Mat Ishbia is being accused of using a profane gay slur in an allegedly leaked voicemail. The teams have so far stayed quiet. | Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Mat Ishbia is at the center of a brewing controversy that may not be a controversy at all.

Floating around the internet for at least a couple months has been a recording of what some people claim is a profanity-filled voicemail left by Ishbia for Anthony Casa, the President and CEO of UMortgage. In addition to owning the Suns and Mercury, Ishbia is the billionaire President and Chairman of United Wholesale Mortgage. The two men are peers.

Outsports first became aware of this from the reporting of Phoenix New Times writer TJ L’Heureux. The Arizona Republic also reported on it. Both said they could not verify the validity of the recording. Reporting by these other publications has unearthed that a publication linked to a hedge fund called Hunterbrook — which seems to have bet Ishbia’s company’s stock would fall — claims to have verified the voicemail through AI verification.

Still, it seems hard to believe that an NBA and WNBA owner — despite how “bro-y” he could be — would intentionally record himself using an anti-gay slur and send it to a colleague.

Requests for more information sent by Outsports and L’Heureux to executives with the Suns and others have gone unanswered.

Ishbia, the Suns and the Mercury need to start talking

Ishbia, the Suns and the Mercury owe fans an explanation on this. If it’s a fake recording, then he can let everyone know and (hopefully) say something about anti-gay slurs being problematic. All good.

Yet their silence, as reported by various publications, is deeply problematic.

If he did use the term, and the recording is real, he owes more than an explanation. As do the Suns and Mercury organizations. If true, the NBA will need to respond.

Of course, it’s not like hurling the slur at an opposing fan in the heat of the moment. Or even hollering it at some stranger at a bar. If it’s true, it was an assumed-to-be-private moment.

Yet the word would have rolled off his tongue, if the recording is real. People who so casually use anti-gay language shouldn’t own sports teams in 2024.

The racial slurs used by Donald Sterling a decade ago were worse than this, no doubt. Yet it was also recordings of Sterling saying this in private that got him banned for life from the NBA.

One difference that makes this worse? If true, it would be Ishbia intentionally leaving the slur on a recording for someone else. That would mean he thinks it’s no problem.

If this is true — and again, we have reason to question it given the timing — the NBA’s next step with it will be telling to watch.

This is, of course, at this point buried in hypotheticals.

Yet the Suns, Mercury and Ishbia owe it to fans to be transparent and explain this.

LGBTQ inclusion with the Suns, Mercury, NBA and WNBA

Over the years, the two Phoenix basketball teams have featured some powerful out LGBTQ people. Rick Welts was President of the Phoenix Suns when he came out publicly in 2011. The team’s current Assistant General Manager and Vice-President of Basketball Strategy, Ryan Resch, is gay. And the Mercury roster currently features several out LGBTQ players, including Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi and Natasha Cloud.

Last year, Outsports quoted Welts in a story about the NBA and WNBA creating a culture of inclusion. The league has consistently fined players for using problematic anti-gay or homophobic language, including Anthony Edwards and Cam Thomas.

The Suns are currently sixth in the NBA Western Conference, with four games to go.

The Mercury will host this season’s WNBA All-Star Game. The Suns were recently awarded the 2027 NBA All-Star Game.