Utah’s ‘Silicon Slopes’ Shape Dwyane Wade’s NBA Owner Portfolio

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The Utah Jazz rolled over the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night and advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs, behind two-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who tallied 30 points and 10 assists in only 29 minutes in the blowout. The team will take on the winner of the Clippers-Mavericks series, which Dallas currently leads three games to two. Utah hopes to maintain momentum behind its new local, tech-savvy ownership group.

“Something special is brewing,” posted NBA legend Dwyane Wade on Instagram. “Way to lead little bro.”

Rising star Mitchell has often been compared to Wade since he entered the NBA in 2017, and now the two are on the same side after Wade became a minority investor in the Jazz in April.

Wade follows in the footsteps of Shaquille O’Neal (Sacramento Kings) and Grant Hill (Atlanta Hawks), who own small stakes in those respective teams, as well as Michael Jordan, the one former player to control a team, the Charlotte Hornets. Magic Johnson previously owned 4% of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Wade has earned roughly $400 million in playing salary and endorsements since he turned pro in 2003, and he’s retained that star power since retiring two years ago. The former guard counts 17.5 million Instagram followers, a tick below his actress wife Gabrielle Union, and he has his own wine label, sock line and sneaker brand, all while hosting a game show on TNT. In retirement, his sneaker deal with China’s Li-Ning is still worth $6 million annually.

“As a businessman, entrepreneur, and investor, I bring a lot to this partnership outside of my basketball experience,” Wade said in a release announcing the ownership news. “I’m excited to help take the Utah Jazz to the next level.”

D-Wade clearly had other options in his path to NBA ownership. Longtime Miami Heat owner Micky Arison expressed his disappointment over the decision of the 13-time All-Star, tweeting: “I want to congratulate Dwyane on his recent announcement. We had discussed having him join our ownership group after his retirement but he was not prepared to commit at the time. Of course I am disappointed that he didn’t reconsider. Having said that I wish him good luck and much success with the Jazz. To me Dwyane will always be a HEAT lifer.”

So which franchise ownership situation is a better option? Wade cast his lot, but let’s break down his choices.

South Beach

Wade spent all but two of his 16 seasons in Miami and is the franchise leader in most statistical categories, including more than twice as many career points as any other player—Alonzo Mourning ranks second. He’s a three-time NBA champion and South Florida legend. Miami-Dade County commissioners declared in July 2010 that the area would be known as “Miami-Wade County” for one week “in recognition of all that Dwyane Wade has done for the visibility, stature and national image.”

The Heat were swept out of the playoffs this year by the Milwaukee Bucks, but remain one of the NBA’s most attractive free-agent destinations, thanks to the lure of Pat Riley, South Beach and lack of state income tax. Sportico valued the team at $2.38 billion in January, 12th among the NBA’s 30 franchises.

Arison finished second in a poll taken by The Athletic last fall on the NBA’s “best” owners, behind only Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. He is chairman of the world’s largest cruise ship operator, Carnival Corp., and is the NBA’s sixth richest owner, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $6.7 billion. But his fortune has dropped more than 30% over the past three years, as the cruise ship business took on water and sunk even further with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Heat are a marquee franchise but are not immune to fan apathy in a crowded sports market. In the two seasons before LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami in 2010, the club had trouble selling out its arena and attendance dipped to the middle of the NBA pack.

The Miami metro area is five times the size of Salt Lake City. “Miami is a much bigger fishbowl and provides much more international exposure,” said Marc Ganis, president of sports consultancy SportsCorp.

Silicon Slopes

Ryan Smith’s ownership group paid $1.66 billion for the team in a deal that closed in December. Sportico valued the Jazz at $1.71 billion, No. 21 in the NBA.

The Jazz don’t have the championship pedigree of Miami, as the club’s only two trips to the Finals in its 47-year history ended in defeat at the hands of Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the late 1990s. But the Jazz have been playoff regulars most of the past four decades, and only the San Antonio Spurs, Lakers and Boston Celtics have higher career winning percentages among NBA teams. This season, the Jazz posted the NBA’s best record, 52-20, for the first time in franchise history.

While Salt Lake can’t match the size or star power of Miami, Wade’s new team has its own big advantage. “Miami is a crowded sports market, but the Jazz are the only show in town,” said Syracuse University sports management professor Rick Burton.

Wade, 39, joins the youngest ownership group in the NBA. Smith, who made his fortune as co-founder of cloud computing company Qualtrics, is the youngest NBA governor at 42. Other owners include Smith’s wife Ashley; Ryan Sweeney, a partner at venture capital giant Accel; and billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, who co-founded software firm Atlassian.

Smith has been one of the main forces in Utah’s burgeoning tech community, dubbed “Silicon Slopes,” and is one of the biggest cheerleaders for the state and its emergence as a tech hub. Qualtrics was acquired by SAP in January 2019 for $8 billion.

“I think Wade sees this as the beginning of a very broad business relationship,” said Ganis. “Miami is a bigger and more exciting market, and Wade has a fabulous reputation there, but it would have just been the basketball team.”

Financial terms of Wade’s purchase were not released, but NBA bylaws require ownership stakes to be at least 1% of a team.

Verdict

The experts co-sign Wade’s franchise choice. “Because his brand is already established, he can go to a more modest market and still do well,” said Ganis.

The budding business mogul re-located to the Los Angeles metro after his retirement and launched a marketing company within Creative Artist Agency, CAA AMP. He’s already a legend in Miami and will have plenty of opportunities there, as well as his hometown of Chicago. The Jazz investment connects Wade to another NBA market and more importantly, a group of powerful tech entrepreneurs that will keep Wade in the fold of their future deals.

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