Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck explains why he is selling the team after NBA title

When the Celtics won their 18th championship last month, co-governor Wyc Grousbeck enjoyed his victory lap. A smooth season ended in the ultimate prize and the future looked promising.

Then, on the same day the franchise locked in Jayson Tatum and Derrick White to massive extensions, the team announced it was for sale. Co-governor Steve Pagliuca released a statement shortly after confirming he wants to be a part of the bidding process and retain ownership.

But it wasn’t clear why Grousbeck, who has been the public face of the franchise’s title chase, would walk away now. He broke his silence Monday, bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to the CNBC studio in New York.

Grousbeck went to the television business network dedicated to buying and selling equity in billion-dollar corporations. So when the interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” opened with a question about what the last few weeks were like for him, he didn’t mention the sale. It allowed putting his charisma on display, next to his sport’s holy grail, indirectly painting a picture for prospective buyers of what it would look like to own an NBA champion.

“It’s been just a dream,” Grousbeck said. “You carry the trophy around, it’s heavy. Put it down here in the (New York) Stock Exchange. Put it down in the Hamptons last week. Wherever it is, people cluster around. They love feeling the vibe of Celtic pride and the championship. It’s a great feeling.”

He then went on to the feeling of carrying the trophy down Causeway Street at June’s championship parade, how this was Boston’s 13th parade of the century. “It’s not just the Celtics for me, it’s everybody,” he said.

So why walk away now? The Celtics’ announcement said the ownership group’s controlling family has decided to sell the team for estate and family planning considerations. Grousbeck elaborated on the structure of his family’s ownership position.

“I want to just clarify, it’s not my majority stake. The control of the team is owned by my family,” Grousbeck said. “So it’s a family that I belong to and then I have the Celtics family that I also belong to. So there’s an intersection and there’s an involvement. The family has been involved for 22 years. There’s been discussions and thoughts about estate planning and family planning.”

Grousbeck did not clarify what aspect of estate and family planning led to the family’s decision to sell the team. The original sale announcement also stated that Grousbeck intends to stay on with the organization until 2028, even as the sales process begins imminently.

“I would love that to happen and that’s the expectation,” he said. “We will see what plays out and go from there. … The plan, the expectation is to sell the team in two parts. Fifty-one percent going fairly soon, 49 percent then closing in a second closing, that’s the expectation, in 2028. I’m planning or expected to stay on until ’28 and we’re going to hire bankers and advisors and this is going to be quite a bidding process.”

Boston’s payroll is set to cross the $200 million mark a year from now, with a projected luxury tax bill that could more than double the team’s expenses. Franchise valuations have increased significantly recently, with the Celtics being the biggest franchise to hit the NBA market in some time.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t ever sell it,” Grousbeck said of that market increase on the same program in January 2023. “But it has gone great that way. But we are paid in enjoyment and we love it and really, it’s the truth. But these (franchises) have gotten more valuable than I ever expected. It’s a chance to be on a global stage and compete.”

Now his family is opening up the bidding to the public a little more than a year later. Pagliuca intends to remain in the upcoming ownership group, but there will likely be new investors.

“Steve has been a terrific lead partner, lead co-owner in many ways,” Grousbeck said Monday. “(He) brought Danny Ainge to the table back in the day when we were looking for a general manager. Steve has been great and is a great person and we welcome him for sure in the bidding process.”

One particular new wrinkle in an open bidding process is the potential for sovereign wealth funds to purchase up to 20 percent of a franchise. The NBA adopted the 20 percent ceiling on sovereign wealth funds in 2022, so they cannot have a controlling interest in a team.

“I’m part of that committee that reviewed that and voted for that,” Grousbeck said in that January 2023 interview. “I feel that if you’re gonna have valuations like this, it’s not just the lead owner who has to — but you need a whole core. I’ve got 20 great partners that I’ve been with for 20 years and we’re a group. To put that group together nowadays, instead of it being 200 equity (partners) would be so much more. We’re sort of a global — we’re an investment class that has emerged and become, I think, more respected or valued by investors as almost a counter-cyclical, almost a long-term play. We’re welcoming in sovereign wealth.”

Earlier this season, the Celtics signed on to play the Denver Nuggets in Abu Dhabi in October, whose public investment fund was reportedly part of an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. Those franchises were sold to Mat Ishbia in December 2022 for $4 billion.

In December 2023, Mark Cuban sold his majority stake in the Mavericks at a reported valuation of more than $4 billion to the Adelson family, retaining a 27 percent ownership stake. Cuban long expressed no desire to sell the team, particularly since he was arguably the most involved owner in the league. But like Grousbeck, the time to sell eventually arrived.

Grousbeck has long brought the energy publicly while Pagliuca has taken a strong role behind the scenes. For a Celtics franchise defined by stability in the ownership and front office, this will be a significant change for the franchise.

“At some point after 22 and even 25, 26 years, you can find somebody else to come in with energy,” he said. “We’re gonna try to find the right buyer.”

(Photo: Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

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