Robert Pera, prospective new owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, has recruited a famous Memphian to be part of his ownership group: Justin Timberlake.
Sources with knowledge of the arrangement said Thursday that Timberlake, one of the NBA’s most prominent celebrity fans and a Memphis native, has committed to joining Pera’s team of minority partners as the sale of the franchise from Michael Heisley to the 34-year-old technology magnate nears completion.
Sources told ESPN.com that Timberlake and Pera have quickly struck up a friendship, with one source adding that the singer/actor is making “a meaningful investment into the team” and “plans to be active” with the Grizzlies. The league office, sources said, has been made aware of Timberlake’s proposed involvement and is already well acquainted with him after inviting the self-proclaimed basketball junkie to participate in various celebrity games at All-Star Weekend.
It emerged last month that Pera, who splits his time between Northern California and Taiwan, already has agreed to terms with five other local partners to purchase up to one-third of the franchise. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that the arrangement — which includes AutoZone founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde among the investors — would “practically guarantee” the team’s future in Memphis for at least 15 more years.
Pera, though, has maintained since coming to terms with Heisley that he has no intention of moving the franchise. And the fact that Pera is committed to Memphis, sources said, was one of the key factors that triggered Timberlake’s desire to get involved.
ESPN.com reported in June that Pera, CEO of Ubiquiti Networks, had agreed to pay an estimated $350 million to buy the Grizzlies from Heisley. Although shares in Pera’s company — which specializes in wireless technology hardware — have slumped since news of the sale agreement emerged, sources close to the process have maintained for weeks that Pera’s purchase remains on course to receive formal approval from the NBA before the start of the regular season. NBA commissioner David Stern said in July after a Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas that the process was “proceeding on pace and we hope in the next couple months to be able to approve that.”
Sources said Pera and Timberlake, in addition to their blossoming basketball connection, have bonded over the star’s keen interest in technology. In the 2010 movie “The Social Network” about the rise of Facebook, Timberlake portrayed Napster co-founder Sean Parker.
Pera is also said to have bonded with the outgoing Heisley, who assumed control of the Grizzlies in 2000 when they were still in Vancouver and recently turned 75.
If the Grizzlies’ sale goes ahead as expected, Timberlake would join Jay-Z (Brooklyn Nets) and Will Smith (Philadelphia 76ers) as prominent NBA minority owners from the world of Hollywood.