Suns owner Robert Sarver accused of racism and misogyny in damning report
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver faced allegations of racism and misogyny on Thursday after an ESPN report detailed claims of a toxic and hostile workplace during his 17-year tenure.
Sarver issued a pre-emptive denial of the allegations last month, saying the then-unpublished story was based upon “lies, innuendo, and a false narrative” designed to “attack our organization”.
The story, released on ESPN’s website, stemmed from interviews with more than 70 current and former Suns employees, most of them not identified, who said Sarver repeatedly used racially insensitive language and detailed conduct seen as misogynistic and inappropriate.
“The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” an unidentified Suns co-owner told ESPN about Sarver. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.”
Sarver supposedly used a racial insult in a conversation with a Black coach, talked about sex with his wife as he showed a photo of her in a bikini and asking a woman if he “owned” her when inquiring if she worked for the Suns.
ESPN said Sarver, through attorneys, denied using the racial slur more than once, declaring, “The N-word has never been a part of my vocabulary.”
The report said Sarver’s conduct contributed to a workplace culture that impacted how other managers treated employees.
Suns general manager James Jones and team president Jason Rowley defended Sarver to ESPN, Rowley saying the story was “completely outrageous and false” and Sarver “is not a racist and he’s not a sexist”.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN the league has not “received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization” while NBA players’ union executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN she was unaware of any reports from players regarding misconduct by the Suns.
ESPN quoted an unidentified business department employee as saying, “If the commissioner comes in and investigates (he) would be appalled.”
Multiple Suns staffers recalled Sarver using racist language in conversations, ESPN reported, also quoting Sarver as saying, “I don’t like diversity” when it came to the organization.
Proven allegations of racist behavior or use of racist language could have serious implications for any NBA team owner.
In 2014, then Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was fined $2.5m and banned for life from the NBA after being recorded using racist language. The league later forced the sale of the team to new owners.
Sarver, 59, bought the Suns in 2004 for $401m. The franchise is now worth an estimated $1.55bn.
The Suns reached last season’s NBA finals, where they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, but one unnamed current executive told ESPN that despite the on-court success “the culture is lower than it has ever been.”