Robert Sarver has announced plans to sell his two Phoenix-based basketball teams, the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Mercury.
“I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury,” Sarver said in a statement on Wednesday.
The decision came after Sarver was fined $10m and handed a one-year suspension by the NBA last week after an investigation into allegations of racism and misogyny during his time as the Suns owner. Many within the NBA, including prominent players such as LeBron James and Chris Paul, did not believe the punishment went far enough. “Our league definitely got this wrong,” wrote James on Twitter when the punishment was announced. “… I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place.”
PayPal, a sponsor of the Suns, as well as the team’s vice chairman, Jahm Najafi, also suggested Sarver should sell the team.
In his statement on Wednesday, Sarver appeared to suggest that he believes he has done enough to atone for any mistakes.
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness,” Sarver said. “I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.
“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible – that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”
Sarver’s troubles began last November, when an ESPN report, which was later corroborated by an NBA investigation, found that Sarver used the N-word on five occasions when repeating the words of others. The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job after becoming a mother; made off-color comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelled and cursed at employees in ways that would be considered bullying “under workplace standards”. The investigation added that Sarver did not use “racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate”.
Comparisons have been made between Sarver’s case and that of former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life from the league in 2014, effectively forcing the eventual sale of the team, after recordings emerged of Sterling using racist language.
The investigation’s conclusion that Sarver did not display racial animus led to a lighter punishment than that given to Sterling, said Silver.
“It was relevant,” Silver said last week. “I think if they had made findings that, in fact, his conduct was motivated by racial animus, absolutely that would have had an impact on the ultimate outcome here. But that’s not what they found.”
Sarver is likely to come away from his 17-year reign as Suns and Mercury owner a good deal richer. He bought the teams for $401m in 2004. Forbes’ most recently valued the Suns at $1.8bn. Sarver is the primary owner of the teams, with a one-third stake.
The Mercury have won three WNBA titles under Sarver’s ownership, while the Suns reached the NBA finals in the 2021-22 season.