Sources: Lasry agrees to sell his stake in Bucks to Haslams

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Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry has reached an agreement to sell his portion of the team to Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam at a $3.5 billion valuation, sources told ESPN.

The deal, which represents Lasry's portion of the Bucks, or approximately 25% of the team, is still pending league approval, sources said. If completed, it would be the second-highest valuation ever for an NBA team, being surpassed only by the $4 billion purchase of the Phoenix Suns by Mat Ishbia from Robert Sarver that was completed earlier this month. It also would be the third highest for any American professional sports team, also trailing the $4.65 billion the Denver Broncos went for last June.

The Bucks sale is just the latest in a series of escalating prices for NBA teams in recent years. Before Ishbia's purchase, the previous record was Joe Tsai buying the Brooklyn Nets for $2.3 billion in 2019. That was preceded by Tilman Fertitta spending $2.2 billion to land the Houston Rockets in 2017 and Steve Ballmer paying $2 billion to buy the LA Clippers in 2014.

It was also in 2014 that Lasry bought the Bucks, alongside fellow New York hedge fund financier Wes Edens, for $550 million from former longtime U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. Since then, the Bucks -- behind two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo -- have been one of the NBA's premier franchises, accumulating the fifth-most wins in the league over that span and claiming the 2021 NBA championship -- the franchise's second overall and its first in 50 years.

Lasry and Edens also spearheaded the building of Fiserv Forum, the downtown arena the Bucks play in, which opened in 2018, along with the surrounding Deer District. Lasry plans to retain downtown Milwaukee real estate holdings after the sale, sources said.

Milwaukee has also been willing to push well into the luxury tax in recent seasons to maintain a championship-caliber roster. The Bucks are projected to pay more than $70 million in luxury taxes this season, per ESPN's Bobby Marks, after adding Jae Crowder to their roster at the trade deadline earlier this month. Only the Golden State Warriors and the Clippers are slated to pay more.

The Bucks will have more financial decisions to make in the months ahead, with franchise tentpoles Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez both potentially hitting free agency this summer -- Middleton has a player option for next season -- and Jrue Holiday potentially able to hit free agency in the summer of 2024.

As Lasry completes the sale of his portion of the Bucks, sources said he is in discussions to create a sports investment fund inside his existing investment firm, Avenue Capital. Lasry was an early investor in Major League Pickleball -- which features a roster of owners including LeBron James and Kevin Durant, among others -- and is interested in potentially buying into teams, leagues, media rights and real estate, sources said, after his successful run in Milwaukee.

The Haslams, who built their fortune through the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, are making their latest move in the sports ownership realm. They purchased the Browns from Randy Lerner for a little over a billion dollars in 2012, and they bought the Columbus Crew MLS franchise in 2019.

Milwaukee sits just a half-game behind the Boston Celtics for the NBA's best record and has won a league-leading 14 games in a row. The Bucks next play Tuesday night in Brooklyn against the Nets.