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Culture / Sporting Life

Leslie Alexander Looking at $2 Billion Payday with Sudden, Shocking Rockets Sale Announcement

Even NBA Insiders Caught Off Guard by Decision to Sell

BY // 07.17.17

When former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer swooped in and bought the scandal-crippled Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion in 2014 it didn’t just shock the sports world. It opened up a lot of longtime NBA owners’ eyes to just what they could be sitting on.

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is now acting on that, putting the sports franchise he’s owned for 24 years up for sale. The shocking, seemingly out of nowhere announcement came on a quiet Monday afternoon in the city — with even the most tapped-in NBA experts having no inkling it was coming. But if you look at what the Rockets have been doing recently, it appears that Alexander’s been tying up loose ends and securing things to bolster both the franchise’s future and his windfall.

James Harden’s been signed to the largest contract in NBA history, a $228 million deal that eliminates any worries he might have about his future under a new ownership group. Chris Paul’s been traded for, giving the Rockets two of the 10 most recognizable players in the NBA for at least this upcoming season (Paul’s own future in Houston likely will have to be addressed by the new owner). And general manager Daryl Morey has been signed to a four-year contract extension that takes him through the 2021-22 season (a deep-pocketed new owner could still just buy Morey out and go with his own GM, but Alexander’s provided a financial parachute to his guy at least).

Even reigning NBA Coach of Year Mike D’Antoni — arguably Alexander’s single best move of an ownership reign that includes two NBA titles in his first two years — is still under contract for three more seasons. Not that NBA coaches ever have any real security.

Ballmer’s purchase of the Clippers set a new standard. And there is little question that the NBA has only grown in stature and popularity in the last three years.

Alexander’s been busy — and now he’ll get paid in a colossal way. The former bond trader and self-made billionaire bought the team for $85 million in 1993. Now, he could be looking at getting nearly $2 billion by selling it. You don’t have to work at Axe Capital to understand that incredible projected return on investment.

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Leslie Alexander is already the 361st richest person in American with a net worth of $1.9 billion according to Forbes magazine. The sale of the Rockets could dramatically increase his net worth in one fell swoop. Even if you’re already a billionaire, that means plenty.

Forbes now values the franchise at $1.65 billion, ranking it as the eighth most valuable team in the NBA. But values and sales price are two very different things. NBA franchises, especially one in major markets such as Houston, rarely go on sale. While surprising at the time, Ballmer’s purchase of the Clippers set a new standard. And there is little question that the NBA has only grown in stature and popularity in the last three years.

While Ballmer also paid to get into Los Angeles, the Clippers clearly play second fiddle to the Lakers in that mega market. The Rockets are Houston’s only NBA team and also popular in China thanks to Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin.

“I’ve made this decision after much deliberation with my family and friends, and do so knowing the franchise is in great shape with the players, coaches and management team in place,” Alexander said in a statement. “CEO Tad Brown will oversee the sales process with the league office, supported by my management team.”

The 72-year-old Alexander seems to be placing more and more focus on his charitable endeavors. He announced a $4 million donation to 20 different Houston charities in March. He’s also put his Gramercy Park penthouse condo and his Baccarat Hotel & Residences condo in New York up for sale, asking for $46.5 million and $21.5 million respectively.

Yes, Alexander has two sprawling Manhattan palaces in the sky. He’s a billionaire. One who suddenly doesn’t seem to have the urge to own everything anymore.

“The Houston community has been home to me,” Alexander said in his statement. “I will continue to support the charities I have made commitments to throughout the years. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the fans, partners, city officials and employees who care so deeply for this team.”

There is no doubting how much Alexander cared for the Rockets over the years — or how competitive he is. This owner would never stand for the full-scale teardown rebuilding that the Houston Astros have done to great success under Jim Crane or the Philadelphia 76ers have done to great Process fanfare in the NBA.

Now, the Rockets and their fans are looking at the uncertainty of a new owner. And Alexander’s looking at one of sport’s all-time paydays.

Home, chic home.

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