The story quotes a Suns co-owner as saying, “The level of misogyny and racism is beyond pallor. It’s embarrassing as the owner. A former team leader added, “There is literally nothing you can tell me about him from a misogynistic or racial perspective that would surprise me.” ”
The NBA announced Thursday an investigation into Sarver and the organization.
“The allegations in today’s ESPN article are extremely serious and we have called on the law firm Wachtell Lipton to open a full investigation,” league spokesman Mike Bass said. , in a press release. “The NBA and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees. Once the investigation is completed, its findings will serve as the basis for all league action. “
In the ESPN story, a current Suns employee on the business side is directly quoted about the possibility of an investigation: “If the commissioner comes in and investigates to see what’s going on in Phoenix, [he] would be appalled. “
Among the incidents during Sarver’s 17-year tenure reported by ESPN:
- Sarver repeated the N word in the coaching hall several times after a loss to the Golden State Warriors in 2016, complaining that Draymond Green, who is black, said it during the game. Then coach Earl Watson told him, “You can’t say that. ”
- At least six Suns employees described Sarver saying the N word aloud while repeating something a black player had said.
- Telling a Suns employee he wanted to hire Lindsey Hunter, who is black, instead of Dan Majerle, who is white, as a coach in 2013, Sarver said, “These [N-words] need a [N-word] According to an executive who overheard the conversation.
- Sarver made a breed-insensitive comment at Steve Nash’s recruiting meeting in the summer of 2004. An executive in the room said, “We signed Steve Nash despite Robert. “
- As the Suns tried to sign LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, they knew he would love to play near his kids in Texas. Sarver then said they needed to get Phoenix-area strippers pregnant with children of NBA players so the team could have an advantage in recruiting. “A lot of the things he says are going to get a big reaction,” said a former employee. “And who’s going to tell him he can’t?” He speaks threateningly. He likes this awkwardness. He likes people to know he’s in charge. He wants control. He wants control over every situation and every person. “
- While embroiled in a contract dispute with Eric Bledsoe’s agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, Sarver threatened to fire Watson unless the coach, who was also represented by Klutch, gives up the agency. “It’s almost like a question of ownership,” Watson said. “He wants people to call and beg him. “
- During Watson’s first season, the coach was asked to suggest areas where the organization could improve. When he said the Suns could use more diversity, Sarver replied, “I don’t like diversity,” according to Watson and a basketball operations employee, explaining that he thinks diversity makes more. difficult for people to agree on things.
- A white executive called a black coworker “Carlton” – a reference to the character from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” – although the coworker repeatedly told him to stop doing so, according to two ex-employees. The executive “jokingly” told his black colleague to “do the Carlton dance”.
- Sarver made obscene comments during all staff meetings, according to more than a dozen employees. Examples include talking about his wife giving him oral sex and claiming that he wears extra-large condoms. “Women have very little value,” said a woman who worked for the team, describing how she felt when she was there. “Women are possessions. And I think we’re a long way from where he thinks men are. ”
- In the team’s practice room, Sarver asked former Suns player Taylor Griffin, who lifted weights, if he shaved his legs. When Griffin replied in the affirmative, Sarver asked, “Do you shave your balls too?” It was during the 2009-10 season and, according to a Suns employee, Sarver asked others the same question over the following years. Griffin said, “At the time, I took it as a joke. Thinking about it in today’s context, for a business leader or team owner to say that such a thing is inappropriate. ”
- A woman who worked for the Suns said that after a colleague physically assaulted her outside the office, all the organization did was move her desk back a row. “I couldn’t escape,” she said. ” It was a joke. An absolute joke. According to the employee, her attacker’s office remained within 10 feet.
- A former human resources representative said: “I would say [to employees seeking help], ‘Let’s go for a walk. Because if they see you here, they’re going to come after you. ‘ Another former human resources representative said it was “a kind of culture of complicity. Of which I was a part. And I hate to say that. “
- Sarver told a pregnant employee she wouldn’t be able to stay in her 2009 All-Star Game coordinating role because she was going to breastfeed and should be home. According to two Suns employees, other members of the management team had to step in to reprimand the owner.
This is not an exhaustive list of reported allegations. The story also includes several anecdotes of Sarver reacting inappropriately to Phoenix’s performance on the pitch. “He was constantly interfering and trying to practice himself or go into the coaching office and start drawing X’s and O’s on the board at half-time and tell them they had to do this they had to do, ”said a long-time former employee. Sarver did not answer questions about his interactions with the team.
Former Suns player Vince Carter told ESPN on Thursday afternoon that he was not surprised by this aspect of the story as he experienced something similar when he returned to Phoenix after his brief stint. the low. Carter said that at halftime in a game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Suns in January 2012, Sarver walked into the Phoenix locker room, where he asked the players to “take me out” and “get me”. put on the ground ”.
Within the organization, there is support for an independent investigation into the Suns’ workplace culture, according to two current employees who spoke with ESPN. “A lot of people see this as their chance to right this ship,” one said. Both, however, said there were concerns about possible retaliation.
The National Basketball Players Association released a statement that reads: “We continue to review the allegations in today’s ESPN story. We consider these allegations to be serious and applaud the [NBA’s] decision to investigate. We will withhold any further comments until this process is complete. “
Weeks before the story was published, Sarver issued a statement denying “any suggestion that I used derogatory language related to race or gender.” In the story, he specifically denied saying the N word to Watson, saying anything inappropriate at Nash’s reunion, making the comment of getting strippers pregnant to attract free agents, saying the word N when discussing hiring Hunter and talking about his sex life with employees.
Sarver said his issue with Watson working for Klutch was about a “conflict of interest,” that he never told the pregnant employee that she couldn’t continue in her role and that he had only given the photo of his wife in a bikini to the employees. in charge of the goods because she was carrying a sample and he wanted to know if they wanted to sell the item in the team shop. On the Griffin incident, he said he did not recall using “those exact words” but that he “made a joking reference to men’s grooming habits with Taylor Griffin once in. the locker room. I remember Taylor laughing at my comment. ”
The white executive who called his black colleague “Carlton” denied that he was asked to stop doing it, said he never asked the colleague to dance and described their relationship as “jovial. “. While three people said the employee’s desk was moved following the alleged physical assault of a male colleague, the Suns denied telling anyone to move a desk and said they did not could take no action because none of the employees had spoken to HR. The employee said she did speak to HR.
Post-publication, Sarver released another second statement denying the allegations, in which he said, “I would be very much in favor of an impartial investigation by the NBA which may prove to be our only way to whitewash my name and the reputation of an organization of which I am so proud.” He also said that the N word was “not in my vocabulary”, that Watson was “not a credible source” and that the ESPN information was “false” and “misleading”.
Watson, now an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors, issued a statement through his current employer. It reads, in part: “I’m not interested in getting into an ongoing factual battle. Instead, I want to applaud the courage of the many players, executives, and staff to tackle the toxic environments of racial insensitivity, sexual harassment, and micro-assaults with their truth. Watson went on to say that “it has been a traumatic experience, which has affected me deeply, and I am not prepared to relive it every day”.
In addition to the Suns, Sarver owns the Phoenix Mercury and the Spanish football club Mallorca. Nash and former footballer Stu Holden are also part of the Mallorca ownership group.