Aussie billionaire buys NBA dream team
Tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes still remembers the day he was cut from the high school basketball first team - ending his dream of playing professionally.
On Saturday he has the next best thing - the 41-year-old Sydneysider has become the first Australian to become the owner of an American basketball team.
And not just any team. Cannon-Brookes and two other tech entrepreneurs are the new owners of the Salt Lake City based Utah Jazz.
"I am super excited and stoked to become part of the ownership group for the Utah Jazz with two awesome friends," Cannon-Brookes told The Saturday Telegraph.
He has paid a sum understood to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars to join Ryan Smith, chief executive of Utah based Qualtrics, and tech investor Ryan Sweeney in buying the team.
The total deal, with Smith as the principal owner and major investor, is understood to be more than A$2 billion. For basketball tragic Cannon-Brookes it is a dream come true.
"My friend Ryan rang one random Tuesday morning and said he was buying the Utah Jazz NBA team and asked if I wanted in," said Cannon-Brookes. "I said 'f*** yeah' quickly followed by 'I have to check with my wife'."
Fortunately his American born wife Annie has a sister in Utah, where her parents are also staying, so she has a strong incentive to visit the state. The reaction may not have been so favourable if he had tried to buy the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"It's a fairly major purchase but she was really good about it. She knows how passionate I am about basketball and the Jazz in particular," he said.
That passion began at Cranbrook School where the teenage Cannon-Brookes switched from cricket and rugby to basketball. "I was tall so what I lacked in skill I made up for with height," said Cannon-Brookes who stands 6ft 4 inches in his socks.
"When I was 15 I realised I wasn't going to make the NBA when I got cut from the A team," he said. Now being able to buy a team "is a dream come true and really very exciting.
"Obviously it is a passion play but it is also a sound business decision," said Cannon-Brookes. "It's not a charity donation."
Cannon-Brookes graduated from the University of NSW and started collaboration software company Atlassian with best mate Scott Farquhar. It's success saw him rated by Forbes as Australia's youngest billionaire.
He has made the most of his money, splurging $250 million on real estate including his $100 million Point Piper estate Fairwater next door to Farquhar. Naturally he drives a Tesla.
The basketball loving trio of tech investors take over from legacy owner, Utah billionaire businesswoman Gail Miller and her family who have owned the team for 35 years and will maintain a small interest.
"There is an amazing track record there and an amazing culture and to continue that legacy is a bit daunting actually," said Cannon-Brookes.
They are following in the high top footsteps of a string of other tech billionaires who have bought into the NBA. That has not stopped the critics from asking just what they know about running a basketball team.
"Twenty years ago we were three kids in our twenties who didn't know anything about running a software company but we did OK so we will give it a go," responded Cannon-Brookes.
The purchase means they also own the stadium. "So I could pop down and shoot some hoops on a Tuesday morning when I am there I suppose," he laughed.
Buying into the NBA is not simply a matter of having a lot of money. The other team owners vote on who is allowed to join and that comes after a rigorous, six-month vetting process.
Cannon-Brookes passed with flying colours and now hopes that will help strengthen Australian links to the NBA that already has Aussies as the second most represented country on the international player roster behind Canada. Aussie Joe Ingles is one of those, collecting a salary of $11 million playing for the Jazz.
"I know there are a lot of Aussies living in Utah and there is a strong connection through shared values," said Cannon-Brookes, who normally visits the US at least 10 times a year for work and to visit his wife's family.
There are hopes that having an Australian owner of an NBA team could lead to opening games of the season being played in Australia in the future.
At the moment the COVID-19 pandemic means no-one is travelling anywhere. But Cannon-Brookes is still fired up "I will be watching the first game of the season on Xmas Eve at home with some mates," he said.
Originally published as Aussie billionaire buys NBA dream team