Grizzlies owner agrees to sell team

Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said he reached an agreement Monday to sell the team he has owned for 12 years.

Heisley said a contract was signed with billionaire Robert J. Pera. He said it was not discussed whether Pera ever might move the team, but that Grizzlies have an ironclad lease to remain in Memphis until at least 2021.

“I have stepped aside from my companies,” Heisley, who has been looking to sell the team before, said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida about why he’s selling now. “I’m 75 years of age. I had a couple of medical problems this year (with his heart). I thought the team was in good shape. Fan base was in good shape. I thought if the opportunity presented itself, I would sell the team.”

ESPN.com, which first reported the team would be sold to Pera, put the sales price in the range of $350 million. Heisley, who will give up 100 percent of ownership, said that figure is “in the ballpark.”

“I will say it’s in the 3-something,” said Heisley, referring to $300 million.

Heisley stressed the NBA still must approve the sale to Pera, who made his money in communications technology and at 34 is ranked in Forbes’ list of the world’s 10 youngest billionaires. Forbes calls his net worth $1.5 billion.

“I want to make this really clear,” Heisley said. “The league has not approved this. This is at least a 30- to 60-day process.”

Until the sale can be made official, Heisley said he will continue to run the team. But he said all key decisions will be made while consulting Pera, the founder and CEO of Ubiquiti Networks, based in San Jose, Calif.

“I think he’ll be a good owner,” Heisley said. “He’s young. He’s in his 30s. I think he loves basketball. And I think he’s financially very well off. I think he’ll be an excellent owner. But that’s a job for the NBA to decide.”

Heisley bought the Grizzlies in 2000 when they were in Vancouver and moved them to Memphis in 2001. The team moved into FedExForum, a state-of-the-art arena, in 2004.

“It’s very bittersweet,” Heisley said of selling the team. “I love Memphis …. I’ve spent a huge amount of money to make the team successful there …. I did it because I love basketball and I love the city of Memphis and the people there, and they’ve treated me fantastic. I have nothing but wonderful feelings …. I’m 75. My son (Michael Heisley Jr.) is not interested in going to Memphis and running the team. So, obviously, at some point it was going to have to be done. And, quite honestly, I thought it was my job to get it done rather than leave it to my heirs.

“I’ve had some surgery on my heart. I’m just saying when you get to be my age and things start happening, it makes you suddenly realize if you’re going to make these kinds of decisions, you got to make them while you’re healthy. You don’t want to be making them on a hospital bed.”

Heisley, a businessman who made his fortunes by buying downtrodden companies and building them back up, said he has been approached by ownership groups in the past who wanted to try to get involved with the city and move the team soon. But Heisley said he wouldn’t entertain such offers.

While Heisley said it has never come up with Pera about whether the team will or will not eventually move, Heisley stressed it would be almost impossible for the Grizzlies to get out of their lease with the city to use FedExForum before it expires in 2021.

“This has nothing to do with either staying or it’s moving,” Heisley said. “We still have … nine years left on a contract with the city to stay in the city. I have not yet figured how people … think somebody is going to buy the team and leave. It’s going to be here for a while.”

However, Heisley did acknowledge, “We can’t make somebody stay here forever.”

Heisley had agreed in 2006 to sell 70 percent of the team to a group that included former Duke stars Christian Laettner and Brian Davis. But the deal fell through.

Under Heisley’s ownership, the Grizzlies have made five playoff appearances. They won the first series in team history in 2011 when, as a No. 8 seed in the West, they upset No. 1 San Antonio in the first round. They were the No. 4 seed this season but lost in Game 7 of the first round to the No. 5-seeded Clippers.

“We got to Game 7 and we just came out flat,” Heisley said. “I think we should have beaten them but we didn’t …. Everybody wants to dwell on that. I dwell on the fact we had the highest winning percentage in the history of the franchise (41-25 for .621).”

And Heisley said he has no problem going out that way.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson