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NBA Fines and Suspends Phoenix Suns Owner Robert Sarver


The N.B.A. is suspending Robert Sarver, the bulk owner of the Phoenix Suns, for one 12 months and fining him $10 million after an investigation determined that he had engaged in misconduct, including using racial slurs, yelling at employees and treating female employees unfairly.

“The statements and conduct described within the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, said in a press release.

He added: “No matter position, power or intent, all of us need to acknowledge the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior. On behalf of your complete N.B.A. I apologize to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined within the investigators’ report. We must do higher.”

Sarver said in a press release that he accepted the results of the N.B.A.’s decision.

“While I disagree with a number of the particulars of the N.B.A.’s report, I would love to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees,” he said. “I take full responsibility for what I even have done. I’m sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment usually are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.”

Sarver also owns the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury.

The N.B.A. began the investigation in response to a November 2021 article by ESPN about accusations of mistreatment against Sarver. After the article’s publication, the league retained the Recent York-based law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to conduct an independent investigation.

On Tuesday, the firm and the N.B.A. released a 43-page report that found that Sarver “had engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards,” which included inappropriate comments about female employees’ appearance and bullying. He also engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees on 4 occasions, in accordance with the report.

Greater than 100 individuals who were interviewed by investigators said they witnessed behavior that “violated applicable standards.” There was a general sense amongst employees that Sarver felt that workplace rules didn’t apply to him, in accordance with the report.

Sarver also made crude jokes, cursed at employees and told a pregnant worker that she “could be unable to do her job upon becoming a mother,” in accordance with the report. Witnesses recalled Sarver saying that the worker could be busy “breastfeeding” and that a “baby needs their mom, not their father.” The worker cried in response to Sarver’s comments, in accordance with the report. Sarver later asked why women “cry a lot.”

Sarver also “repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others,” in accordance with the report. Sarver was within the presence of players, coaches and members of the front office when he used the word during a team-building exercise throughout the 2012-13 season.

What to Know:Robert Sarver Misconduct Case

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A suspension and a wonderful. The N.B.A. suspended Robert Sarver, the bulk owner of the Phoenix Suns, for one 12 months and fined him $10 million after an investigation determined that he had engaged in misconduct towards his employees. Here’s what to know:

The way it began. Sarver, 60, led the ownership group that purchased the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury in 2004 for $401 million. He has developed a fame as an involved owner unafraid to attract attention to himself with showy stunts, reminiscent of dunking off a trampoline during halftime.

A troubling report. In November 2021, an ESPN report documented accusations that Sarver, who’s white, ceaselessly used an anti-Black racial slur within the presence of and in reference to employees and players and made misogynistic and sexual comments about women within the workplace.

Sarver’s response. After word of ESPN’s investigation into Sarver went public, the Suns pre-emptively released statements denying that Sarver had a history of racism or sexism. Sarver, in statements to ESPN, denied a lot of the accusations within the article.

N.B.A. investigation. Following the publication of the article, the league began looking into the accusations of mistreatment against Sarver, retaining the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to conduct an independent investigation.

A damning report. In September 2022, the firm and the N.B.A. released a 43-page report documenting the findings of the investigation. The report stated that Sarver “had engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards,” which included use of racial slurs in addition to inappropriate comments and conduct toward employees.

He also used the word after a 2016 game when he complained to one in all the Suns’ coaches that a Black player on an opposing team had been allowed to make use of the word without receiving a technical foul. Even after the coach “admonished” Sarver for using the word, in accordance with the report, Sarver loudly repeated it several times. He later used a version of the word in an email to the N.B.A.

Though multiple Black coaches and employees said Sarver’s use of racial slurs, conduct and negative comments about diversity made them feel uncomfortable, the investigators said there was “no finding that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”

The law firm that conducted the investigation, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, declined a general request for an interview then didn’t reply to specific questions on the racial and gender makeup of its investigative team.

In response to the report, Sarver made crude sexual references on no less than 20 occasions, and he pulled down the shorts of a male worker in front of team employees. Though the worker was not fully exposed, he was embarrassed.

And in 2015, in accordance with the report, he made a joke that the team must have players “impregnate local strippers in order that they would feel connected to the world, giving the Suns a possible edge in free agency recruitment.” He also asked several players individually whether or not they shaved their genitalia, in accordance with the report.

Throughout the investigation, Sarver sought to defend himself by citing his contributions to social and racial justice causes, and by pointing to the Suns’ record of hiring a league-high percentage of individuals of color in its basketball operations department. Sarver also cited his ownership of the Mercury, the W.N.B.A. team, for instance of his support for girls.

The Suns are one in all five N.B.A. ownership groups that also own W.N.B.A. teams. The N.B.A., which founded the ladies’s league in 1996, owns 42.1 percent of the W.N.B.A.

“The actions taken on behalf of the N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. in response to the findings of the independent investigation are appropriate and crucial,” Cathy Engelbert, the W.N.B.A. commissioner, said in a press release to The Recent York Times. “We take great pride in being one of the crucial diverse and inclusive leagues in sports and hope that these actions is not going to only be used to determine a stronger workplace culture for the Suns/Mercury organization but additionally shine a lightweight on the impact that offensive language and inappropriate behavior can have on employees more broadly.”

A complete of 320 people were interviewed over the course of the investigation, including 202 current employees, 100 former employees, 12 of the team’s 15 minority owners and Sarver. Investigators said they reviewed 80,000 pages of emails, text messages and other documents, and 51 videos of worker meetings.

Essentially the most severe punishment the N.B.A. has ever delivered to a team owner got here in 2014 when the league, under Silver, issued a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million wonderful to Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers on the time. Sterling had been recorded making racist remarks in a personal conversation.

Silver said on the time that the punishment was based solely on that single incident, and that he would encourage the league’s board of governors to terminate Sterling’s ownership.

An N.B.A. spokesman declined to reply additional questions on the investigation, saying that Silver was expected to handle the news media on Wednesday after a board of governors meeting. Silver commonly schedules news conferences after these meetings, which occur several times a 12 months.

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