- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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A week after he sold his stake in the cash-strapped Arizona Diamondbacks, Jerry Colangelo has hired the investment banking firm Lehman Brothers to search for new minority investors in the Phoenix Suns.
The move, he said, isn't so much about finances as it is about the team's long-term succession plan of ownership.
"It has to be the right person," Colangelo told ESPN.com on Monday. "We don't need to raise any money right now. It's more about me being 64 [years old]. It's time to work on the transition and plan for a passing of the baton in the future."
Colangelo agreed to sell his stake in the Diamondbacks, the Major League Baseball team that won him a World Series title in 2001, though he will remain the team's chairman and chief executive officer. Colangelo owns a 20 percent stake in the Suns, an NBA team that he bought with an investment group for $44.5 million in 1987.
The Suns have an estimated worth of $282 million, according to Forbes Magazine. But the magazine projected that the New Jersey Nets, which were recently sold to Bruce Ratner for $300 million, had a $244 million value. Robert Johnson paid $300 million for the rights to the NBA's 30th franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats, in December 2002.
The Suns could be worth closer to $400 million, according to Mark Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd., a sports finance firm.
"Whoever wants to buy a piece of this team won't be taking on huge debt and will be buying into an organization that is one of the most well-managed in all of sports," Ganis said.
The Suns' $55 million investment in the recent $70 million renovation of America West Arena should help contribute to a higher franchise value, Colangelo said.
Colangelo has been with the Suns since 1968, when he became their general manager. Among NBA executives who have remained with one team, Colangelo's 35½ years with the Suns is second only to Red Auerbach's 54 years with the Boston Celtics.
Both Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan have expressed interest in owning teams in the past, but Colangelo said he has not heard from either one of the former NBA stars.
"Obviously if Magic or Michael were interested and they played a substantial role in the growth of the franchise, it would be very good for the sport," Colangelo said.
Interested and qualified parties will have a chance to look at the Suns' financials through the investment bank, Lehman Brothers. Lehman will not be conducting an open auction for the team, and will allow the books to be reviewed only by a select group of people. Colangelo said the Suns have been profitable nearly every year of their existence.
Lehman Brothers managing director Sal Galatioto declined to comment.
"This has been my baby since Day 1," Colangelo said. "But I have to do some estate planning and at some point know that I will have to give this up. Nothing is motivating this but my personal clock, which is my age."
Despite the fact that the Suns own the worst record in the Western Conference at 21-42, attendance is up 3 percent from last year to an average of 16,253 fans per game.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org