HomeSportsNBA fines, suspends Phoenix Suns, Mercury owner Robert Sarver

NBA fines, suspends Phoenix Suns, Mercury owner Robert Sarver


The NBA finally handed down it’s ruling on Suns/Mercury owner Robert Sarver.

The NBA finally handed down it’s ruling on Suns/Mercury owner Robert Sarver.
Image: Getty Images

It took almost a year, but the NBA has finally completed its investigation into Robert Sarver and the Phoenix Suns.

In an ESPN report last fall, Sarver, the team’s owner, was accused of several acts of racist and misogynistic behavior as well as bullying and of leading a toxic workplace culture. Two weeks before the story was published, the Phoenix Suns released a statement denying any serious problems in their workplace.

The NBA’s findings have resulted in the league announcing a $10 million fine, to be dispersed among organizations that deal with race and gender issues, as well as a suspension for Sarver.

Sarver has been suspended from both the Suns and his other franchise, the Phoenix Mercury. He is banned from all property associated with both the NBA and WNBA, and is not allowed to have contact with his franchises, or represent them in any way.

The league’s investigation confirmed that Sarver said the N-word on several different occasions, concluding that he repeated what he said that he heard other Black people say. This includes an incident in 2016 in which he was upset that a Golden State Warriors player didn’t receive a technical foul for using the N-word. He barged into the office of a Black Suns coach and reportedly screamed the word repeatedly. The coach told Sarver, “You can’t fucking say that.” Sarver replied, “I can’t say, [N-word, N-word, N-word]?”

Further down in the report, the investigation revealed a word that Sarver was not at all a fan of — diversity. He asked a Black coach what most needed to change about the organization. The coach responded by saying, “diversity,” and Sarver immediately dismissed the idea. His exact quote according to the investigation was, “No, no, no, I hate diversity.” A witness of this incident said to Sarver, “You don’t really hate diversity.” Sarver’s reply? “No, I do.” When interviewed by the NBA investigators Sarver claimed he meant he is against diversity of basketball philosophy, and principles on the coaching staff. He wants all the coaches to believe in the same thing in that regard.

The investigation also found Sarver to have made misogynistic and sexually inappropriate comments in the workplace. One example was when he wanted to unassign a pregnant employee from an event because it would take place shortly after she had given birth. His reasoning was that she would be “breastfeeding” and “babies need their mom, not their father.” Sarver eventually put her back on the event. He also once set up a lunch between four female Suns employees and some female employees of the bank at which he used to be CEO, Western Alliance. The goal of the day was to get the women who worked for the Suns more accustomed to his managerial style, after one of the attendees at the meeting had reportedly wept after being berated by Sarver.

This 43-page report may not confirm every single detail of ESPN’s investigation, but it does confirm serious problems with Sarver and the organization as a whole. It is reasonable to conclude that the workplace that Sarver ran was unprofessional, toxic, and offensive. Much of it the result of his own words and actions.

Perhaps this gives some clues as to why the Suns were awful at the end of their 2022 playoff run. The season prior, the Suns made the playoffs for the first time since their star players were Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash, while also accomplishing a feat those teams never did — reaching the NBA Finals. And not only make the finals, but the Suns were also within a few plays of winning the franchise’s first NBA Championship.

Last season began on a sour note, as former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, a key postseason contributor, didn’t receive a contract extension. Then ESPN’s Sarver story dropped three weeks into the campaign.

The Suns would go on to finish the regular season with not only the best record in the NBA, but also the best in franchise history. Then in the final two games of their semi-final series against the Dallas Mavericks, the season imploded in embarrassing fashion. Phoenix lost Game 6 by 27 points and Game 7 — at home — by 33. The last game was so bad, that Ayton played less than 20 minutes. When coach Monty Williams was asked about it later he responded, “It’s internal.” In the weeks following the loss, The Athletic reported that the Suns had a COVID outbreak during the series. Six people in the organization, including an assistant coach and a player, tested positive, and some other members of the Suns indicated that they felt ill before Game 7.

Remember Greta Rogers? She was the woman at the Phoenix city council meeting who went viral for speaking out against public funding for a renovation of the Suns’ arena in 2018. The Phoenix New Times talked to her shortly afterward, and she said that Sarver is a “dislikeable man.” She implied that she received the information from two people who knew him and she also said, “As long as he runs this teams [sic] the way he’s run it, it will be a failure.”

Rogers put out to the world what was known by many NBA fans, that Sarver was tight with money, and difficult to get along with. As the Ayton contract negotiation showed, that is all still true. The NBA’s investigation showed with great detail Rogers’ point that Sarver has done a poor job running one of their organizations.

Over the course of more than 18 years as the owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, Sarver has shown a lack of respect for his employees, no regard for decency, and even prejudice. It took the NBA a long time to complete this investigative process, and whether or not they levied the proper punishment can be left up to debate. But what is no longer debatable is what happened in Phoenix. Robert Sarver has been a ghastly member of league leadership.


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