Paul Viera has more than 30 years of investing experience but he has likely never seen a trade pay off so quickly as one he made this week.
The ping-pong balls fell the San Antonio Spurs’ way Tuesday night at the most highly anticipated NBA Draft Lottery in two decades, giving the Spurs the right to select 7-foot-2 French phenom Victor Wembanyama. Earlier in the day, Viera, who is the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based investment firm Earnest Partners, closed his deal to acquire an equity stake in the Spurs after the transaction was approved by the NBA Board of Governors.
“The San Antonio Spurs are a revered organization, and I am honored to join Peter J. Holt and the other strategic partners as part of their investor group,” Viera said in a statement announcing the deal. “As someone who loves the game of basketball, I can’t wait to be a part of the excitement and energy on and off the court.”
The energy on and off the court got a boost with the Spurs selecting first for the third time in franchise history. The first two times produced Hall-of-Famers David Robinson and Tim Duncan, who both spent their entire careers in the Alamo City. The hype and expectations for Wembanyama are even greater, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski proclaiming Wemby the “greatest prospect” in the history of team sports.
The Spurs anticipated more than 2,000 deposits for the 2023-24 season tickets on Tuesday night alone. It will boost the bottom line for the team that traditionally played before capacity crowds but has dipped to the bottom of NBA attendance rankings during its recent rebuild. Revenue for the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped roughly 30% in the first season after LeBron James was drafted in 2003 when the team’s attendance rank shot up to sixth from dead last.
Viera’s finalized deal comes one week after Aramark disclosed it had reached an agreement to sell half of its equity stake in the team to an unidentified buyer for roughly $100 million, which was believed to be for around 5% of the team. It was Viera who acquired Aramark’s stake. The NBA, Spurs and Viera did not return a request to comment.
Aramark has owned its stake for more than two decades and said it planned to sell its remaining stake in the team. Earnest Partners held a small stake in Aramark at the end of 2022, but it was a rounding error within the $40 billion it manages for municipalities, states, corporations, endowments and universities.
Viera had ties to the NBA before his purchase of the Spurs. He sits on the board of Take-Two Interactive, publisher of the NBA 2K video game.
In December, Sportico valued the Spurs at $2.16 billion as part of our NBA team valuations.
The Holt family led the partnership that bought the Spurs for $76 million in 1996. It remains the largest shareholder, but Viera joins a recent influx of investors in the club from outside San Antonio. In 2021, global investment firm Sixth Street Partners bought a 20% stake, and Dell Technologies founder Michael Dell purchased 10%. Last year, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia bought an unspecified share.
(This article has been updated in the sixth paragraph to include information that Viera acquired the Aramark stake.)
With assistance from Brendan Coffey and Eben Novy-Williams