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How to buy an NBA team?

In order to purchase an NBA team a person or business would first need there to be an opportunity, a current owner looking to sell or a potential NBA expansion plan where a new team is created. Then the potential buyer would need the finances in place, backing from the other NBA owners and to be accepted by the NBA as an organization as having  a good public reputation and no criminal history.

Aside from anything else, someone even thinking about having a conversation about buying an NBA team will need a significant amount of capital they can afford to invest. For context, in 2004 Robert Sarver purchased the Phoenix Suns franchise for $401 million. In 2022, just 18 years later the franchise was valued at $4 billion when Matt Ishbia became the majority owner.

We take a look at NBA franchise sales past, present and future. Explore whether just anyone can invest in an NBA franchise and pull back the curtain a little on the planned NBA expansion teams in Las Vegas and Seattle, that will take the league from 30 to 32 franchises.

List of NBA franchise purchases

YearNBA FranchisePricePurchaserSeller
1964Washington Wizards$1.1 millionAbe PollinDave Trager
1981Los Angeles Clippers$12.5 millionDonald SterlingIrv Levin
1983Cleveland Cavaliers$20 millionGordon GundTed Stepien
1983Boston Celtics$15 millionDon Gaston, Paul Dupee, and Alan CohenHarry Mangurian
1985Milwaukee Bucks$18 millionHerb KohlJim Fitzgerald
1987Phoenix Suns$44.5 millionJerry ColangeloKarl Eller, Don Pitt, Don Diamond, Marvin Meyer, and Richard L. Bloch
1993Houston Rockets$85 millionLeslie AlexanderCharlie Thomas
1994New York Knicks$1.1 billionITT CorporationParamount Communications
1995Golden State Warriors$119 millionChris CohanDan Finnane and Jim Fitzgerald
1997New York Knicks$650 millionCablevisionITT Corporation
1998Toronto Raptors$467 millionMLSELarry Tanenbaum & Steve Stavros
1998Sacramento Kings$156 millionGeorge, Joe, and Gavin MaloofJim Thomas
2000Dallas Mavericks$285 millionMark CubanH. Ross Perot Jr.
2000Denver Nuggets$450 millionStan KroenkeCharlie Lyons
2001Memphis Grizzlies$160 millionMichael HeisleyArthur Griffiths
2001Oklahoma City Thunder$200 millionClay BennettHoward Schultz
2002Boston Celtics$360 millionWyc GrousbeckDon Gaston, Paul Dupee, and Alan Cohen
2004Atlanta Hawks$250 millionAtlanta SpiritTime Warner
2004Phoenix Suns$401 millionRobert SarverJerry Colangelo
2005Cleveland Cavaliers$375 millionDan GilbertGordon Gund
2010Brooklyn Nets$200 millionMikhail ProkhorovBruce Ratner
2010Washington Wizards$550 millionTed LeonsisAbe Pollin
2012Memphis Grizzlies$350 millionRobert PeraMichael Heisley
2013Sacramento Kings$534 millionVivek RanadiveGeorge, Joe, and Gavin Maloof
2014Los Angeles Clippers$2.0 billionSteve BallmerDonald Sterling
2014Milwaukee Bucks$550 millionWesley Edens and Marc LasryHerb Kohl
2015Atlanta Hawks$850 millionTony ResslerAtlanta Spirit
2019Brooklyn Nets$3.3 billionJoe TsaiMikhail Prokhorov
2020Utah Jazz$1.6 billionRyan SmithMiller Family
2021Minnesota Timberwolves$1.5 billionAlex Rodriguez and Marc LoreGlen Taylor
2022Phoenix Suns$4 billionMat IshbiaRobert Sarver
2023Charlotte Hornets$3 billionRick Schnall and Gabe PlotkinMichael Jordan
2023Dallas Mavericks$3.8 billionAdelson-DumontMark Cuban
*then known as Hornets
List of NBA franchise purchases

What is a majority owner in the NBA?

A majority owner in the NBA is the figurehead of the ownership group. Sometimes, like with Steve Bulmer at the Clippers a single man will be wealthy enough to own an NBA team outright. Other times a family will own the team, like with the Buss family and the Lakers where Jeanie Buss is the majority owner and leads operations. Often it will be an ownership group. In these situations a single individual will be listed as the majority owner, they will take charge in overseeing the franchise in all aspects. Some majority owners are more involved than others.

Recent NBA franchise sales

In just the last few years there have been some huge NBA Franchise sales with long term and established owners parting with the majority or all of their shares. The Suns, Hornets and Mavericks have all seen changes in ownership since 2022.

Real estate billionaire Robert Sarver had purchased the Phoenix Suns in 2004 from Jerry Collangelo. Sarver, who had been raised in Tucson, Arizona and attended the University of Arizona, had a cultural investment in the Sun’s success. He oversaw some of the Sun’s most successful periods, the Mike D’angelo designed, Steve Nash, powered ‘7 seconds or less’ Sun’s were never quite able to get over the top. More recently the addition of Chris Paul to the young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Miles Bridges pushed the Sun’s all the way to the 2021 NBA Finals before they fell to Giannis and the Bucks.

Eventually Sarver felt it was time to move on and sold the Sun’s to mortgage billionaire Matt Ishbia. The CEO  and Chairman of United Wholesale Mortgage was born in Birmingham, Michigan and attended Michigan State where he won a National NCAA title in 2000 as a backup point guard, having walked onto the team.

Matt Ishbia would purchase the Suns in 2022

Immediately after taking over the Phoenix Suns Ishbia started making waves, trading an assets and player package with the Net’s for all world wrecker Kevin Durant mid-season. He followed this up by trading Chris Paul away to acquire the services of All-star Gunner Bradley Beal and finally let Deandre Ayton go before the start of the 2023-24 season to bolster squad depth. With only Booker remaining from the 2021 Finals team, the Sun’s are now one of the main title favorites, if they can all stay healthy through the Playoffs.

The next team to hit the sale block was the Charlotte Hornets. 13 years after Michael Jordan had snapped up the Charlotte Expansion Franchise, then known as the Bobcats and eventually rebranded them as the iconic Charlotte Hornets the greatest player of all time was ready to sell his home franchise on. In 2010 Michael Jordan paid about $180 million to take majority ownership of the Bobcats expansion franchise. The purchase gave Jordan about 65% of the team’s equity. He was the only black majority owner of an NBA team.

Following a name change, some false starts on the court and eventually the drafting of often injured, but potentially franchise altering point guard Lamelo Ball, Jordan decided that ownership probably wasn’t his gig. Selling most of his stake in the team for around $2.25 billion of profit in the 13 years he had owned the franchise. In European sports leagues that lack of success on the field of play would have cratered a teams value. However in the NBA, a high tide raises all boats as so even the most inept of owners was able to cash out for a huge value.

Jordan was able to buy into an NBA team, because of his connections (he’s Michael Jordan) and his wealth (you’ve heard of Nike right?). He was able to cash out for a huge profit, because the NBA is a modern day money printing machine.

The most recent franchise to be sold is the Dallas Mavericks. In many ways it echoes the Jordan story with Charlotte, with one significant difference. Success.

Born in Pittsburgh, Cuban made his way to Dallas Texas in 1982 where he fell in love with the Mavericks. As his wealth grew, so did his love of the Mavs.

In 2000 Cuban was able to become the majority owner of the Mavericks when he purchased them from H. Ross Perot Jr. for $285 million. The Mavs, who had entered the NBA in 1980, only 2 years before Cuban moved to texas had never had any on court success. Cuban sought to change this immediately. Famously asking players and fans what they wanted to see or needed to succeed. He then dynamically acted on the information he was given and systematically grew the Dallas Mavericks into an NBA powerhouse. Winning a title in 2011 with a team built around German superstar Dirk Nowitski was the peak. As Dirk faded the Mavs astutely looked to build the team around young superstar Luka Doncic. The Mavs look to have a bright future.

In November 2023 out of nowhere reports trickled through that Cuban was selling the majority of his ownership stake in the Mavs to LA based casino and hotel moguls the Adelson-Dumont family. It is believed the Adelson-Dumont interest in the franchise to attempt to seduce Texas into legalizing gambling so they can expand their market into an untapped resource. They have noted Cuban’s rare success as an owner and ensured he stays on as the leader of the Franchise, despite the sale. Cuban sold the Mavs for a franchise value of $3.8 billion, profit well deserved as forward thinking owners like Cuban have helped propel the NBA into the bright, money laden, future it now bathes in.

Cuban remains in operational control of the Mavericks

What NBA franchises can you invest in?

The NBA isn’t owned by another company, instead, it is owned by the 30 member franchises. The ownership structure of the NBA itself can seem complicated, but is actually very simple. The 30 franchise owners have an equal stake in the business and the commissioner, currently Adam Silver, is chosen by and works directly for the owners. 

While none of the 30 NBA teams are publicly listed on the stock market, and therefore unable for regular people to invest in, 2 franchises have a parent company that is publicly traded. These are “Madison Square Garden Sports Corp” who own the New York Knicks and Canadian-based telecommunications company BCE Inc. which is a partial owner of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors

So while you cannot directly invest in an NBA team and buying shares in these two publicly traded companies would still see you some steps removed from an NBA franchise, it’s the closest you could get.

We have listed each current NBA franchise, it’s original owner and current owner.

NBA Franchise Original and Current Ownership
NBA FranchiseYear joined NBAOriginal NameOriginal OwnerCurrent Owner
Atlanta Hawks1949Tri-Cities BlackhawksBen KernerTony Ressler
Boston Celtics1946Walter A. BrownWyc Grousbeck
Brooklyn Nets1976New York NetsRoy BoeJoe Tsai
Charlotte Hornets1988George ShinnRick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin
Chicago Bulls1966Dick KleinJerry Reinsdorf
Cleveland Cavaliers1970Nick MiletiDan Gilbert
Dallas Mavericks1980Don CarterAdelson-Dumont
Denver Nuggets1976Larry BrownStan Kroenke
Detroit Pistons1948Fred ZollnerTom Gores
Golden State Warriors1946Philadelphia WarriorsPeter TyrrellJoe Lacob
Houston Rockets1967Robert BreitbardTilman Fertitta
Indiana Pacers1976Richard TinkhamHerb Simon
Los Angeles Clippers1970Buffalo BravesPaul SnyderSteve Ballmer
Los Angeles Lakers1948Minneapolis LakersBen Berger and Morris ChalfenJerry Buss Family Trust
Memphis Grizzlies1995Vancouver GrizzliesMichael HeisleyRobert Pera
Miami Heat1968Micky ArisonMicky Arison
Milwaukee Bucks1968Wesley PavalonWesley Edens & Marc Lasry
Minnesota Timberwolves1989Marv Wolfenson and Harvey RatnerAlex Rodriguez and Marc Lore
New Orleans Pelicans2002New Orleans HornetsGeorge ShinnTom Benson
New York Knicks1946Ned IrishCablevision (James Dolan)
Oklahoma City Thunder1967Seattle SuperSonicsSam SchulmanClay Bennett
Orlando Magic1989William duPont IIIRick DeVos
Philadelphia 76ers1946Syracuse NationalsDanny BiasoneJoshua Harris
Phoenix Suns1968Richard BlochMatt Ishbia
Portland Trail Blazers1970Larry WeinbergPaul Allen
Sacramento Kings1948Rochester RoyalsLes Harrison and Paul HarrisonVivek Ranadive
San Antonio Spurs1976Angelo Drossos, Red McCombs, and Peter HoltPeter Holt
Toronto Raptors1995John BitoveMLSE
Utah Jazz1974New Orleans JazzSam Battistone and Larry HatfieldRyan Smith
Washington Wizards1961Chicago PackersBernard J. “Bud” DanzanskyTed Leonsis
list of all 30 current NBA teams, origanal and present owners

How much will it cost to buy an NBA expansion team?

In the next few years the NBA is going to expand from 30 to 32 teams. Two new franchises will be created, almost certainly, in Seattle and Las Vegas. These franchises are not going to come cheap. The first NBA expansion franchises were in 1968 when the Bulls, Bucks and Suns joined the NBA. We have listed below each expansion franchise, the year they joined the NBA and how much the initial owners paid to get them into the NBA.

Expansion TeamExpansion YearExpansion Purchase Price
Chicago Bulls1966$1.6 million
Milwaukee Bucks1968$2 million
Phoenix Suns1968$2 million
Buffalo Braves (LA Clippers)1970$3.7 million
Cleveland Cavaliers1970$3.7 million
Portland Trail Blazers1970$3.7 million
Dallas Mavericks1980$12 million
Charlotte Hornets1988$32.5 million
Miami Heat1988$32.5 million
Minnesota Timberwolves1989$32.5 million
Orlando Magic1989$32.5 million
Toronto Raptors1995$125 million
Vancouver Grizzlies (Memphis)1995$125 million
New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans)2002$300 million
Charlotte Bobcats (Hornets)2004$300 million
list of NBA expansion franchises

The most recent expansion franchise to join the NBA took it from 29 teams to the current 30 when the Bobcats (now Hornets) entered the NBA in 2004. The cost to own this franchise was $300 million. Michael Jordan recently sold his majority share in this franchise and it was worth $3 billion. Quite the increase. With the continued growth of the NBA’s popularity and global reach and a huge new broadcast deal about to be signed, the new expansion franchises are going to be upwards of $4 billion dollars for any prospective owners.

Lebron James has long been rumored to be the lead candidate to buy the Las Vegas expansion when it happens (and if he’s retired, active players can’t be owners). Even with the ridiculous wealth Lebron has accumulated in his NBA and media career so far, he’d struggle to buy an expansion outright and would need some serious backing. He may even be a minority owner, given the task of running the franchise day to day as the de facto majority owner.

The reason it will cost so much to purchase a team that currently doesn’t even exist, is that when a new team joins the NBA the ownership share and therefore profits will be diluted. So the current owners will want to be significantly compensated.

Given the exclusive nature of NBA franchises and the fact this is the first new expansion for over 20 years, a bidding war could even send the price of buying a franchise north of $6 billion.

How do you buy an NBA franchise? You (we) don’t, that’s one for the financial Titans of this world.