Hoop dreams come true as Cannon-Brookes buys stake in NBA team
Technology billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has become the first Australian to own an NBA team, buying a minority stake in the Utah Jazz.
Mr Cannon-Brookes’ investment in the US basketball team, said to be in the hundreds of millions, will see the co-founder and co-chief executive of software firm Atlassian join the exclusive list of technology entrepreneurs owning NBA teams.
They include former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer (the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers) and billionaire tech investor Mark Cuban (the owner of the Dallas Mavericks).
The opportunity to pick up a stake in the Utah Jazz came about courtesy of a deal struck between the Miller family, owners of the team for the past 35 years, and the founder of US technology company Qualtrics, Ryan Smith.
Under the terms of the deal, Mr Smith will be the representative owner of the team, with Mr Cannon-Brookes and Ryan Sweeney, partner at US venture capital firm Accel, coming in as minority owners.
Qualtrics designs software for fast data collection and analysis, while Atlassian builds software to help IT departments and computer programmers work together online. Accel was an early investor in both software companies.
Mr Smith and Mr Cannon-Brookes, both lifelong basketball fans, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that even the COVID pandemic wasn’t going to stand in the way of the deal.
“The hardest thing about this process has been that it has all been on Zoom, so you do miss out a little bit of that excitement. Being on the ground and interacting with everybody is important for a deal like this, but I am confident the planes will open up and we will figure it out in the next year or two,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.
“I have been trying for a while [to buy the Utah Jazz] … one owner for 35 years. I thought this thing was never leaving the family,” Mr Smith said.
“I told Mike no matter what happens with COVID, we are not blinking.”
Mr Cannon-Brookes added that the deal highlighted a changing of the guard in the NBA, as a new generation of entrepreneurs take up the reins from a generation that came before them.
“The NBA is very technology-centric and has a long history of entrepreneurial owners; just in the last decade the major transactions have all been done by tech entrepreneurs, so that reflects the way the league runs,” he said.
“All three of us are highly competitive people and this is a huge platform.”
Apart from their shared passion for the sport, Mr Cannon-Brookes and Mr Smith are acutely engaged in the broader challenges faced by society – from climate change to addressing systemic social and racial inequities.
Both tech billionaires said their responsibilities as owners extended well above the day-to-day operations of the team. “Our role is about the longer term, it’s about what the organisation looks like a decade from now, it’s about things like culture and the values of the organisation,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.
“The NBA is the perfect thing to bring people together right now; it’s the greatest platform to induce change in the world, there’s no bigger responsibility than that,” Mr Smith added.
“I run a much larger business [than the Jazz] and so does Mike, so we understand we need to use this platform to do good.”