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NBA Commissioner Defends Sarver’s Suspension for Misconduct

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N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday defended the one-year suspension and $10 million effective assessed to Robert Sarver, the bulk owner of the Phoenix Suns, who was found after an independent investigation to have mistreated employees over greater than a decade.

Despite calls for harsher penalties, Silver said the suspension and effective were fair punishments for Sarver’s misconduct, which included using racial slurs, yelling at employees and treating female employees unfairly, in keeping with the report. Silver said he had not talked to Sarver about his voluntarily selling his team due to his behavior, nor had the league’s board of governors discussed terminating Sarver’s ownership.

“From a private standpoint, I used to be in disbelief to a certain extent about what I learned that had transpired over the past 18 years within the Suns organization,” Silver said. “I used to be saddened by it, disheartened. I need to again apologize to the previous, and in some cases current, employees of the Phoenix Suns for what that they had to experience. There is totally no excuse for it. And we addressed it.”

Sarver can also be the bulk owner of the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury.

Silver spoke to reporters someday after the league released a 43-page report from the Recent York-based law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz that detailed Sarver’s repeated use of racial slurs, mistreatment of employees, bullying and unfair treatment of female employees over nearly twenty years because the owner of the Suns and the Mercury. Silver said the investigative group was diverse in race and gender, but he was unsure of the demographic breakdown. The law firm reviewed 1000’s of pages of documents and interviewed a whole lot of current and former employees.

Chris Paul, the Suns’ All-Star point guard, said in a post on Twitter late Wednesday that he was “horrified and dissatisfied” by the actions outlined within the report.

“This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and mustn’t ever be repeated,” he said. “I’m of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we will all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to the entire those who were affected.”

Silver used the firm’s findings to find out what punishment Sarver deserved. He meted out the utmost effective allowable by the league’s structure, but not the longest suspension.

“I had the choice to go longer,” Silver said. “I landed on one yr. I’ll say it’s the second-longest suspension within the history of our league, simply to put it in some type of context.”

The harshest penalty the league has ever levied on a team owner got here in 2014 when Donald Sterling, then the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was barred for all times after he made racist remarks about Black people in a non-public conversation and a recording of his comments was made public.

On the time, Silver said the punishment was based solely on that one incident, and that he would recommend that the board of governors vote to terminate Sterling’s ownership. Ultimately, though, Rochelle Sterling sold the team, despite her husband’s efforts to stop her from doing so.

Asked why he didn’t go as far with Sarver, Silver called Donald Sterling’s and Sarver’s situations “dramatically different.”

“What we saw within the case of Donald Sterling was blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of individuals,” Silver said.

When it got here to Sarver, Silver said, the “totality of circumstances over an 18-year period by which he’s owned these teams” didn’t warrant the identical punishment.

Later Wednesday, LeBron James wrote on Twitter, “I gotta be honest … Our league definitely got this fallacious.”

James, who stars for the Los Angeles Lakers, continued: “I really like this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There isn’t any place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter when you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up for instance of our values and this aint it.”

Silver said he had heard from players within the last 24 hours but would allow them to talk for themselves.

“It’s beyond the pale in every possible strategy to use language and behave that way,” Silver said of Sarver’s behavior. But he added: “Remember, while there have been these terrible things, there have been also many, many individuals who had very positive things to say about him through this process.”

Despite detailing several instances by which Sarver made women and Black people feel demeaned, the investigators said they didn’t find that Sarver’s actions were motivated by “racial or gender-based animus.”

Silver paused when asked if he agreed with that assessment.

“I accept their work,” Silver said. “To follow what we imagine is acceptable process here, to herald a law firm, to have them spend essentially nine months on this, to do the extensive sorts of interviews they will, I’m not capable of put myself of their shoes. I respect the work they’ve done, we’ve done.”

The general public report didn’t explain how the investigators determined that Sarver’s actions weren’t motivated by racial or gender-based animus, but Silver said that the report represented only a part of the findings. He said he was given more information, but to guard the privacy of those that had participated within the investigation he couldn’t reveal more.

“Let me reiterate: The conduct is indefensible,” Silver said. “But I feel we handled it in a good manner, each considering the totality of the circumstances, not only those particular allegations however the 18 years by which Mr. Sarver has owned the Suns and the Mercury.”

Silver was speaking after a gathering of the league’s board of governors in Manhattan. The board typically meets 3 times a yr, including once before the beginning of the regular season. This week’s meeting lasted three days and included discussion in regards to the investigation.

When asked in regards to the discrepancy between how Sarver is being treated, in being allowed to stay an N.B.A. owner, and the way employees of most corporations could be treated had they behaved similarly, Silver pointed to a special standard for team owners.

“There’s no neat answer here, apart from owning property, the rights that include owning an N.B.A. team, how that’s arrange inside our structure, what it will take to remove that team from his control is a really involved process, and it’s different than holding a job,” Silver said. “It just is, whenever you actually own a team. It’s just a really different proposition.”

When asked what standards he would expect league owners to fulfill, Silver said each case should be considered individually.

Silver made references to Sarver’s misconduct having been a part of his past, and spoke of the positive changes he felt had been made within the Suns organization. But most of the incidents confirmed by investigators happened recently. For instance, the report found an incident of Sarver making inappropriate sexual remarks in 2021, and one in all the instances by which investigators confirmed that Sarver had used a racial slur occurred in 2016.

Although the investigation has closed, Silver said it will not be the tip of the league’s concern about Sarver’s actions.

“When it comes to future behavior, he’s on notice,” Silver said. “He knows that.”

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