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The NBA’s reigning champs — the Boston Celtics — are up for sale

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The NBA's reigning champs are up for sale. Boston Basketball Partners LLC, the ownership group that controls the Boston Celtics, wants to sell all of its shares in a team that's valued at $4.7 billion. Boston could potentially break the record for highest price ever paid for an NBA franchise. So let's ask Mike Vorkunov about that. He covers the business side of the NBA for the Atlantic. Mike, thanks for joining us.

MIKE VORKUNOV: Hey, how are you?

FADEL: I'm doing well. So what do we know about why the ownership group wants to sell this team now?

VORKUNOV: Well, the why isn't quite yet known, but it is interesting timing. Obviously, they just won an NBA title, the second one for this ownership group. And over the next few years, there are going to be a number of new measures that affect the NBA. You know, the ownership group said when they released the statement that it was for family and planning estate reasons. But it also lines up well with very substantive changes in the NBA's governing rules.

FADEL: Now, how unusual is it to sell champions?

VORKUNOV: Very unusual, especially literally days after winning the NBA championship. I don't remember the last time this has happened in the NBA. There are so rarely, before the last few years, control sales of teams altogether. And so for it to happen and the timing of it, I think, is pretty unique.

FADEL: Have the Celtics players said anything?

VORKUNOV: You know, I don't think I've seen anything that kind of rises to the attention. But also, they're spectators in all of this just like the rest of us until a sale gets done.

FADEL: How would selling the team affect player contracts?

VORKUNOV: Well, the NBA has a system where it has a collective bargaining agreement between the league and the owners of the teams and the players where the revenue is split relatively 50-50, so the overall amount of money going to the players won't be impacted. Obviously, any new ownership group will have discretion over what contracts to sign. And so maybe it decides that it doesn't want to spend as much money, go and pay into the luxury tax as much as the current ownership group, well, which obviously would depress the contracts that the Celtics get, but also that would make them probably less competitive.

FADEL: Now, the record was set by the Phoenix Suns when they sold for $4 billion in 2022. The Dallas Mavericks sold for 3.5 billion last December. Michael Jordan sold his Charlotte Hornets for $3 billion last year, lots of money. With valuations like these, are more teams likely to hit the market?

VORKUNOV: That's an interesting question. It's definitely a boom time for NBA teams and valuations right now. And I think that's why we've seen more teams change hands in recent years. You know, it's hard to say because the NBA will have a new media deal that kicks in after next season, you know, and that's going to bring a lot more money into the league and, obviously, a lot more money into the pockets of both the players and the owners. But that has been baked in, too, in some of these numbers for the ownership stakes that have sold in recent years. But still, the Celtics probably will set a record compared to any other NBA sales so far.

FADEL: Mike Vorkunov is with the Athletic. Mike, thanks for joining us.

VORKUNOV: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE KUHN AND HARVIE SWARTZ'S "TENNESSEE WALTZ") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.