According to a source familiar with the deal, Denver Broncos quarterback and former University of Tennessee graduate Peyton Manning and his wife Ashley have agreed to join a group of local owners, a tech billionaire and celebrities in a bid to buy the Memphis Grizzlies.
Memphis ESPN Sports Radio WMFS-FM host Chris Vernon, who broke the news on social media Thursday morning, said former University of Memphis basketball player and NBA star Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway will also invest in the Grizzlies ownership deal as a minority partner.
"I am proud of Ashley as she pursues this opportunity with the Memphis Grizzlies," Manning said. "While my focus is on playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos, I look forward to watching her become involved with her hometown team."
Manning and Hardaway are just the latest two power players to throw their hats into the ring to become new part owners of the Grizzlies. Bluff City entertainment star Justin Timberlake and former five-term U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., have agreed to invest with California billionaire and tech executive Robert Pera to purchase the NBA franchise.
"This is not just an investment in a sports team, it's a way for me to give back to the people of Memphis in thanks for their supporting me," Hardaway said in a news release. "When I was a child my grandmother told me, 'Do for your community, do for your people, do what God puts in your heart.' God puts in my heart to just give. The other local investors share this same commitment to Memphis, so I know the new Grizzlies owners will take more of a leadership role in making the team better."
Pera agreed to buy the Grizzlies in June from current owner Michael Heisley for $350 million. The sale is still pending approval through the National Basketball Association.
Since agreeing to buy the Grizzlies, Pera has been busy lining up his own group of minority owners including AutoZone founder J.R. "Pit" Hyde and businessman Staley Cates who were minority owners with Heisley. Pera also has worked to add plenty of local star power to the group as well.
Pera is a former Apple engineer who left in 2005 to start Ubiquiti Networks, a San Jose, Calif.-based communications technology company that makes WiFi networking equipment. He became a billionaire in October 2011 when his company went public with a fortune estimated at $1.5 billion in March.
Timberlake, 31, grew up near Millington, a suburb of Memphis. In the past few years, the four-time Emmy winner helped renovate a golf course northeast of Memphis.
The Grizzlies franchise has been in Memphis for 11 years, since moving from Vancouver. Fans have shown concern over whether a new owner would move the team away from Memphis, where interest in the franchise has grown after two consecutive playoff appearances.
The four-time NFL MVP's name is not expected to be on any of the paperwork involved. The Mannings issued statements to The Associated Press on Thursday, and Peyton said he is proud of his wife as she pursues this opportunity.
"While my focus is on playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos, I look forward to watching her become involved with her hometown team," Peyton Manning said.
Ashley Manning is very excited to commit to the Grizzlies' new ownership group.
"As a native of Memphis, it was important to me that the Grizzlies remain in Tennessee and continue to have a positive impact on the community," she said.
Manning's involvement will not be a conflict for the quarterback with the NFL, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello.
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said Tuesday that the ownership change will not affect the players themselves or change what they have to do on the court. But they all have heard about Pera, a former Apple engineer who left in 2005 to start Ubiquiti Networks, a communications technology company that makes WiFi networking equipment.
"We've heard a lot of good things about him, and his intentions are all good," Conley said. "I know the city of Memphis should be excited. As a team, we are excited. It's going to be a different expectation for us, and we're just looking forward to taking it on."
The Grizzlies open the season Oct. 31 at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Associated Press writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and AP Pro Football writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report from Englewood, Colo.