Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA phoenix suns and the WNBA mercury phoenixhas been suspended for one year and fined $10 million by the NBA as a result of the league’s investigation into the Suns franchise.
The NBA announced the punishment Tuesday, saying its investigation found that during his time with the Suns and Mercury, Sarver used the N-word at least five times “when counting statements by others.”
There were also “instances of unfair conduct toward female employees,” the NBA said in its statement, including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments about the appearance of female employees.
The NBA commissioned an investigation after ESPN published a story in November 2021 detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as owner.
While the NBA stated that Sarver “fully cooperated with the investigative process,” league sources told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski that he did not buy the idea that he deserved a one-year suspension and a $10 million fine. for his behavior. The punitive part of the process became largely acrimonious, the sources said.
The investigation, led by the New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, found Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and league rules and policies.” “.
The investigation included interviews with more than 320 current and former employees, as well as Sarver, the NBA announced. It also examined more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos. The report was made publicly available online.
During Sarver’s tenure, the investigation found that he:
On at least five occasions he “repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others.”
“He participated 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 inappropriate physical conduct toward the employees”.
“He engaged in harsh and demeaning treatment of employees, including yelling at and cursing at them.”
The Suns granted access to human resources records and thousands of internal emails, those sources said. Specialists from Deloitte, a London-based global accounting firm, and Kirkland Ellis, a Chicago-based law firm, also participated in the investigation.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement: “The statements and conduct outlined in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing. We believe the outcome is the correct one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and contexts brought to light by extensive research over this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding appropriate standards in NBA workplaces.”
Silver continued: “It is my hope that the NBA community will take 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 the position, power, or intent, we must all recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to everyone affected by the misconduct outlined in the report by the researchers. We must do better.”
The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed by the NBA, and the funds will be donated to organizations that “address issues of race and gender in and outside of the workplace.”
During his suspension, Sarver may not:
“Be present at the facility of any NBA or WNBA team, including any office, stadium, or practice facility.”
“Attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices, or business partner activities.”
“Represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity.”
“Having any involvement in the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury.”
“Have any involvement in the business, government, or activities of the NBA or WNBA, including attending or participating in meetings of the Board of any of the leagues (and their associated Board committees).”
Sarver must also complete a training program focused on respect and proper conduct in the workplace.
The Suns and Mercury organization must also comply with a series of workplace improvement requirements established and monitored by the NBA. These requirements include:
“Retain an outside firm to evaluate and make recommendations regarding workplace training programs, policies and procedures, and hiring and compensation practices, with a focus on fostering a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.”
“Conduct regular, anonymous workplace culture surveys and respond to survey results with specific action plans.”
“Immediately report to the league any instance or allegation of significant misconduct by any employee.”
“Over a three-year period, provide the league with regular reports regarding steps taken by the organization to address these requirements.”
“Following league direction to remedy/improve workplace issues if they arise.”
In interviews with Wachtell Lipton’s attorneys, some of which were conducted in person, by phone and via video conference, Suns employees confirmed a variety of allegations published in ESPN’s November story, presented others and provided documents, including emails.
The investigation also substantiated instances of “workplace misconduct by Suns employees not directly related to Sarver and a lack of adequate organizational policies and controls.” It found cases of “racial insensitivity, mistreatment of female employees, inappropriate comments related to sex or sexual orientation, and disrespectful communications.”
It also found that the team’s human resources department was “historically ineffective and not a reliable resource for employees who were subject to acts of misconduct in the workplace.”
The league investigation marked the third of its kind focused on a team owner since Adam Silver became the NBA commissioner in 2014, and all three cases were led by Wachtell Lipton.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski contributed to this report