The owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Robert Sarver, has been suspended for one year and fined $10 million after an investigation by the NBA. The fine is the maximum permitted by the league.
The investigation came after ESPN published a story last fall alleging gross misconduct during Sarver’s 17-year run with the teams. The NBA said in a Tuesday statement that Sarver used the N-word at least five times while “recounting the statements of others.” They also found that he perpetrated “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees” including “sex-related comments” and “engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
According to ESPN, the investigation was led by New York law firm Wachtell Lipton. After reviewing 80,000 documents and interviewing over 320 people, as well as Sarver himself, they found that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and league rules and policies.” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, “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.”
While suspended, Sarver is not allowed to be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, nor is he allowed to attend any NBA or WNBA event or activity. He is also not permitted to represent the Suns or Mercury in any capacity. The $10 million fine will be donated to organizations that address race and gender-based issues within the workplace. Sarver will also have to go through training on appropriate conduct. The Suns and Mercury organizations must also go through a review process, including hiring an outside firm to evaluate workplace practices, and report their findings to the league for three years. While the NBA said that Sarver “cooperated fully with the investigative process,” league sources told ESPN that the process became contentious when Sarver didn’t agree with the punishment.