Robert Sarver, the Phoenix Suns’ majority owner since 2004, is being suspended for one year and fined $10 million, the NBA announced Tuesday, marking an end to the league’s nearly yearlong investigation into Sarver’s conduct and the culture inside the Suns organization.
The league’s investigation came after ESPN published a November 2021 story, based on interviews with more than 70 current and former employees, that included allegations of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace in Phoenix during Sarver’s tenure.
Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, also must complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace.
While the NBA says Sarver “cooperated fully with the investigative process,” sources tell ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski that he was unaccepting of the idea that he deserved a one-year suspension and $10 million fine for his behavior.
Sarver and the team previously denied nearly all the allegations and said they welcomed the league’s investigation.
In a release of its findings, the NBA said the investigation found Sarver used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others.”
There also were “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees,” the NBA said in its statement, including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments on employees’ appearances.
Sarver treated employees in a “demeaning” way, including “yelling and cursing.”
As part of the suspension, Sarver is not allowed to be around any NBA or WNBA facility, including offices and practice facilities. He’s also not allowed to be a part of any NBA or WNBA event or activity, or represent the Suns or Mercury in a public or private way.
“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement. “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.
“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.”
Led by New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, 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 Suns granted access to human resources records and thousands of internal emails, those sources said. Specialists from Deloitte, a global accounting firm headquartered in London, and from Kirkland Ellis, a Chicago-based law firm, were also involved in the investigation.
In interviews with the Wachtell Lipton lawyers, some of which were conducted in person, over the phone and via video conferencing, Suns’ employees confirmed a range of allegations published in ESPN’s November story, introduced others and provided documents, including emails.
The league’s investigation marked the third of its kind centered on a team owner since Adam Silver became the NBA commissioner in 2014 — with all three cases being led by Wachtell Lipton.