Mar 29, 2024 - Business

Ownership battle breaks out for one of the NBA's hottest teams

Illustration of a basketball alternating between being coated in gold or bursting into flames.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves are an on-court phenomenon and an off-court farce.

Driving the news: Team owner Glen Taylor announced on Thursday that the T-Wolves and WNBA's Minnesota Lynx are no longer for sale, after former baseball star Alex Rodriguez and ex-Walmart executive Marc Lore missed a March 27 deadline for completing their purchase.

  • Rodriguez and Lore pushed back, saying they "have fulfilled our obligations, have all necessary funding and are fully committed to closing our purchase as soon as the NBA completes its approval process."

The big picture: The Timberwolves have won just three playoff series in over three decades of play, but this year have the league's third-best record and one of its newest stars in Anthony Edwards.

Catch up quick: Taylor once viewed Rodriguez and Lore as saviors, two recognizable names who pledged to keep his beloved but beleaguered team in Minnesota.

  • He agreed to sell in 2021 via a multipart transaction that began in 2021 and was to result in a control stake by 2024, at a $1.5 billion valuation.
  • But relations are said to have soured over the past year, to the point that Taylor didn't give Rodriguez or Lore a heads-up about yesterday's announcement. Even though they already own nearly 40% of the team.
  • It's unclear how much of the strain was caused by Taylor's belief that the pair weren't living up to their obligations, his concerns about their financing, or seller's remorse as the club improved and NBA franchise values soared. You might recall that Carlyle had been prepared to back Rodriguez and Lore at a $2.3 billion valuation, before failing to get NBA approval.

Fast forward: This may come down to the letter of the contract vs. spirit of the contract.

  • The March 27 deadline was indeed missed, but all of the relevant paperwork was sitting in the league office.
  • This included a financing commitment from Blue Owl (fka Dyal), which replaced Carlyle. Blue Owl has NBA pre-approval, but a source says that even its deals go through a league diligence process.
  • Blue Owl could be in a very uncomfortable situation were Rodriguez and Lore to sue, given that it's part of other NBA ownership groups.

The bottom line: Last week Axios wrote that Taylor "must be privately praying that Rodriguez and Lore falter." The question now is if lawyers and the league office agree with Taylor that they did.

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