Photo Credit: Phoenix Suns social media

A year ago, when Mat Ishbia, the president and CEO of Michigan-based United Wholesale Mortgage, the country’s largest wholesale mortgage lender, agreed to purchase the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury from embattled real estate businessman Robert Sarver, he pledged “to think big.”

Having just completed his first year of ownership, Ishbia, who at 44 is the youngest NBA owner, has not just thought big, but has acted accordingly on many fronts from immediately landing superstar Kevin Durant in a mid-season trade last winter to recently securing the 2027 NBA All-Star Game for Phoenix. In line with his high-octane personality, Ishbia has made great strides in making the Valley of the Sun the epicenter of the basketball universe – even though the city hasn’t assumed that mantle just yet.

The ultimate barometer by which Ishbia’s stewardship will be measured is whether he can deliver the 56-year-old franchise its first-ever championship — a milestone that in all likelihood, may not happen at the conclusion of Ishbia’s first full season at the helm. The Suns, a veteran-laden team built to win now but bedeviled by injuries to its core players (Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and the 14-time All-Star Durant, who’s still one of the game’s top mid-range shooters, have hardly been on the court together), inconsistent perimeter defense and proclivity for committing a rash of turnovers, are in danger of missing the playoffs.

“I think we have the best team in the league, but obviously we have to play it out,” Ishbia remarked on media day this past autumn.

They are currently slotted in for the anything-can-happen play-in tournament — undoubtedly the Atlanta Hawks’ path to the postseason as well – where Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks and/or Domantas Sabonis and the Sacramento Kings likely await. And should the Suns fall short of the playoffs, it would be a colossal disappointment, what with the team trading most of its future draft capital and committing to pay some $67 million in luxury taxes in exchange for the aforementioned veteran star power.

“I work for the community. I work for the fan base. Anything we can do to win, we’re going to try to [do],” Ishbia said during media day when justifying the organization’s bold moves. “We want to be the best organization in all of sports. I don’t think of it as risky or not risky, we’re trying to win. If there’s a way to make us better, I’m going to do it, whether it’s on or off the court.”

Yet, that the Suns, who came agonizingly close to winning it all merely three years ago, are buried in a deep Western Conference has – for now at least — been largely overshadowed by the monumental changes to Phoenix basketball since Ishbia arrived last winter. Ishbia, who as a senior in high school was named Jewish athlete of the year by the Detroit Jewish News before playing in three Final Fours for Michigan State as a walk-on, has engineered some impressive developments. A city that is already host to the men’s Final Four next month and the women’s Final Four in 2026, has over the past year been awarded the WNBA All-Star Game this July and the NBA’s version in 2027. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has stated publicly that in his 32-year NBA tenure, the league has never awarded a city two All-Star Games within the space of the year.

“He’s really setting the bar high,” first-year Suns head coach Frank Vogel said after the All-Star Game announcements.

Under Ishbia and Suns 34-year-old CEO Josh Bartelstein, also a member of the Jewish community, the development that will impact a far greater number of basketball fans was the decision last year to sever talks to extend the Suns’ TV rights deal with Bally Sports and instead make the games accessible on local broadcast stations owned by Gray Television across Arizona. It was impressive – the franchise sacrificed potentially tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed revenue for the sake of tripling the expansion of its games to over 2.8 million households.

“People focus too much on money,” Ishbia told Arizona Sports radio in the wake of his decision. “What I focus on is if I dominate from a fan experience, if I make it an amazing community asset, if we put a great product on the floor and we’re winning, and we take great care of our team members — all of the stuff I talked about at the press conference when I originally bought the team — money will follow … Yes, I believe we’ll make money. I don’t even know the details about the money. The reality is when I was told I have the option to do this and we discussed this, we said 100 percent we’re going to do the right thing for the fan base.”

Several weeks later, plans were revealed for a new team member business headquarters and a massive cutting-edge practice facility for the Mercury within Phoenix’s Warehouse District downtown. The 123,000-square-foot development, fueled by a $100-plus million investment and replete with a vast array of amenities including a fitness room, hot and cold pools, and two practice courts, promises to be one of the elite facilities in all of women’s pro sports.

Former Sun Amare Stoudamire recently had his jersey retired by the team // Photo Credit: Phoenix Suns

“We are working every day to make the Phoenix Suns and Mercury a world-class organization on and off the floor,” said Ishbia upon the unveiling of the plan. “You create great culture by investing in people. A basketball franchise is so much more than a normal business, it is a catalyst for change.”

There certainly has been a whirlwind of change in Ishbia’s first year of ownership and only time will tell if it will be a catalyst for the Suns to make a deep postseason run that extends beyond the Western Conference Semifinals, where they have unceremoniously bowed out the past two seasons.

But as it stands, perhaps the most significant highlight of the Suns’ season was when former Suns forward and Orthodox Jew Amare Stoudemire, who from 2016 to 2019, played for the Israeli team Hapoel Jerusalem and later for Maccabi Tel Aviv before converting to Judaism while living in Israel in August 2020, had his No. 32 retired during a Ring of Honor ceremony at halftime on March 2. The long overdue recognition of one of the game’s most electrifying players was a spectacular moment for a franchise that has now established strong roots in the Jewish community.

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