California billionaire to buy Grizzlies

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Majority owner Michael Heisley has been trying to sell his Memphis Grizzlies for years to just the right person, and the Illinois billionaire finally found his buyer: Robert J. Pera, a 34-year-old billionaire from California.

Heisley  ASSOCIATED PRESS
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Heisley

Heisley said Monday he has an agreement to sell his NBA team to a group headed by Pera. Heisley made the announcement less than a couple hours after published reports of a deal selling the team he moved from Vancouver to Memphis in 2001.

“I am confident that the franchise will continue its development toward being a perennial championship contender and an important member of the Memphis community,” the 75-year-old Heisley said in a statement. “I am particularly gratified that we have put together a team which is poised to continue its development. We have an outstanding team of players, coaching staff and basketball and business management.”

The sale is subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors and other conditions.

Heisley had a deal in 2006 with a group headed by Christian Laett­ner that fell through when they failed to line up financing the $252 million to buy his majority share.

Heisley had been talking to Oracle founder Larry Ellison earlier this year about a possible sale before backing off, saying he didn’t want to sell to someone who would move the team.

ESPN.com reported the sale would be for about $350 million.

Pera is a former Apple engineer who left in 2005 to start Ubiquiti Networks, a communications technology company that makes WiFi networking equipment. He became a billionaire in October 2011 when his company went public, with a fortune estimated at $1.5 billion in March. A stock dip earlier this month has left the man described as a big basketball fan who loves to play the game worth an estimated $980 million.

“I am excited about the opportunity to build on the work that has made the Memphis Grizzlies a highly competitive NBA team,” Pera said in a statement. “I look forward to getting to know the Memphis community and to continuing the team’s success in Memphis.”

TRIBUTE: NBA referees will wear the number 57 on their jerseys during the finals to honor longtime official Greg Willard.

The National Basketball Referees Association says Willard – who wears the No. 57 referee’s jersey – was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Willard worked games in this season’s playoffs, including one just last week between Miami and Boston. Willard has been an NBA referee for 24 seasons.


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