NBA's Phoenix Suns owner banned one year and fined for workplace misconduct
The NBA announced today it's suspending Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns and the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, for one year. The league also says it's fining Sarver $10 million, the maximum permitted by NBA rules.
The punishment follows release of an independent investigation report that found Sarver, 60, "engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, including 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."
Among the report's findings:
- Sarver, on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury, repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others.
- He engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many 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 male employees.
- Sarver engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees, including yelling and cursing at them.
The NBA ordered an investigation after ESPN published a story last year about numerous allegations regarding Sarver's behavior, including allegations of racism and misogyny, and the workplace environment he presided over during his nearly 20 years as an NBA/WNBA owner.
After the ESPN story, Sarver reportedly denied the allegations and welcomed the NBA-mandated investigation. But in a statement released by Sarver after the NBA announcement, he took responsibility for his actions.
"Good leadership requires accountability. For the Suns and Mercury organizations, that begins with me. While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA's report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values," Sarver said.
"I accept the consequences of the NBA's decision. This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued."
Despite the punishment handed down, the investigation did not find Sarver's workplace misconduct "was motivated by racial or gender-based animus."
During his one-year suspension, the restrictions on Sarver include: he can't be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility; attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices, or business partner activity; represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity.
Sarver also has to complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the statements and conduct described in the investigation findings are "troubling and disappointing."
"We believe the outcome is the right one," Silver said, "taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding proper standards in NBA workplaces."
Sarver's workplace isn't the first to run afoul of league standards and rules.
The NBA's Dallas Mavericks have gone through their own reckoning. In other major professional sports, the NFL's Washington Commanders also have been dealing with allegations of workplace misconduct.