When Mat Ishbia agreed to buy the Suns from Robert Sarver for a reported $4 billion, only one owner abstained from voting for his approval in February: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. This move didn't surprise Ishbia, he explained to The Ringer's Bill Simmons, because he and Gilbert own competing mortgage lender companies based in Michigan and have had a business feud for years.
"I could go talk for hours on it or I could take for a minute and the minute is probably easier: He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him," Ishbia said. “I don’t like the way they do business in a lot of things. He probably doesn’t like the way we do things. We’re in the same town. We compete. We’re winning. That’s what it is right now.
"I knew without a question that that’d probably be how he handled [the ownership vote]. And the best part is now you get to see who I see. Very simply. Now you see who I see and what I know about that man.”
Ishbia added that while he and Gilbert have yet to shake hands at any owner's meetings, he has "no animosity" towards his on- and off-court competitor.
"I know he’s not doing [well] health-wise, I wish him nothing but the best," Ishbia said. "But the reality is in the mortgage business and now on the basketball floor, whatever it is, I'm trying to win at everything I do. And that’s what we’re going to be. And if someone’s done things the wrong way, which he’s done, I’m going to call them out on it and that’s what I’ve done.”
Ishbia and Gilbert's long-time feud, explained
Here's a quick history of the mortgage lender business in Michigan that absolutely no one asked for but is incredibly relevant to this story: Gilbert co-founded Rocket Mortgage (formally known as Quicken Loans) in Detroit in 1985. A year later Ishbia's father, Jeff Ishbia, founded United Wholesale Mortgage based out of Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. And in 2022, UWM surpassed Rocket Mortgage as the No. 1 mortgage lender in the United States, nine years after Ishbia took over for his father.
"Rocket's going to cry like they cry about everything, and we beat them. Brokers are better," Ishbia told The Detroit News in 2022 after UWM officially beat Rocket. "We're the largest mortgage company in America. It's not negotiable. It's not discussed. It's not an opinion. It's factual."
That's only part of the fight, though. Two years earlier, UWM aired a Super Bowl ad that poked fun at Rocket Mortgage by showing a child laying down on a skateboard with a rocket strapped to his back and saying that "playing with rockets is great when you're a kid but when it's time to get a mortgage, you quickly realize a rocket is complicated and expensive."
Ishbia later called Rocket Mortgage's decision to lay off more than 2,000 employees "disgusting" in an April 2022 LinkedIn post and said he was "disappointed" that a company "that made over $5 billion last year in profits" would do something like that to families in the area.
Ishbia and Gilbert also both attended Michigan State and made dueling donations to the school's athletic department. Ishbia, who actually played three seasons as a walk-on for the Spartans, gave the university $32 million on Feb. 4, 2021. One month later, Michigan State announced a massive sponsorship deal with Rocket Mortgage where the basketball team would now be known as "MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage." The university later clarified that it wasn't changing the name of the team.
The Suns and Cavaliers haven't faced each other since Ishbia took over in February, but the first game between the two squads will have more on the line for their owners than just a win or loss when they do play each other next season.