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Community, fan experience, culture and winning: New Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Mat Ishbia full press conference transcription

Mat Ishbia is HIM.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here is most of what new Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury majority owner Mat Ishbia said at his introductory press conference Wednesday morning.

Opening statement:

“So honored to be here. I’m not much of a, ‘stand at the podium,’ guy, but thank you for being here. Really appreciate it. What an honor, an honor to be here in the city. Couldn’t be more excited to be part of it with all of you guys. I’m really excited to talk about a handful of things today and at the same time, take any questions and talk about some things then. But first and foremost, I want to just say how honored I am. People say, Mat, and my brother Justin and a lot of other partners, I’m the new owner. I look at it as a community asset. I’m not the owner of the Suns and the Mercury, I’m the steward of it. My job is to do great things for the community as a community asset, and we’re going to do some great things not only in the community, but with fan experience, and just doing the right thing all the time. And so I’m just extremely excited about it. It’s not, ‘Mat Ishbia,’ it’s a team. And anything and everyone that’s ever been successful knows it’s a team game. Basketball is a team game, all sports are team games. But life is a team game. And so I’m glad to have my family here with me, I got my three kids, my brother, my parents. My ex-wife is here too, everyone’s here together. We stay as a family, we’re here together as a team and I’m proud to now bring my family here to be part of your family. So it’s a true honor. So my life has been completely tied to basketball. I know, you heard, played basketball at Michigan State, it’s an overstatement. I sat on the bench at Michigan State, and it was a great experience. I played there, I was a good high school player and then walked on at Michigan State under Tom Izzo and we went to three Final Fours, won a national championship. But that was done based on a team and family culture. Basketball is my life, a huge part of my life. Always has been, and so when I realized I wasn’t good enough to be in the NBA, how could I one day maybe play, instead of playing in the NBA, maybe own a team? And I didn’t know how realistic that was but when you set big goals, you say win, what’s important now, and you start working towards them. So I’m honored to be here and be a part of it with you guys. Basketball has been a huge part of my life…

(He begins to give thanks to other people) “Let’s start off with (NBA commissioner Adam Silver) and the NBA. They welcomed me. The owners, what an honor. They’ve treated me so well, they talked to me. Even before I was an owner, they were helping me achieve this dream. And so Adam Silver and the whole NBA executive team, along with the owners, have been amazing to me. And so that’s been a huge, huge part. I’m so welcomed and lucky to call them partners now. The Phoenix community. The most exciting one that, I feel so welcomed. Whether it’s from people reaching out to me, whether it’s social me, I can’t thank the Phoenix community enough for welcoming me, my family to the Valley. I couldn’t be more excited about it, and the warm welcome I felt, I’m excited about it. Hopefully, it lasts – if we ever lose a game, I know we’re 1-0 (since he became owner… the Suns are now 1-1 after their loss to the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night), but honestly, what an honor. And this organization, the Mercury and the Suns have an amazing history. We have a lot of superstars – I’m looking at these guys (multiple members from the Suns in the 1990s were at the event) I’m looking up there that I idolized as a kid, because I grew up in the generation with all you guys dominating and playing great. It’s such an honor to see these people here with me. So thank you guys for being here and thank you for all the people that showed up to this day. I do want to thank (previous Suns and Mercury majority owner) Robert Sarver. He chose me to be the next owner, and I think he did a really nice job of trying to think what was best for the community. I think he had great intentions, and I’m proud to be the next owner along with my other new partners, which I’m really honored that there’s 13 other partners. Now, I’ve added my brother and my father. But they all wanted to stay in. And that’s more of a tribute to the Phoenix community, the Mercury and the Suns more than anything, more than me is they all said, ‘I don’t want to sell my shares. I want to stay in and be part of this family and this team with you, Mat, and the community.’ And so I’m really honored, so I want to thank them as well for being here with me. A couple other things – the Phoenix executive team, the new leaders. So I got a chance to talk with the people who work at the company, the Suns and the Mercury a little bit. Obviously, some of the people that are traveling. But the people that are here, and they’ve been so welcoming to me. So the Phoenix executive team, they’ve been great to work with. They set up this amazing press conference and actually, can we give them a round of applause for putting this all together? I mean, what a great job by everyone. It’s not easy to set this stuff up and make it, to make me look good is hard. So hopefully, I look average at least and I’m doing OK…

(He gives more thanks) “The last two groups I really want to hit on is Michigan State basketball and (coach) Tom Izzo. He made a huge impact on my life. So I learned so much from coach Izzo on team, on family. But also on straight-up work ethic. Out-work everybody, and that’s the big part of my mentality, which we’ll talk about in a second when I give you a little bit of thoughts on the vision before I take questions. But Tom Izzo has been a huge part, a huge impact on my life. My people at (United Wholesale Mortgage) and my team there and everything. I’m a mortgage guy and mortgages, people don’t think are that much fun. But we have a lot of fun doing things there and we’ve been pretty successful with it…(he then thanks his parents and brother)”

(Mat Ishbia then introduces his brother, Justin Ishbia, who will own a majority leadership stake in the Suns with him)

Justin Ishbia: “Pleasure to meet all of you. I’m Justin Ishbia, Mat’s brother. He’s always a tough act to follow in so many ways. The Phoenix community, you’ve welcomed us. Just in a few days, your passion for the Suns and the Mercury is clear. We can’t wait to be part of what you have built and hopefully, take it to new levels…

“We believe in a lot of fun. Mat and I are fans. We’re fans in our heart, we want to win and have a great community impact. That’s what we’re really excited about. So we’re excited to combine family and fun and winning together. That’s what us and the Ishbia family stand for. I think my parents, mom, dad, we love you guys so much. Thank you for welcoming us to the community and looking forward to many great days ahead. Thank you.”

Mat: Thank you, Justin, for the kind words and the great remarks. Last, and now I’m going to talk a couple of the things vision and then I’ll take a lot of questions… (thanks children, Ben, Jamie and Joey and brings them to the podium).

“A couple of quick things, and then I’m taking questions. Because I know I want to make this concise, and make sure. But the big thing for me and for us as the steward of these amazing organizations, the Mercury and the Suns is, ‘What’s the goal? What are we trying to accomplish?’ OK, and so a lot of people say, ‘The goal is to win and [championships].’ We’ll get to that. But the first thing is, I want to think big. I want to think, how do we make this the leading franchises in the NBA and WNBA? I want to make it so that everyone looks at the Mercury and the Suns as the best. What does that mean? Best in class from fan experience, community engagement, culture. Like, best in winning, we got to win [to be the best]. Like, how do we make it the best? Those are the things that we have the vision for. And quite honestly, with the tradition and a lot of the success in the past from back from (former Suns owner) Jerry Colangelo, who is obviously a legend and has done amazing [things], all the way through to today. It’s been amazing. But I want us to be the best, the best in class, the elite franchises in the NBA and WNBA. And so there’s four focuses, and I already talked to the team about it, so this is not new to them. There’s going to be four focuses that we’re going to think about here in Phoenix. And by the way, once we figure these out, we’re going to figure out how to keep getting better and add things to it. But this is not Mat’s vision, this is going to be our vision. Not only the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, but hopefully the community. The first thing is, I got to start with our people here. I don’t call them employees, I call them team members. The culture. So I built a mortgage company from 12 people to 7,000 people. We are the No. 1 mortgage company in America. It’s all because of my people. We have no patents, we have no technology no one else can build. We don’t have like, a special interest rate discount. We just have better people. And what my vision and our vision is, we want to get the best people to join the Suns and Mercury. We want to train them, coach them to be the best version of themselves and then treat them so well, they never want to leave. And that’s what we’re going to do here. The culture, we’re going to go forward and make some changes to make this thing one of the best places to work across the country. And that’s a big part of success. Because you can’t win without happy people. You can’t win unless your people care. You can’t do anything unless you have great people. And so first, we’re starting with culture and team member experience. Second thing, we’re going to dominate the fan experience. I’m a fan, so growing up, my dad would say, whether we sit in the upper deck or we get to the lower deck or whatever. And like a fan, a player waves to us. Like, that was like the birthday present and the best thing ever. Like, we’re going to make sure the fan experience, not only from the players but when we’re getting concessions, are people smiling? When you walk in the doors, security people saying, ‘Hello,’ the ticket [people?], everyone’s going to be a part of it. It’s got to be an amazing fan experience. We can’t win all the games, but we can win every kid’s heart and every person’s mindset every single game. We’re going to make it a fun experience, even when we lose. Right? So understanding the fan experience is second. Third thing is community impact. We are going to make amazing community impact across this community and across this great state and beyond. And so, how do we do those things? Once again, this is the community asset. So how do we use this platform to impact the community in a positive way? We will do that, whether it’s from hospitals to donations to all different things. To doing things for kids. Like, we’re going to do a massive community impact. And the fourth thing to make this the leading franchise is, we’re going to win. We’re going to win in everything we do, not just on the court, off the court as well. Right? We’re going to try to win in sponsorship deals, we’re going to try to win the heart of that kid, we’re going to try to win every game we can win. We’re going to try to win championships. We can’t win every year, but I promise you we’re going to try. We’re going to try to win everything we can do. In my business, I’ve never focused on money. We focused on doing those four things. Success is the key. Money just followed. We’re not sitting here focused on money. Nobody cares about money, we’re focused on winning, community impact, culture and fan experience. And guess what happens? A lot of success follows. Money follows success, not the other way around. And so that’s the vision we think of for Phoenix. I’m excited to be a part of it, I’m excited to be a part of it with all of you guys and I can’t thank you enough for welcoming me. Because I had no idea. I’m from Michigan. Right? How is everyone going to welcome me, not only from the former players to the partners to all the fans, to all the media, it’s been an amazing, amazing experience so far. And I can’t wait to really roll my sleeves up and dig in with all of you guys, listen, learn, find out what we can do and make changes and make things better along the lines of making this the elite franchises in the NBA and the WNBA. So with that, I’m going to pause and take some questions. I’m happy to take any questions about anything and look forward to answering anyone’s thoughts. Go ahead.

With the unique timing of your arrival a day before the trade deadline and the fanbase is very eager to learn some of your philosophies when it comes to team-building. So with that in mind, what is your willingness to expand the luxury tax bill for the team for the sake of potentially improving the team not only at the deadline, of course, but in the years coming?

“Yeah, thank you for the question. I appreciate it. So once again, one of the four things we just talked about: winning. First off, I love our team. Give credit, by the way, (Suns general manager) James Jones is here and his leadership team. Like all these guys, they’ve done a heck of a job, right? They’ve done a heck of a job building an amazing team. I’m not walking into a team, like so, I feel like we can compete right now with exactly what we have. With that being said, my belief system is about, ‘How do we focus on winning? Can we improve our chances of winning a championship?’ But I’m not just a short-term thinker, I’m also a long-term thinker. I’m going to be here for 40, 50 years. You guys are going to get sick of me, I’m going to be here a long time. And so I know you can’t win every single day, but we’re going to try. And so we are very active and the way we look at it is, ‘How do we improve our team?’ I’m not going to be sitting here counting the dollars. Right? We’re going to be focusing on, ‘How can we improve our team?’ And if there’s a way to improve our team, we’re going to look at doing it. But we’re not going to sacrifice long-term for short-term. Right? But we are going to try to win every day. And so hopefully, that answers the question. Thank you.

Last night, there was obviously the report about Isiah Thomas, which has since been debunked. Given what you’ve said about the team experience and the way that a lot of fans and employees here were kind of jaded by the work conditions here under the prior regime, my question is twofold: Will Thomas be involved at all, and No. 2, what is kind of your message to those fans and employees as to how things are going to work moving forward?

“Yeah, thanks for the question. So I don’t read all the reports, but the way that I look at it is this: Isiah Thomas is a great friend of mine. Right? And I have a lot of great friends. Isiah Thomas is someone that knows basketball inside and out. He’s not someone that I have in a role or have an established role. I think that was reported, there was some role. There’s no role for Isiah at this time. My belief system is this: I’m coming in, there’s no changes. Like, I tried to explain to the team upstairs. I know our CEO (Jason Rowley) is no longer with us. I don’t plan on coming in and making changes today. I come in listening, learning humbly. Like I’m a mortgage guy, I love, love, love basketball. I love business, so I feel like it can be pretty good. But the next 60, 90, 120 days is about listening and learning. And you’re going to hear a lot of things. I have a little bit of a different background where I’m very involved with basketball, I have a lot of great friends in basketball. I know you mentioned Isiah, but I’m friends with Magic Johnson. I have connections with Tom Izzo. If you read all the things I’ve heard that will happen, we’d have 72 people running the company here that you never met. Like, the way I always tell people is, ‘I will be direct, I will be transparent when I’m going to hire someone or bring someone on.’ You’ll hear it from me first. Don’t listen to the rumors, because you’ll hear it from me. You can just call me and ask me. I’ll pick up the phone and say, ‘Nope, we’re not doing that.’ Or, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about this in the future. Here’s what we’re looking at.’ But there’s nothing happening right now. Thank you for the question.’”

Just curious as this deal is closed, how much you’ve been able to dig in and kind of help make the decisions here leading up to the trade deadline and how involved you will be in the basketball day-to-day?

“Well, so both with the Mercury and the Suns, so like, listen: I’m a believer of great, great people, empower them, support them in every way they can so they can make the right decisions. I think we got great people leading the Mercury organization and great people leading the Suns organization from a basketball perspective and a business perspective. And so, how active and involved am I? I mean, I’m involved because I’m in the weeds. I roll my sleeves up, I get in the dirt. I love being involved with everything. However, I know if you’re asking me how a player is, James watches the film. Like, I think he’s watched 100 hours of him, but I watch the game like you did, right? And so we look at it a little differently, however, I do have a basketball mind where I think I can be valuable. But at the same time, I’m empowering my people to make decisions. I’m going to obviously be very active and involved with it. But at the same time, my job as a leader is to put the right people in place, give them all the resources and support they can, have to be successful, and then let them do a great job. Thank you.

Dave King: I have a question to follow up on that. You have a reputation as a very hands-on CEO, always around. We heard about you take Thursdays so you can just walk around to different departments. How are you going to do that kind of management across the country? How do you plan on really putting your imprint on this team from a distance?

“Yeah, great question. Thank you for the question. Yeah, I’m very hands-on. As you mentioned, my Thursdays in my office at UW, I don’t take meetings. I walk around, I talk to people, not talking to my leaders. I talk to people that are actually doing the jobs, find out what’s going on and find out how we can make things better. That’s how I’ve improved – that’s like going and creating work for myself to go get us better. And so, I plan on doing the same thing in Phoenix. However, as you point out, I’m not going to physically live here. I got these three wonderful children, I live in Michigan. However, I’ll be out here quite a bit. I’m the CEO of a publicly traded company, and I love that. I love the mortgage business, I’m going to be dominating that. We’re the largest mortgage company in the country, I’m going to continue to do that. However, I will be very active, very engaged. And I think at the beginning, how do we make sure we set the right tone and culture, but once again, surrounding myself with great people? I started this whole thing off about team and family. And that’s what makes the difference. It’s not going to be a Mat Ishbia show. It’s going to be a Phoenix Suns and Mercury show. It’s going to be a team, a ‘we’ show, not an ‘I’ show. And so with my brother, he’s active. I’m active, along with, we got other partners too, and we got other people that are part of it that have done great things. We have other owners that are alternate governors, I’ve met Sam Garvin, I know [inaudible], like, we have people that are around. And I already got great leadership in place. So we are going to make some changes once we figure out what those are. But right now, I believe knowledge creates confidence and confidence creates success. I don’t have the knowledge to know what things we’re going to do, but I’m going to be in the weeds, and it’s going to be, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be traveling a little bit more back and forth and being involved, especially as we get this thing going.’ Thank you for the question.”

You kind of touched on this current team and the job James Jones has done building this team. When you looked at the potential purchase of this team and you looked at how good the franchise is now and the history that this franchise has had going to the (NBA) Finals [three] times, how much did that add to the excitement of being able to purchase this particular franchise as opposed to any other franchise?

“Yeah, well this should be clear: This particular franchise was the target. Right? This is not a, ‘Oh, they’re for sale.’ This was, ‘I can’t believe they’re for sale. I’m so excited about the Mercury and the Suns, and how can I be involved?’ And so a lot of people ask me, ‘Oh, it looks like you paid…’ Like, I was going to go get this team. This is the dream, the dream city, the dream opportunity, the dream organizations. And so in my head, I couldn’t believe it became available. I’m 43 years old, I’m so excited it did. And so I guess the way I’d answer that question is, ‘Did it have something to do with it?’ Absolutely it did. I mean, this city I think is unbelievable. And I mean for me, I’m from Michigan. You come out here in the winter, I’m going back to your (Dave’s) last question, I’m going to be out here a lot, unless you want to come up to the snow with me. So like, it made a big impact. This is not just another NBA team, right? This is the Phoenix Suns, the Phoenix Mercury. Right? Great history, great tradition, great former players. At the same time, great, great, great community and opportunity. And I’m really excited about it. That’s why when this became an opportunity, my brother and I, my father, we said, ‘No matter what, that’s the one. We’re going, we’re going now and let’s go figure out how to do it.’ And it takes what it takes. We have the same way in our company, like, paid $4 billion. It takes what it takes. I want to be part of this with you guys, hopefully you guys recognize how much passion and love I have beyond basketball but also the Mercury and the Suns because of that. Thank you for the question.”

Who do you expect to lean on to adjust to your role now as an NBA owner, a new position? Whether it’s other owners, people around the league, people outside of the league?

“So first off (ESPN’s) Baxter (Holmes, who broke several pieces of news on the investigation into previous Suns majority owner Robert Sarver), the way I look at it is, ‘I’ve never done this before.’ Right? But I’m going to roll my sleeves up and dig in. That’s first. Second off, you got to use your resources. So that’s why former NBA players, other NBA owners… I run a mortgage company with over 7,000 people, it’s not, ‘I only talk to executives or other mortgage winners.’ I talk to people that are the security guards. I talk to people – like, I’m going to figure out how to be great at this with my team. And so the answer to the question is, just like, I’ll lean on a lot of external people. But at the same time, I’m going to start with our internal people and say, ‘Hey, how do we do this? How do we make this an amazing place?’ Not just for basketball, for the Suns and Mercury. But also, the arena, how can we make this like? All those things tied to those four things. And so I don’t have like, ‘Hey, Mat’s going to call Jenny Smith every day. Like, who’s he going to call?’ Like, I don’t have a person I’m going to tell you. But I have a lot of people, and I mentioned some of them earlier with basketball background but also outside of basketball. I got my brother and my dad, I got family people. But at the same time, there’s a lot of basketball people I’m close to. And to be honest, the owners, it’s really cool how amazing they’ve been connecting to me. I know outside of the, ‘Let’s talk about a trade, let’s put that aside.’ Everything else is like, ‘Let me help you. Let me help you.’ That’s a cool part to be part of that, that they all think like, we’re a partnership, we’re a team. And so, I have a lot of resources to use that. Thank you for the question.”

I’m wondering, some of the things you learned from Tom Izzo and evaluating talent that you’re looking to apply to this Suns team?

“So good question. On evaluating talent, once again, on sports side, we got (Suns executive vice president) Jim Pitman and James on the Suns side. Like, they evaluate talent and their teams. And we got scouts and we got great people from a basketball player perspective. But the things that I look at and value that maybe are a little different than what other people look at is leadership, culture, amazing work ethic and amazing attitude. And so I want leaders, I want people to do the right thing all the time. Right? Like I look at players, and we got players on our team that (are) high-fiving fans, doing the right things. Coming early, staying late. Like, work ethic, attitude and leadership traits are a big thing. Like, when I played in the national championship, leadership drives a lot of success. And so those are the three or four things I look at when I’m evaluating talent. But that’s not just basketball, that’s chief marketing officer. That’s security guards. Like, I look at those things. And work ethic and attitude are the things that built my business on at UWM. Because I know that every person controls that every day. How hard they want to work, how positive they’re going to be. Because a lot of things happen, having the right attitude and mindset is a big part of the success. So those are the things I really value as a leader and as an owner of a business and also as a steward for the Mercury, Suns and the arena.

Just to follow up on the Isiah Thomas question, you said there’s no role for him at this time. Are you leaving it open that there could be in the future?

“So, here’s what I want to say. There’s a role for you in the future, there’s a role for anyone in the future. The way I look at it is this, like, I have no plans. People are like, ‘Well, I see things tweeted out and I’m learning quick, right? I’m learning… I have no plans for anybody to come into my organization at this time, right? Until I evaluate what we got. Whether it’s, you personally, whether you say Isiah Thomas, whether you say any name you want to use. Magic Johnson. You’ve probably followed it really closely – the amount of people I’ve looked to hire supposedly and are coming to Phoenix has been, there’s been at least 15 people that have been tied to me. What I’ll tell you is this, and the good part, you’ll learn about me and maybe the PR people will love this about me is like, I’m extremely, extremely transparent. When I have an idea and you think I’m going to do something, you’ll hear it from me. I’ll tell you exactly and I’ll tell you why. And I’m focusing on winning, community, fan experience and culture. And if I feel like anybody, whether it’s a marketing person, an executive, a former NBA player, a new owner, like even people want to join the ownership group. You got to understand and have the same vision. And so I’ll let you know when we look to hire someone. I promise you it will not come out via any tweet and no one will know about it unless it gets announced by me. You can always call me and ask me, and I’ll tell you the truth about what’s going on. But there’s no people that we’re hiring at this time. Thank you for the question.”

(Gives thanks to those in attendance)

“Hopefully you can feel my passion and excitement and energy, and I’m so proud to be part of this with you guys and we’re going to have a heck of a time doing great things for the Mercury and the Suns for years and years to come.”

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