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Adam Silver apologizes to Suns employees, says he takes responsibility for NBA letting them down

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In comments to Phoenix Suns employees before the team’s season-opening win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver apologized multiple times on behalf of the league office for enduring years of workplace misconduct under Suns majority owner Robert Sarver, in accordance with sources who were present.

“I’m incredibly empathetic to what lots of you’ve got lived through,” Silver said to a gaggle of a whole bunch of employees, including some team executives and the team’s interim governor, Sam Garvin, who all gathered within the lower bowl of the team’s arena hours before the sport.

During a virtually hourlong address, Silver, sitting on a stool and holding a microphone, added, partially, “To the extent that you’re feeling let down by the league, I apologize. I take responsibility for that.”

Silver was later asked about whether he or the league office was aware of issues within the team’s workplace under Sarver, who led a gaggle to purchase the team in 2004. Silver stated he was not.

“Did I hear ever that Robert could possibly be difficult to cope with? Sure,” Silver told employees. “But that is very different than conduct which is viewed as discriminatory in any way.”

On Sept. 13, Sarver was suspended one yr and fined $10 million after a 10-month NBA investigation, led by Recent York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, found Sarver was involved in “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments on employees’ appearances, and used the N-word at the least five times “when recounting the statements of others.”

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Sarver, who also owns the Phoenix Mercury, announced on Sept. 21 he could be selling each franchises. In a Sept. 14 news conference the day after the NBA announced the findings of its investigation, Silver said that the league had received no calls to its confidential worker hotline and that no formal complaints had been filed.

Silver echoed those sentiments to employees Wednesday, noting that no conduct had been reported through any of the league’s official channels, but he reiterated his apology to employees.

“Obviously, it is a failure of an overall system, of a league of 30 teams,” Silver said, adding that the league saw no reason before ESPN’s Nov. 2021 story, which detailed allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as owner, to step in and conduct an investigation into the franchise.

Silver acknowledged to employees the challenges of getting league oversight of all 30 teams, a situation akin, he said, to national rights vs. state’s rights. Still, he said at one point that he did see it because the league’s role to ultimately have oversight over all 30 NBA teams, in addition to all WNBA teams.

Silver was asked how the league could allow teams to operate with a measure of freedom while also expecting them to carry themselves to a certain standard. He said, partially, that it’s an evolving process but that it is vital for anyone related to the NBA to have a “protected workplace” with responsible leaders and appropriate outlets to report any wrongdoing.

Silver said that he believed the law firm that the team used for the investigation — Wachtell Lipton — “did the perfect job that they might.” And he acknowledged that some employees is perhaps wondering why certain allegations or stories they raised weren’t included within the report. He reiterated that the lawyers followed a process and that they remained “truly independent.”

Garvin, who has been a minority owner since 2004, when Sarver led a gaggle to purchase the team for a then-record $401 million, also apologized to employees on behalf of the team’s ownership group. Garvin said, partially, that “everyone deserves respect” and “everyone needs to be treated professionally.”

Silver was asked what measures the league would put in place for other clubs in order that other NBA team employees would not face similar issues to what those in Phoenix have faced. Silver referenced recent processes, similar to recent reporting systems, and regular meetings with the heads of human resources for teams across the league, in addition to ensuring those individuals were appropriately trained.

Silver also acknowledged that folks won’t feel comfortable calling the NBA’s confidential worker hotline and that there must be other measures in place. One worker expressed “lingering frustration” with respect to a number of the team’s initial public statements defending Sarver and asked how employees could positively move forward.

“You do have to discuss it,” Silver said. “I believe it’s healthy.”

Silver admitted that there are professionals who best facilitate those forms of conversations and will help people work through traumatic experiences. He also acknowledged that there’s a level of “vulnerability” working within the league because positions are considered highly desirable and that some may tolerate greater than they’d in one other occupation since it’s their lifelong dream to work within the NBA.

Still, while acknowledging that he did not have any “deep answers,” Silver said it was vital “just to actually hearken to people.”

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