The NBA has approved Robert Pera's bid to own the Grizzlies, clearing the way for the 34-year-old Silicon Valley wireless technology entrepreneur to become the second owner of Memphis' professional sports franchise.
The league's Board of Governors voted unanimously Thursday to approve Pera's group during its meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, league spokesmen said.
"We are delighted that the NBA's Board of Governors has approved Robert Pera's purchase of the Grizzlies," said NBA Commissioner David Stern in a statement. "Robert will no doubt bring great energy and passion to the franchise. He has assembled an ownership group with very strong local ties, and we anticipate that their commitment to the Memphis area will greatly benefit both the team and the community."
The board is made up of the 30 controlling owners of each team. A three-fourths vote was required to admit Pera to the small circle of majority owners.
Pera must still close the deal with current owner Michael Heisley, a process that could take a few days. But the NBA's approval, which comes after a months-long vetting process, was viewed as the most significant hurdle for Pera's bid.
Pera's representatives have said he will not speak until after he closes the deal with Heisley.
Pera agreed on June 11 to buy the team from Heisley for what's believed to be $350 million. He recruited a wide range of investors to join his bid, including local businessmen such as AutoZone founder J.R. "Pitt" Hyde, investor Staley Cates, financier Duncan Williams, investor Edward Dobbs and cell phone tower mogul Billy Orgel. Performer Justin Timberlake, who has Shelby County roots; Memphis native Ashley Manning and her husband Peyton Manning, the NFL and former University of Tennessee quarterback; Tiger basketball legends Penny Hardaway and Elliot Perry; and former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. are also part of Pera's ownership group. Steve Kaplan, a Los Angeles-based investor, has also joined Pera's group.
Sources told The Commercial Appeal this week that while Pera will remain the largest shareholder and thus be the controlling owner, his ownership percentage is less than 50 percent.
If and when Pera closes with Heisley, it will draw to a conclusion the 75-year-old Chicagoan's colorful tenure as NBA owner in Memphis. He purchased the team for $160 million shortly before its 2001 move from Vancouver and engineered its landing in Memphis, giving the city a franchise in one of the four major professional sports leagues for the first time. That led to the 2004 opening of a $250 million arena, FedExForum, off Beale Street, creating a new venue for both the Grizzlies and the University of Memphis.
Pera is the founder of San Jose, Calif.-based Ubiquiti Networks, which develops wireless Internet technology. His company has been scrutinized this summer after concerns about its products being counterfeited and its stock fell from a high of $35 per share on May 1 to around $12 per share this week. Pera was an unknown to many, even in NBA circles, when it became public earlier this year that he agreed to buy the team.
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