The The NBA suspended Robert Sarver on Tuesday.owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, for a year and hit him with a record $10 million fine after an investigation revealed racist and sexist behavior in the workplace, officials said.
For the next year, Sarver will be barred from all NBA and WNBA buildings, “including any office, arena or practice facility,” according to a league statement.
He will also not be permitted to participate in any NBA or WNBA event, represent the team in any capacity, become involved in team business or basketball operations or to play a role in league governance, the NBA said.
The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed by league rules, the NBA said, and is the largest financial penalty ever imposed on a person in professional basketball history.
The league’s investigation was prompted by a Nov. 4 ESPN story chronicling longstanding allegations of racism and misogyny within the Phoenix basketball operation.
The NBA commissioned a New York-based law firm, Watchell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, to conduct its investigation into Sarver, and investigators interviewed 320 people, including current and former team employees.
Sarver, team management and employees “have fully cooperated with the investigation process,” according to the NBA.
Racial slurs, sexist remarks and bullying
The investigation found that Sarver, who has been the franchise’s managing partner for 18 years, “on at least five occasions” repeated “the N-word while recounting the statements of others.”
He was also found to have “engaged in instances of unfair conduct towards female employees, made numerous gender-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women,” the NBA noted.
The NBA executive also “engaged in degrading and harsh treatment of employees” that “constituted intimidation”, the league found.
“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
Repeated racial slurs, repeated warnings not to use them
The report detailed all five allegations of Sarver’s use of the N-word, although the team owner “does not recall ever saying the N-word except as part of the 2012 team-building exercise or 2013”.
- During a 2004 meeting with a free agent, Sarver allegedly used the racial slur while recalling that a black coach or player regularly used the term when he was in college, at least three witnesses told reporters. investigators. A participant “made a joke to change the subject and ease the tension” and a witness “told Sarver he could never say the N-word, even when quoting someone else,” the report said.
- During a team building meeting in 2012-13, a black player used that word and Sarver repeated it, prompting a team rep to tell the owner “he couldn’t use that word”, according to the findings of the NBA.
- Sarver complained that a black Golden State Warriors player used the N-word during a 106-100 win over the Suns on Oct. 30, 2016, but was not hit with a technical foul. He allegedly used the word while complaining about umpires to a Suns coach, who was black. He also “sent a contemporaneous email to the League office complaining about officiating during the match, in which (among several examples of on-field actions which he claimed were improperly officiated) he claimed to quote the Warriors player saying the N-word spelled with an ‘a’ at the end,” the probe revealed.
- And on at least two occasions between 2010 and 2017, the report found Sarver used the N-word when repeating what a black player’s family member allegedly said while boarding a plane. of the team, “Whites up front, [N-words] in the back,” according to the NBA report.
- The NBA investigation could not confirm a detail from the ESPN report, when Sarver allegedly said in 2013 that he preferred to hire black coaches, “These [N-words] need a [N-word].”
Numerous incidents offending Suns employees
According to the report, Sarver has a long history of sexually inappropriate comments and behaviors that have offended women who work for the team.
- He reportedly noticed that an employee had undergone breast augmentation surgery and when they passed in the hallway, Sarver reportedly said, “Did you get an upgrade this summer?” The alleged comment left the employee “shocked and offended,” according to the report.
- The report states that female employees’ body shape was reportedly a constant concern of Saver: “Finally, more than 10 witnesses recalled Sarver making comments in the workplace throughout his tenure – in addition to those reported above – about the weight, bodies or attractiveness of employees and other women.”
- He allegedly berated a female employee in March 2011, reducing her to tears, then met with her again a week later. But when the woman started crying again, the report says Sarver then said in a loud voice, “Why are all the women here crying so much?”
- At an all-employee meeting in 2010 or 2011, Sarver mentioned “a certain type of condom” that “elicited a ‘stunned and disgusted’ reaction from the women present,” the report said.
- And at a business meeting in 2021, Sarver allegedly told attendees how he learned about oral sex as a child, with witnesses finding the “story inappropriate for a work environment”, according to the report.
Memories of NBA action against Donald Sterling
Silver, who has led the league since early 2014, is perhaps best known for the action he took for months when he banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life following a series of racist comments from the Southern California real estate magnate. .
“We believe the outcome is the right one, considering all the facts, circumstances and contexts brought to light by the thorough investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding the workplace standards of the NBA,” Silver continued.
“I hope the NBA community takes this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people around the world and the values of equality, respect and inclusion it strives to represent.”
Sarver’s attorney, Thomas Clare, wrote to NBA investigators and reminded them that the Suns owner supported Silver’s efforts to start Sterling.
“In 2014, following racist and misogynistic behavior on the part of the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Mr. Sarver did not mince his words when speaking about the NBA’s commitment to favor of inclusion and racial equality: ‘I would prefer not to be a partner of someone who has the opinions that have been expressed on [Sterling’s] tapes,” Clare wrote.
Sarver apologizes: ‘I take full responsibility’
Sarver said he takes issue with some aspects of the NBA report, but apologizes nonetheless.
“Good leadership requires accountability. For the Suns and Mercury organizations, it starts with me,” he said in a statement.
“While I disagree with certain details of the NBA report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that have offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. .I’m sorry I caused this pain and these errors in judgment are not in line with my personal philosophy or values.”
Despite the league’s findings, Sarver insisted that his franchise reward diversity and inclusion.
“I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision. This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate an ability to learn and grow as we continue to build a work culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued,” the team owner continued.
“I am extremely proud of the Suns and Mercury organizations and the track record we have built on diversity, inclusion and giving back to the community. It means a lot to me that our dedicated and hardworking employees have made Phoenix a destination for basketball – for players and fans.”
Suns Legacy Partners LLC, the entity that manages and operates both the Suns and Mercury, also said it accepted the NBA’s findings. – but suggested that much of the bad behavior was not in recent years.
“As the NBA has acknowledged, we have cooperated fully with the NBA’s investigation, which covered a period of eighteen years, including encouraging current and former employees to participate,” the executive group said. .
“The NBA’s organizational findings focus, for the most part, on historical issues that have been addressed in recent years, including significant improvements to our workplace compliance program.”
The suspension comes as the suns rise in the west
The Phoenix Suns are worth an estimated $1.8 billion and are the 18th most valuable franchise in professional basketball, according to Forbes’ latest analysis.
The Suns posted a franchise record 64 wins last 2021-22 campaign and are expected to be an elite team again this season.
The WNBA’s Mercury struggled to score 15-21 this season, having to play without star center Brittney Griner, who remains in Russian custody.
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