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Owner of Phoenix Suns, Mercury suspended after probe into workplace misconduct allegations

The NBA announced on Tuesday that Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Mercury owner Robert Sarver has been suspended for a year amid the league’s investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against him and his organization. 

In a news release, the league said that Sarver cannot be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, which includes any office, arena, or practice facility, and will be prohibited from attending any NBA or WNBA event, which includes games, practices, or business partner activity. 

Sarver will also be barred from representing the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity and from any involvement with the business or basketball operations with both clubs. 

The league also handed down a $10 million fine to Sarver, noting that it plans to donate those funds to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace. 

Both organizations were also asked to fulfill a series of requirements for workplace improvements created by the league, including “Conducting regular and anonymous workplace culture surveys and responding to survey results with specific action plans,” the news release said. 

This comes nearly a year after the league initially launched its investigation into the Suns organization after sports media outlet ESPN published a story that alleges Sarver has engaged in racist and misogynistic behavior for 17 years. 

ESPN interviewed up to 70 current and former employees of the Suns who have described a “toxic and sometimes hostile workplace” under Sarver’s leadership. 

For its own investigation, the league’s hired law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, gathered interviews from 320 individuals, including current and former staffers who worked for the teams during Sarver’s 18-year tenure as owner, and obtained more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages, and videos. 

The league’s report found that Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions” during the 18-year period, noting that it did not find that Server used the “racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.” 

Among its key findings, Sarver engaged in inappropriate conduct with female employees, using demeaning language such as telling one pregnant female employee that she would be unable to do her job upon becoming a mother, making jokes about sex and sex-related anatomy, and publicly berating employees on multiple occasions. 

Sarver also engaged in inappropriate physical conduct with male employees on several occasions, the report said. 

In a statement, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said while the findings of their investigation into Sarver and his organizations were “troubling and disappointing,” he hopes the league will use these findings to improve and uphold “proper standards” in league workplaces. 

“I am hopeful that the NBA community will use this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people everywhere and the values of equality, respect and inclusion that it strives to represent. Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior,” Silver said in his statement. “On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report.  We must do better.”

In a statement, the Suns Legacy Partners LLC. said that Sarver will take full responsibility for actions noted in the league’s findings. 

Recently, both the Suns and Mercury reached their respective league’s Finals last year, eventually losing to the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Sky.

“He recognizes that at times during his eighteen years of ownership, his conduct did not reflect his, or the Suns’ values, and was inconsistent with the advancements the management team has taken with Robert’s full support,” the organization said. “We are proud of the progress we’ve already made, and moving forward, our organization will continue to build a best-in-class workplace.”

In response to Sarver’s suspension, Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement that he hopes the league’s board of governors remove Sarver from his ownership role, “behavior does not represent the values” of the league.

“I encourage the Board of Governors to hold Mr. Sarver fully accountable for his actions, and to vote for his removal from the league in recognition that his behavior does not represent the values of the NBA,” Sharpton said. “I look forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Silver and the leadership of the league to fight racism and abuse at all levels, and to lead the American sports community in support of these principles.”

It’s not the first time Sharpton has demanded an organization or company cut ties with Sarver, last month Sharpton called on PayPal to cut ties with him.

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