Robert Sarver to sell Suns, Mercury after backlash over workplace misconduct

Robert Sarver says he has begun the process of selling the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, a move that came just a week after he was suspended by the NBA for workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees.

Many were quick to applaud the decision, including NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the National Basketball Players Association and even Sarver’s partners in the ownership group that operates the Suns and Mercury.

Sarver made the announcement Wednesday, saying selling “is the best course of action,” though he initially hoped he could keep control of the franchises, pointing to his track record that he says paints a dramatically different picture of who he is. and what it represents.

“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible, that whatever good I have done, or still can do, is outweighed by the things I have said in the past,” Sarver wrote. it’s a statement. “For those reasons, I am starting the process of finding buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”

Silver said he “fully” supports Sarver’s decision.

“This is the right next step for the organization and the community,” Silver said.

Sarver bought the teams in July 2004 for about $400 million, a record price for an NBA franchise. He is not the only owner of the Suns and Mercury, but the main one. Suns Legacy Partners LLC, the owner group, said his work to create a “culture of respect and integrity” would continue.

“As we have shared with our employees, we recognize the courage of the people who stepped up in this process to tell their stories and apologize to those who were injured,” the partners said.

Assuming no other teams are sold in the meantime, it would be the first sale in the NBA since a group led by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith bought the Utah Jazz in 2021 for around $1.7 billion.

It is not known if Sarver has set a starting price. Forbes recently estimated the value of the Suns at $1.8 billion. Any new owner would have to be investigated by the NBA, which is standard procedure.

Racist and sexist behavior

An independent report that was commissioned by the NBA last November, following an ESPN report on Sarver’s conduct in the workplace, took about 10 months to complete. That investigation found that Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns,” though it added that the investigation “does not find that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.” “

The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job after becoming a mother; make off-color comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelling and cursing at employees in ways that would be considered bullying “by workplace standards.”

Once that report was complete, Silver suspended Sarver for a year and fined him $10 million, the maximum allowed by league rule.

“Words I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together, and made the Phoenix area stronger, through the unifying power of men’s and women’s professional basketball,” Sarver wrote. “As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I was hoping the commissioner’s one-year suspension would give me time to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.” .

Barely a week later, Sarver evidently realized that this would not be possible.

LeBron, Chris Paul among those calling for sale

His decision comes after a chorus of voices, from players like Suns guard Chris Paul and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, to longtime team sponsors like PayPal and even the National Association of Basketball Players, said the one-year suspension was not enough. .

James chimed in again on Wednesday, shortly after Sarver’s statement went public: “I am so proud to be part of a league committed to progress!” he tweeted.

Added retired NBA player Etan Thomas, also in a tweet: “Sarver is getting paid, so this isn’t really a punishment for him, but I’m definitely glad he’s gone.”

NBPA President CJ McCollum said the union thanks Sarver “for making a quick decision that was in the best interest of our sports community.”

Suns vice president Jahm Najafi last week called for Sarver’s resignation, saying there should be “zero tolerance” for lewd, misogynistic and racist behavior in any workplace. Najafi, in the same statement, also said that he had no intention of becoming the primary owner of the team.

“I don’t want to be a distraction to these two teams and the great people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world,” Sarver wrote. “I want what is best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone.”

Sarver, through his attorney, argued before the NBA during the investigative process that his ownership record shows a “longstanding commitment to racial and social justice” and that he has had a “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Among the examples Sarver cited were what he described as a league-best 55 percent rate of minority employment within the Suns’ front office and how more than half of the team’s coaches and general managers in his tenure , including current coach Monty Williams and current GM James Jones, are black.

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