How Aaron Rodgers bought into the Milwaukee Bucks ... and what's his future in franchise ownership?

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Sometimes, in order to make something complicated happen, you have to simplify the process.

A chance for Aaron Rodgers to buy into the Milwaukee Bucks had come and gone once before due to too many cooks in the kitchen, so when an opportunity arose again in 2017 Rodgers cut out the middlemen and spoke directly with Bucks co-owner Wes Edens. That conversation secured the Green Bay Packers quarterback a 1 percent stake in a team that is not only an Eastern Conference title contender but valued at more than $1 billion.

“I just wanted to be involved, first of all because I love basketball and second because I’ve been here for so long I wanted, besides my Packer connection, just another natural connection to the state that I love and that I’ve grown up in,” Rodgers told the Journal Sentinel and

“So when the opportunity was there I wanted it to happen right away. It didn’t happen for a few years and a few different representations and then it turned out it just took a call to (Bucks president) Peter (Feigin) and then a call with Wes and then we made it happen.”

Rodgers has now been a minority investor in the Bucks for more than a year, but before the Packers' season concluded he sat down for his first extended interview about how the deal came about, what it means and how it could impact his life well after his playing days. 

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bucks co-owner Wes Edens take in a 2018 NBA playoff game. Rodgers became a 1 percent investor in the team before last season.

The deal

When Wes Edens and Marc Lasry initially purchased the Bucks in 2014 from Herb Kohl, they quickly focused on adding local investors. Rodgers was immediately linked, and not just for publicity reasons.

A year before the Bucks came on the market, the sale of the Sacramento Kings had piqued Rodgers’ interest in ownership. But obstacles presented by others representing him clouded the process of getting in on the ground floor with the Bucks in 2014.

Rodgers and Edens declined to get into the specifics of what stalled the initial negotiation, but it was enough to pause Rodgers' ambition for several years.

"I was like, I want to be involved in basketball," Rodgers said. "I don’t need anything from them. I can put my own money in. I just want to be involved. That’s basically what it came to a few years later.”

It took until 2017, when a minority investor in the Bucks decided to sell their stake. The Bucks’ majority owners elected to buy back the share – and Edens knew whom to call.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sits with Milwaukee Bucks owner Mark Lasry during a Bucks playoff victory over the Toronto Raptors in 2017. Rodgers has a 1 percent ownership stake in the  franchise.

“He called me back and I was in a car just ready to get on a plane. It was early in the season,” Edens told the Journal Sentinel. “I said, 'Look, here’s the situation: It’s a 1 percent interest. It’s at the original price. As a result, it’s a great deal for you, but you’ve been interested since Day 1, so I feel like that’s a reasonable thing.' I feel like that’s a good thing for him, but I felt good about that.”

Rodgers had to pass the standard vetting process for all potential owners by the NBA – and Rodgers did have to meet in person with NBA commissioner Adam Silver – but he met all the criteria and assumed his share of ownership just before the start of the 2017-'18 NBA season.

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Rodgers politely declined to say how much he invested, but Edens and Lasry bought the Bucks for about $550 million in 2014. A 1 percent share of that price would equal a $5.5 million investment.

“The money part didn’t really matter to me because from a pure business standpoint the NBA is doing great,” Rodgers said. “Ratings are doing great. The new TV deal and the looming TV deal are fantastic. There’s a lot of star power in the NBA, which is driving revenue and interest. You still got the LeBrons of the world, the Russell Westbrooks, the Warriors with Steph (Curry) and 'KD' (Kevin Durant) and now with Giannis (Antetokounmpo) in Milwaukee, there is a lot of superstar talent and people who are really marketing themselves and are good for the league. I think Adam Silver has done a fantastic job of allowing those guys to be themselves. I think fans appreciate that and respect that. The league is growing.

“So from a pure business standpoint, I think it’s a great investment. I always did. But to me, the bigger draw was the tie to the region and just the strong love for basketball.”

While any share in an NBA franchise has inherent capital value, Rodgers repeated often that his decision to get involved with the Bucks was a show of dedication to his adopted home state, which was just as important to Bucks ownership as his financial commitment.

“What was really important to me was that he really had an authentic interest in being involved in Wisconsin long term,” Edens said. “Because he’s a California kid, right? And so the first time we really sat down and talked about it, that became crystal clear to me that it was a really authentic interest on his part, to be a part of Wisconsin long after he hangs up playing for the Packers.”

The ratification of Rodgers’ bid from the NBA took about six weeks to complete.

“It has a lot to do with how you perceive the character and the nature of the person who is being put up as an owner, prospectively,” Edens said of the league’s vetting process. “The NBA does a rigorous background check. It’s not so much it’s an easy thing or a hard thing, it’s ‘Is this person of the kind of character and representative of the partnership that we want?’ And of course, the answer with Aaron is a resounding yes.”

A pioneer

With the Bucks' and Packers' seasons already underway in October 2017, and then with Rodgers suffering a broken collarbone in Minnesota shortly thereafter, Rodgers elected to wait until the Bucks were in the playoffs, on April 21, 2018, before he disclosed his new relationship with the team.

And while that was news in and of itself, the transaction meant much more than a simple press release.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gives teammate David Bakhtiari a hug after the Bucks defeat the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the first round in the 2017 playoffs.

“I said, 'Look, Aaron, just so you know this is kind of a big deal,' ” Edens recalled. “ 'As far as I know, you may be the only active professional athlete in a major sport in America that owns an undiluted interest in another major sport. It’s kind of a big deal.' He’s like, 'I get it, I just don’t want it to be about me.' So that was the time for it and it was really the right call.”

To that end, Rodgers is a pioneer when it comes to football players branching off into the ownership level.

In the NBA, Magic Johnson held a minority ownership stake of the Los Angeles Lakers from 1994-2010 before becoming a part of ownership groups for baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA and Los Angeles FC of Major League Soccer.

Former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan bought a stake in the Washington Wizards in early 1999 and then in 2010 purchased the controlling interest of the Charlotte Bobcats for $275 million.

Lakers forward LeBron James has made no secret he would like to own an NBA franchise. Part of James’ business portfolio is a 2 percent stake in the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League. Valued at $6.5 million in 2011 when he received that stake, ESPN reported that share is now worth more than $30 million.

Former NBA point guard Steve Nash has ownership stakes in soccer clubs in Canada and Spain, and former baseball players Mike Piazza and Nomar Garciaparra also have ownership stakes in soccer clubs. Former NHL star Wayne Gretzky had a share in a Canadian Football League team for three years in the early 1990s.

“Well, very few get the opportunity or ... take the time to grow their business acumen to understand deals off the field,” Rodgers said. “And for me, I made sure I surrounded myself with intelligent business folks and then went out and sought advice from older folks. I think that’s the thing that I’ve always been trying to do, is to learn every year in my life. When it comes to business and not being a business major or an entrepreneurial genius, I went out and found smart people in various businesses and just said, 'Hey, I’d love to have lunch with you,' or 'Hey, can I meet with you?' And just picking their brain about stuff and keeping in touch with those people and growing your business network and your business acumen to where you can have these other businesses and understand what you’re doing.

“For me, that was a draw. I do know that there’s not many active guys that have done a whole lot, which is great, but it’s about business opportunities and learning and then the tie to the region, of course.”

Future ownership?

Rodgers spoke about the Bucks during an interview shortly before the Packers' season ended. He had led the Packers to a come-from-behind, overtime victory over the New York Jets days before.

His focus then, and for the foreseeable future, remains on that locker room and the Packers.

But his slice of Bucks ownership raises another question: Does this mean a more sizable share of franchise ownership is in his future?

“I think franchises are an interesting business because a lot of it comes down to chemistry and team dynamics and players and talent, which I’ve been around for 14 years on a professional level and think I understand pretty well,” he said. “But it is an interesting business and one that sounds fun to do.

"But I don’t know. I haven’t thought a whole lot past: I love being a super minority owner of the Bucks. I love this region and I love this squad. I have other interests. I grew up playing soccer, the MLS is blowing up. But I really haven’t thought a whole lot past the small, small, small percentage that I have and how fortunate I feel to be a part of the organization and the kind of guys we have in place leading and also on the court.

“But I’m competitive. So when I’m done playing, there’s going to have to be something to fuel the competitive juices, and being involved in sports would be great as long as it’s not commenting or maybe a GM.

"The ownership part seems a little more my speed and what I want to do when I retire from sports.”

Rodgers, who often sported a Bucks hat on road trips last season, wouldn’t say how often he’ll be around Fiserv Forum this offseason, but the Packers can begin workouts under new head coach Matt LaFleur on April 1. The NBA playoffs will begin April 13.

“First of all, they don’t need me. They’re a fantastic team,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got a new building, great ownership, great leadership. ‘Bud’ (Mike Budenholzer) has done a fantastic job coaching the squad. They don’t need me. They have enough promotion already.

"I like where they’re at because I think a lot people are talking about Toronto with Kawhi (Leonard) and Philly, Boston, but I think we match up well against any of those teams. We’re really long on defense and with what Bud’s doing on offense we can space the floor and have five guys, really four guys who can shoot around Giannis.

“So, they don’t need me. But I’m looking forward to being able to get down to some games and catch them on the road when they’re out west. I look forward to them making a deep run in the playoffs.”


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