Amid mounting pressure of NBA players, sponsors and local government officials and after his one-year suspension for using racist and misogynistic language, Robert Sarver announced plans on Wednesday to sell the WNBA’s Phoenix Suns and Mercury.
The 60-year-old real estate developer said in a statement that he did not want to be a “distraction” and that he “wants the best” for the organizations.
“As a man of faith, I believe in reconciliation and the path to forgiveness. I expected the Commissioner’s one-year suspension to give me time to focus, make amends and clear my personal controversy from the teams I and so many fans love,” Sarver said. In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible—that all the good I have done or could still do does not outweigh things I have said in the past. For those reasons I start looking for buyers for the suns and Mercury.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Banned Sarver and fined him up to $10 million last week following the conclusion of a lengthy workplace behavior investigation launched in the wake of an ESPN.com article in Nov. However, Silver stopped issuing a life ban on Sarver, a sentence the commissioner had previously imposed former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014 for his racist comments.
Prominent NBA stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and Draymond Green, as well as Tamika Tremaglio, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, criticized Sarver’s behavior, suggesting that Silver’s punishment did not go far enough, and PayPal said it would not renew its contract as sponsor of the Suns jersey after this season if Sarver stayed with the team, which he has owned since 2004. Suns minority owner Jahm Najafi and civil rights activists such as Rev. councilors released a statement saying they were “appalled” by his behavior and planned to conduct their own investigation.
With the 2022-23 season kicking off next month and team media days starting on Sunday, Sarver’s decision to sell the Suns was met with relief throughout the league, given his strong initial denials of ESPN.comallegations and his reputation for stubbornness. Although he apologized after Silver suspended him, Sarver disputed some of the report’s findings and his legal representatives continued to bicker over some of the allegations. Some observers feared Sarver would dig in, like Sterling, causing a protracted power struggle for the future of the Suns and an unsustainable daily existence.
“I fully support Robert Sarver’s decision to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Silver said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is the right next step for the organization and the community.”
Silver noted last week that he did not have the authority as commissioner to unilaterally take the Suns from Sarver. Instead, the NBA board of directors should have voted Sarver out by a three-quarters majority, a difficult and time-consuming proposal that could have led to Sarver’s lawsuits. However, the NBA’s decision to release the investigative report exposed Sarver to widespread criticism and outrage. In the past, similar research reports have been summarized by the league rather than published in full.
“I am so proud to be part of a league that is committed to progress,” James tweeted on Wednesday.
“We thank Mr. Sarver for making a prompt decision that was in the best interest of our sports community,” NBPA President CJ McCollum said in a statement.
Investigators from the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz documented a long list of workplace misconduct violations in a 43-page report, including Sarver using the n-word at least five times, repeated examples of sexist behavior and multiple incidents involving Sarver exposed himself to employees.
According to witnesses, Sarver used the n-word while recruiting a free agent in 2004, during a team-building exercise in 2012 or 2013, after an October 2016 game against the Golden State Warriors, and when retelling a story about what a relative of a player had said while boarding the team’s plane. According to two witnesses, Sarver quoted the relative as saying, “Whites up front, [n-words] in the back.” Investigators found that Sarver, who is white, continued to use the slur for years despite repeated warnings from colleagues that it was inappropriate.
Sarver’s offenses towards female employees included telling one to stop working on an assignment because her baby “needs their mom, not their dad,” another asking if she’d been “upgraded” — a euphemism for a breast augmentation — and another told her she’d “never seen anything this big” as he was getting ready to take a shower in the team’s facilities. In another incident, he reprimanded a female employee for her performance in 2011, objected when she began to cry, then held a luncheon for four female employees that was perceived by those in attendance as a means of toughening them up.
Investigators attributed some of Sarver’s behavior to his “sophomoric and inappropriate” sense of humor and his “lack of a filter,” but they documented incidents that repeatedly crossed the line with harassment. While receiving a “fitness check” from a male employee, Sarver “unnecessarily dropped his underwear” as the employee knelt in front of him and exposed himself. Sarver also danced “pelvis to pelvis” with a male employee at a holiday party, pulled down a male employee’s pants in front of colleagues at a charity event in 2014, and asked at least one player on the 2009-2010 team about personal grooming habits.
Under the terms of his suspension, Sarver was barred from attending all NBA and WNBA games and team facilities, from appearing at public events on behalf of the WNBA’s Suns or Phoenix Mercury, and from being involved in his organization’s business or competition meetings. Sam Garvin, a longtime minority shareholder of the Suns, has replaced Sarver on an interim basis.
“The racist old boys’ club in professional sports is officially closed,” Sharpton said in a statement. “A new era is dawning where it is unbearable to see black players as property. Sarver’s decision today is the first step on the long road to justice for the Suns and Mercury – the staff, the players and the fans. It is now imperative that the NBA, both teams, the corporate sponsors and the new owner, whoever they are, fulfill their commitment to eradicate racism, misogyny and hatred.”
Throughout his tenure, Sarver was known as a frugal and sometimes combative owner who struggled to get winning teams on the field after the initial success of the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns, who reached the 2005 and 2006 Western Conference finals. reached. Phoenix missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2020, as Sarver cycled through coaches, hiring and firing executives, and repeatedly dropping out of the NBA draft. In a particularly tumultuous trajectory, Sarver sacked coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season, then fired his full-time replacement, Igor Kokoskov, after one season.
There were many setbacks along the way. In 2014, Sarver apologized to Suns fans because the San Antonio Spurs chose to rest multiple stars during a game in Phoenix. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich replied bluntly by saying that Sarver is a “chicken suit” during his speech. In 2017, Sun’s guard Eric Bledsoe famously tweeted “I don’t want to be here,” a trade request he later claimed was a reference to his boredom at a hair salon. Then, in 2019, Sarver allegedly live goats in his general manager’s office in what was apparently a motivational tactic.
But the arrival of Coach Monty Williams and Paul in recent years brought the Suns back to the playoffs and the national stage. Phoenix reached the finals in 2021 for the first time since 1993, winning a franchise record 64 games last season, despite the ongoing investigation into Sarver. With a talented roster centered around Paul, all-star guard Devin Booker, forward Mikal Bridges and center Deandre Ayton, the Suns will go into the coming season as one of the West’s favorites.
Sarver led a group that bought the Suns for about $400 million in 2004, and a recent Forbes estimate pegged to the current value of the franchise at over $1.8 billion. The Suns’ sales price valuation could exceed $2 billion as NBA franchises have appreciated significantly in recent years and a new national media rights deal is on the horizon. After the Clippers sold for $2 billion in 2014, the Houston Rockets sold for $2.2 billion in 2017 and the Brooklyn Nets, along with the Barclays Center arena, for $3.3 billion in 2019. ) and Minnesota Timberwolves ($1.5 billion) produced lucrative returns for their longtime owners.