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Local Houston Billionaire Considering Buying Rockets

Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta

When Houston Rockets CEO Tad Brown announced the NBA franchise is for sale, speculation began immediately about potential buyers. Billionaire real estate developer, world's richest restaurant owner and prominent Houstonian Tilman Fertitta is at the top of the list.

Fertitta told KHOU 11 Sports’ Matt Musil, “Of course I’m interested,” saying owning the team is “a great opportunity.”

"I definitely have an interest," Fertitta said. "[I] just hope it doesn't go for crazy numbers. I've never really wanted to own a professional team outside of Houston. Houston is my hometown and the place I would prefer to own a professional team."

Forbes estimates the Rockets' value at $1.65B and Fertitta's net worth at $3.1B. In addition to Landry's Restaurants, Fertitta owns Golden Nugget casino locations in Las Vegas, Louisiana and Mississippi. He is also the subject of the CNBC program "Billion Dollar Buyer." 

Fertitta has close ties to Houston and the Rockets. He once owned a minority interest in the team before current owner Leslie Alexander paid $85M to acquire it in 1993. In the first two years of Alexander's ownership, the team won the first two professional sports championships in Houston history.

Fertitta has served as an adviser to the team for more than a decade, dating back to the Rockets' second championship in the 1994-1995 season. Landry's was a founding sponsor of the Toyota Center when it opened in 2003.

Fertitta has tried his hand at Houston sports before — he was an initial investor in the NFL's Houston Texans — but his casino ties proved troublesome for the NFL, forcing him to sell his shares in the team. While the NFL prohibits team owners from having any interest in gambling-related business, the NBA has no rules preventing it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has openly campaigned for the legalization of sports betting.

The record for an NBA franchise sale is $2B, set by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer when he bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. The Clippers are planning to build a new NBA arena near LA, but the Rockets have a signed lease to stay in the Toyota Center until 2033.