Robert Sarver is rich and in a position of power, and so he thought he could do and say things without consequence.
And he probably did it in work settings unrelated to the NBA and WNBA.
But as owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, Sarver must follow workplace rules and a 10-month investigation into Sarver’s conduct revealed he violated common workplace standards.
“This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; statements and conduct related to sex; and harsh treatment by employees that at times amounted to intimidation,” the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz wrote of Sarver in a comprehensive and unflattering 36-page report.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has handled three serious investigations into team ownership since taking over from David Stern in 2014, imposed a significant penalty, fine Sarver $10 million and suspend him from all Suns and Mercury activities for one year.
It is the second-hardest penalty for an NBA owner after former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban, fine and forced sale of the team.
Sarver reportedly had the nerve to bristle at the punishment. He’s lucky he didn’t get the Sterling treatment.
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‘SHOULD BE ASHAMED’: Sarver’s punishment draws widespread criticism
What were the main findings of the report?
Sarver used the N-word on at least five occasions, most recently in 2017. Each time, Sarver said he was just saying what someone else said, and was told by others that he can’t say that word even when recounting what someone said. more she said.
He “engaged in instances of unfair conduct toward female employees, made numerous sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and, on several occasions, engaged in physical conduct inappropriate towards male employees. according to research.
He told a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job as a mother and made comments about women crying too much.
Sarver also cursed and yelled at employees and at times intimidated workers.
Why isn’t he forced to sell the Suns and Mercury?
A key phrase in the report read: “the investigation does not conclude that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender animosity.”
In Sterling’s case, there was clear racial animosity, and Sterling doubled down on his comments, entrenching himself in an untenable position.
That line in the report saved Sarver from further sanctions. As a practical matter, Silver doesn’t want to get involved in the business of forcing owners to sell their stake in a team even though it’s within his authority to make decisions that are in the best interest of the league.
Also, homeowners generally don’t want to be in the position of forcing others out. They have to approve of such a tactic, and it is naive to ignore their financial interests.
Don’t forget that phrase “animus”. That report was written by lawyers for lawyers. In the absence of more conclusive evidence that Sarver acted with intent (evidence that included evidence that Sarver sent pornographic emails to a small group of male executives) and without Sarver’s lame excuses, the NBA chose not to issue a sanction. elderly. But you’re not wrong if you thought the punishment was too lenient.
What was Silver’s reaction?
The commissioner was not happy. “The statements and conduct outlined in the independent investigation findings are troubling and disappointing,” he said in a statement, concluding: “On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to everyone affected by the misconduct outlined in the statements. of the researchers. report. We must do better.”
Silver earns a significant amount in her role in part from situations like this. He works for the owners and is in charge of keeping 30 NBA teams on the same page when there isn’t always universal agreement on league matters. Part of that duty is to protect the league, its owners and their investment.
How did the Suns react, Sarver?
Suns Legacy Partners, the LLC that manages and operates Suns and Mercury, said in a statement that it is committed to “creating a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment that is free from discrimination.”
The NBA directed the Suns to take specific steps to improve workplace culture and to update the league with regular reports “related to steps taken by the organization to address these requirements.”
Sarver released a statement that included this line: “While I disagree with some of the details of the NBA report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees.”
He added: “I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision. This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate my ability to learn and grow as we continue to build a work culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”
That contrasts with Sarver’s November statement following ESPN’s initial exposure of Sarver, who said the n-word is not part of his vocabulary. “At this point,” he said then, “I would fully welcome an unbiased investigation from the NBA which may be our only way out to clear my name and the reputation of an organization I’m very proud of.”
Where does the money from the fines go?
The NBA will donate the money “to organizations that are committed to addressing issues of race and gender in and outside of the workplace.” The league did the same when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined the same amount after an investigation into the Mavs’ dysfunctional work culture.
What’s next for Sarver?
Sarver’s one-year suspension means he can’t have anything to do with teams and that includes attending games or practices; visit the facilities of any NBA or WNBA team; represent the Suns or Mercury in public or in private; any involvement in Suns or Mercury basketball or business operations; and no involvement “in the business, government, or activities of the NBA or WNBA, including attendance or participation in meetings of the board of directors of either league.”
Sarver, 60, must also complete a training program focused on respect and proper conduct in the workplace.
Is that enough for Sarver to sell his share of the team? Sarver and others bought the Suns for $401 million in 2004 and their value has quadrupled according to Forbes, which said that in 2021 the Suns were valued at $1.8 billion. Last year, USA TODAY Sports learned that Sarver owned about 35% of the Suns, with co-owner Jahm Najafi being the second largest investor.
It will be interesting to see how the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the team’s ownership in Phoenix play out.