The NBA announced Tuesday a one-year suspension for Robert Sarver, owner of both the Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, following a nearly year-long investigation into claims of a hostile workplace culture within the Suns’ organization.
The league also issued Sarver a league-maximum $10-million fine.
“The independent investigation found that Mr. Sarver ‘engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies,” the NBA’s statement on the suspension read. “This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language, unequal treatment of female employees, sexual-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying.”
Under the terms of the year-long suspension, Sarver is not allowed around any NBA or WNBA facility or to participate in any NBA or WNBA events or activity – neither publicly nor privately.
Accounts of a hostile work environement -- stretching across Sarver’s 18-year ownership -- included the repeated use of the N-word, speaking publicly about his sex life and once even asking a woman whether he “owned” her to determine whether she was a Suns’ employee.
Allegations of misogyny and racism in the workplace against Sarver were first made public last November by ESPN. The report, based on 70 interviews of current and former employees including a co-owner, included multiple accounts of racism and misogyny by Sarver.
The NBA then followed with a report of their own, expanded to include 320 people -- 202 current employees, 100 former employees, 12 minority owners of the team and Sarver himself. They also reportedly reviewed 80,000 pages of documents and 51 videos of employee meetings.
The Suns said in a statement released on Tuesday that Sarver “recognized that at times during his eighteen years of ownership, his conduct did not reflect his, or the Suns’ values.”
“The NBA’s findings concerning the organization focus, for the most part, on matters that have been addressed in recent years, including through meaningful enhancements to our workplace compliance program,” the Suns’ statement read.
What NBA teams have been investigated for violating workplace rules?
Since taking over in 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has launched three investigations into owners and front office culture.
Silver’s first investigation of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling came two months into his tenure as commissioner and resulted in Silver’s lifetime ban from the NBA.
While the league’s investigation into the Dallas Mavericks’ workplace culture concluded with a major overhaul of the organization, owner Mark Cuban did not receive a suspension. Cuban did, however, agree to donate $10 million to organizations committed to supporting women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.
This donation was in recognition of the “institution and other failures” detailed in the league’s investigation.
How does the Suns’ investigation compare to previous NBA suspensions?
In Tuesday’s statement regarding the findings of an investigation into Sarver, Silver classified the conduct described as “troubling and disappointing.”
“We believe the outcome is the right one, 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,” he said.
“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. 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.”
When does the NBA season begin?
The news of Sarver’s suspension comes just over a month out from the start of the 2022-23 NBA regular season.
The Suns, who have enjoyed a rise up the Western Conference standings the past two seasons behind head coach Monty Williams, open the season against the Mavericks on Wednesday, Oct. 19. This will be a rematch of last year’s conference semifinals when the Mavericks upset the top-seeded Suns in seven games.
All-Star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker will look to continue building on the Suns’ success, which included being the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs in 2022, amidst the front office shakeup.