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Robert Sarver, the chairman of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, has been suspended from having involvement with his organization for one year and fined $10 million by the league, after a year-long league investigation found proof substantiating allegations of racism and misconduct against employees, the NBA announced Tuesday.
The report, released by the NBA on Tuesday morning, found multiple instances of Sarver using and repeating racial slurs when recounting comments or jokes made by other people.
In one case, a former Suns coach recalled Sarver bursting into his office after a game against the Golden State Warriors, complaining “why does [the Warriors player] get to say [N-word,N-word, N-word, N-word, N-word]?!” without being assessed with a technical foul. After the coach said, rebuked the team owner, Sarver replied, “I can’t say [N-word, N-word, N-word]?”
The report also found that Sarver used demeaning language female employees, including a pregnant employee who he said would be “unable to do her job upon becoming a mother”; made crude sex-related jokes with employees, including inappropriate comments about female staff; and bullied employees.
In another instance, the report found that Sarver had asked his players — who were working out in the team’s training facility — if they shaved their genitals. Sarver acknowledged having done so, also admitting that he discussed players sex lives and relationships with them.
The investigation, which the NBA handed off to outside legal firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, also found that the Suns organization’s Human Resources department was historically ineffective, breaking employee confidences and poorly documented complaints.
Sarver has been the managing partner of the Phoenix Suns franchise since 2004, when he bought the organization (which includes the Phoenix Mercury) for a then-record $401 million.
On-court, the Suns organization has experienced a roller coaster of success and failure during Sarver’s ownership tenure. The team was a top-flight contender through the 2000s, cratered to bottom-feeding records in the 2010s, before surprising the league with an NBA Finals appearance in 2021 and the NBA’s best regular season record in 2022.
Sarver has been widely criticized by fans for his reportedly miserly spending habits (one Phoenix resident in 2018
The investigation report acknowledged that the Suns organization has “overhauled” its HR department, and that employee reports have since been “uniformly positive.”
In 2021, ESPN published a 7,200 word investigative report detailing allegations against Sarver by former players, staff and team employees, leading to the league’s investigation.
In a statement following the NBA’s announcement, the Phoenix Suns said Sarver is “taking responsibility for his actions,” and “recognizes that at times during his 18 years of ownership, his conduct did not reflect his, or the Suns’ values.” The team also expressed pride in the progress it has made building a “best-in-class” workplace.
Sarver said in a statement that while he disagreed with some of the probe’s findings, he apologized for "words and actions that offended our employees" and will "accept the consequences of the league’s decision."
“I take full responsibility for what I have done,” Sarver said. “I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values."
"This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued," he added.
The $10 million will be donated "to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace," the NBA said in its announcement.
This is the NBA’s strongest punishment of a team’s owner since then-Los Angeles Clippers chairman Donald Sterling was banned from the league for life in 2014, following substantiated racist comments that were recorded by a girlfriend. Sterling later that year sold the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer.
In a Twitter post on Tuesday, former Suns player Jamal Crawford — without context — simply wrote “Sterling 2.0.”