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Memphis Grizzlies, billionaire Robert Pera reach sale agreement

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Rudy Gay and Michael Heisley attend a Grizzlies-themed prom (Joe Murphy/ Getty).

Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has had his team up for sale (unofficially or otherwise) for quite a long time. In many cases, that would spell doom for basketball fans of the area, especially with billionaires like Larry Ellison hoping to move the franchise to San Jose. But the Grizzlies have a long-term lease with significant penalties, and it looks like they'll be around for a while.

In that context, Monday's news about a sale agreement with tech billionaire Robert Pera can be seen as a very positive development. From Teresa M. Walker for the Associated Press:

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 in January 2007 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 relocate the team.

ESPN.com reported the sale would be for approximately $350 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.''

Pera is only 34 years old, having worked for at Apple as an engineer before starting a WiFi equipment company in 2005. With the Grizzlies establishing themselves as a playoff team over the past two years, there's hope that an infusion of money could turn them into a more stable franchise.

Of course, talk means little at this stage of the sale, and we don't actually know what kind of owner Pera will be (assuming the sale is accepted, of course). It stands to reason that Pera is buying the team now just to move it in 2021, but we also don't know where the franchise will be at that point, or how his attitude towards the city might change. For instance, Heisley bought the team in 2000 and claimed they wouldn't move from Vancouver (via EOB), only to head to Memphis a year later. Then, only a few years after that, he put the team up for sale. Claims of stability often don't result in actual stability.

All of this is to say that Pera shouldn't be seen as a savior. For now, cautious optimism is the way to go.

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