The Phoenix Suns are about to be owned by a real weirdo

Billionaire Mat Ishbia is a former Michigan State basketball player turned mortgage lender devoted to Tom Izzo

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Mat Ishbia
Mat Ishbia
Image: AP

To attain the kind of wealth that would allow one to purchase a sports franchise must automatically designate one as being off-kilter in some ways. There can be no normal billionaires, and now sports teams are valued at such ridiculous heights that only the richest of the rich can afford them. Which means the warped of the warped. Whatever and whoever must be run over, whatever corner must be cut, rules broken, one would have to see the world in a certain way to take them.

Mat Ishbia, who is about to own the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, doesn’t appear to be a totally dangerous lunatic or so high on his own farts he no longer can distinguish reality from his own fantasy, like some billionaires who own teams or would like to. At least not on the surface, but there’s still time.

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Still, if you watched HBO’s Real Sports piece on Ishbia, he’s…off. If you ever wondered what would happen if the team manager or that scrub on your high school team got his revenge, here it is. If Rudy had a franchise, basically.

Ishbia’s story differs from most other billionaires’ stories in that he did, technically, play Division I college basketball. He was on the Michigan State national championship team. He got on the floor in the last minute of a handful of blowouts. He was that pasty dude you always saw waving a towel on the bench. His passion for the sport can’t be denied. The purchase of the Suns is not just some addition to the portfolio. Of course, that could lead to other problems down the road, but we’ll save that.

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What Real Sports wanted to focus on is Ishbia’s undying devotion to Michigan State, and more to the point its basketball coach Tom Izzo. It’s been the basis for his whole ascent to the top of the mortgage world, at least it is in his own head. You’ll have to forgive us if we don’t trust anyone in the mortgage business for keeping their business on the up and up while it reaches massive success. They did sort of, y’know, nearly bankrupt the entire country not so long ago (and probably will try again).

Ishbia’s fascination with Izzo borders on the truly strange, given that Izzo hasn’t really proven to be anything different than any other basketball coach. As Real Sports has a tendency to do, it won’t deviate from the story it wants to tell. Which is fine when they’re digging stuff up, as they did in their report on Qatar years back. However, Izzo isn’t clear of the stink of most college programs. Izzo basically tried to tight-lip his way out of all of this, which his No. 1 fan Ishbia was never asked about, perhaps not to sully the savior image of Izzo Ishbia has in his own head.

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There’s also the matter of Ishbia and Michigan State and their fight with the Detroit Free Press about the deal given to football coach Mel Tucker, how much Ishbia contributed to it, and what sort of influence that gives him at the school. Though that’s hardly anything new in a post-Boone Pickens world.

What the HBO story gave us was just how much Ishbia still incorporates from his 14th man-days, and anyone who is that devoted to college basketball in his later life should be watched carefully. Ishbia will tell anyone who will listen that the lessons he learned from Izzo, as if they were passed down on tablets on a mountaintop, are what allowed him to become a billionaire capable of this purchase. He’s even hired former teammates around the company, though what Mateen Cleaves’s motivational speeches have to do with whatever it is Ishbia’s employees do is quite the puzzle. He certainly believes in the concept of team, though someone who was the bench-warmer would have to, to justify his existence, wouldn’t he? Which is probably why he ordered his employees to be back into the office full-time well before most did, the mark of a true psychopath these days. But if you’re drunk on the Kool-Aid that team means everything, instead of talent and giving that talent space to do what it does, you probably think this is why you succeed.

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At the end of the day, Ishbia simply took over his dad’s company and did some rich guy shit to become even more rich. It’s not like he built this from the ground up. I’m not sure where in the preseason Izzo tells his team about having a rich family, but I guess it must be somewhere if Ishbia is preaching this gospel.

You can forget Ishbia being a hands-off owner, and you should probably take the under on how many days it takes for him to call out one of his own players for not hustling, given that’s all he could do and somehow Izzo has earned a reputation for his teams being try-harder than most. Maybe we’ll get lucky and this dork will order his GM to eschew stars altogether and populate the team with a bunch of for-show go-hards and we can laugh at the Suns forever. It’ll be the proper story of what happens when you carry Rudy out to its full extent.