Phoenix Suns for sale after owner Robert Sarver bombshell, racism, misogyny
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, fined $10 million and banned for a year by the NBA over racist and misogynist remarks and workplace issues, said Wednesday he will sell the team.
Following the punishments imposed last week, NBA players union chief Tamika Tremaglio called for Sarver to be banned for life and NBA stars LeBron James and Chris Paul declared the penalties not severe enough.
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Major sponsor PayPal said it would not renew its deal with the team if Sarver were still involved and Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi called for Sarver to resign.
“In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear … whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” Sarver said in a statement.
“For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and (Women’s NBA) Mercury.”
It’s set to be a huge sale as ownership in one of the US’ big four sports is highly coveted and Forbes recently valued the Suns at $1.8 billion.
While Sarver owns a third of the team, it’s likely the price could be in the $600m range for his stake.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver welcomed Sarver’s decision.
“I fully support the decision by Robert Sarver to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Silver said in a statement. “This is the right next step for the organisation and community.” Silver had said when the sanctions were announced that he didn’t think the violations rose to the level of forcing Sarver, the Suns managing partner, to sell the club, as was done in 2014 with former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling over racist remarks.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, was also pleased by the news, tweeting: “I’m so proud to be a part of a league committed to progress!” In announcing the sale, Sarver declared it “the best course of action for everyone”.
Sarver was banned and fined after a 10-month probe into his 18-year tenure at the Suns.
The NBA had commissioned the investigation in the wake of a damning ESPN report on the club’s “toxic” work environment.
Investigators found that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies”.
“This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; sex-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying,” their report said.
Sarver said Wednesday he thought the one-year suspension would give him time to make amends.
“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organisations that brought people together,” Sarver said.
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.”
But he said the quick and vehement condemnation directed at him by players, sponsors and executives suggested that would be impossible.
“I do not want to be a distraction,” Sarver said. “I want what’s best for these two organisations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA.” Investigators, from the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, said multiple witnesses told them Sarver’s aggressive behaviour often seemed intended “solely to provoke a reaction from employees — to embarrass them or assert dominance over them”.
They added that the investigation “makes no finding that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus”.
Nevertheless, calls were swift for Sarver’s permanent removal from the league, with James saying the NBA “definitely got this wrong”.