NBA Hoops

Billionaire mortgage battle: Inside the owner rivalry of Cavs’ Dan Gilbert and Suns’ Mat Ishbia

Billionaire mortgage battle: Inside the owner rivalry of Cavs' Dan Gilbert and Suns' Mat Ishbia

JUST AFTER 9 A.M. on Feb. 9, 2023, Mat Ishbia stepped onto a small stage in the first-floor pavilion of the Phoenix Suns’ Footprint Center and stared out at hundreds of Suns employees. Ishbia had addressed them for about 15 minutes the morning prior, just before he was formally introduced to the media as the team’s new majority owner. But, for the team’s employees, these remarks would serve as a more substantive meet-and-greet — and a chance to hear his vision.

Music and good vibes permeated the room, and Ishbia was greeted by applause. The then-43-year-old exuded excitement, reveling in his new role and the franchise’s blockbuster Kevin Durant trade that he had helped pull off hours earlier.

Speaking at a frenetic pace, Ishbia thanked employees for showing up and said he hoped to keep the morning’s session — which would include a PowerPoint presentation — to just 60 minutes. Then, Ishbia shared more about his background.

“I run a mortgage company in Michigan,” he said, according to team sources, a reference to United Wholesale Mortgage, of which Ishbia is CEO and chairman. “We’re the largest mortgage company in America. We built it from 12 people to 7,000 people.”

Ishbia moved on to other subjects, such as his disbelief in 70-hour work weeks. “You don’t live to work,” he said. “You work to live.”

Ishbia referenced aspirations of the Suns being not just a great franchise in the NBA but in all of sports, specifically citing the New England Patriots. “Not just on the football side, but also on the business side and what the Krafts have done,” he said.

And time and again, the presentation circled back to mortgages and UWM.

“We’re the No. 1 mortgage company in America,” Ishbia repeated. “The No. 2 mortgage company is a sponsor here, which won’t be lasting long.” Laughter broke out among employees.

Less than a week into his new role in the NBA, Ishbia had just introduced Suns employees to the inner sanctum of a yearslong rivalry that consumed him.

Ishbia, of course, was referencing Rocket Mortgage, another Michigan-based lending giant run by an NBA owner: the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dan…

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