NBA Criticized Over Seemingly Light Punishment For Suns Owner Robert Sarver

The NBA announced yesterday that it will be fining Sarver $10M and suspending him for one year.

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The NBA has suspended and fined Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, after an investigation found he had used racial slurs in the workplace and harassed women employees.

The NBA established an independent probe into Sarver after ESPN published its own investigative piece in November 2021, outlining the years-long allegations about Sarver’s misconduct. The investigation found Sarver said the N-word “when recounting the statements of others” at least five times, “made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women,” and “engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees,” among other offenses.

“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,” Sarver said in a statement. “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.”

The NBA announced yesterday that it will be fining Sarver $10M and suspending him for one year. But the punishment has struck many NBA fans, members of the media, and many of employees who experienced Sarver’s behavior firsthand as way too lenient, especially when contrasted with the precedent the NBA set with its punishment of ex-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. In 2014, Sterling was banned from the league entirely and forced to sell his team after he was recorded making racist remarks to his mistress.

ESPN writer Baxter Holmes, who broke the initial story last year, appeared on the network yesterday and said his sources have reached out to him in disbelief. A former woman employee reportedly told him she considered Sarver’s punishment “barely a slap on the wrist and shows us the league truly doesn’t stand for diversity, equity, or inclusion.” A high-level male executive told Holmes that he doesn’t understand how the punishment wasn’t harsher. For more context into just how light Sarver’s penalty seems to be, watch Holmes’ ESPN colleague Zach Lowe break down the full list of the allegations against him in an impassioned 2-minute monologue.

One day after levying the suspension and fine, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took heat from the media firsthand in a contentious Q&A session discussing his decision. In his remarks, Silver admitted that the possibility of Sarver losing the Suns and Mercury wasn’t under serious consideration, because attempts to wrestle control of those franchises from him would be “a very involved process” and that “[t]here are particular rights here to someone who owns an NBA team as opposed to someone who is an employee.”