The NBA announced Tuesday that Robert Sarver, majority owner of the Phoenix Suns since 2004, has been suspended for a year and fined $10 million, marking the end of the league’s nearly year-long investigation into Sarver’s behavior and culture within the Suns organization.
The league investigation came after ESPN published a story in November 2021, based on interviews with more than 70 current and former employees, that included allegations of racism and misogyny at a hostile and sometimes toxic workplace in Phoenix during Sarver’s tenure.
Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, must complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate behavior in the workplace.
While the NBA says Sarver “fully cooperated with the investigation process,” sources told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Adrian Vojnarowski that he was not accepting of the idea that he deserved a one-year suspension and a $10 million fine for his conduct.
Sarver and the team have previously denied nearly all the allegations and said they welcomed the league’s investigation.
The National Basketball Association said in a statement of its findings that the investigation found that Sarver used the N-word at least five times “when telling others about it.”
In its statement, the association said there have also been “cases of unfair behavior towards female employees”, including “gender-related comments” and inappropriate comments about female employees’ appearance.
The surfer treated the staff in an “insulting” manner, including “yelling and swearing”.
As part of the suspension, Sarver is not permitted to be around any NBA or WNBA facility, including offices and training facilities. It is also not permitted to be a part of any NBA or WNBA event or activity, or to represent the Suns or Mercury in a public or private manner.
“The statements and behavior described in the findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement. “We believe the result is the right one, given all the facts, circumstances and context that our thorough investigation has highlighted for our 18-year period and our commitment to upholding appropriate standards in the NBA workplaces.
“I hope the NBA community will take this opportunity to reflect on what this wonderful game means to people everywhere and the values of equality, respect, and inclusion it strives to represent. Regardless of position, power, or intent, we all need to recognize the destructive and harmful impact of unkind language and behavior. Sensitive to racism and degrading. On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all affected by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better.”
And the National Basketball Association announced that the investigation, led by New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, included interviews with more than 320 current and former employees as well as Sarver. He also examined more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos.
Those sources said the Sun gave access to human resources records and thousands of internal emails. Also involved in the investigation were specialists from Deloitte, a global accounting firm headquartered in London, and Chicago-based law firm Kirkland Ellis.
In interviews with Wachtell’s attorney Lipton, some of which were conducted in person, by phone and via video conference, Suns employees confirmed a range of allegations published in an ESPN story in November, providing others and submitting documents, including emails.
The league investigation was the third such centered around a team owner since Adam Silver became the NBA commissioner in 2014 – with all three cases led by Wachtel-Lipton.