NBA launches investigation on Robert Sarver allegations

Interviews with more than 70 former and current Suns employees throughout Sarver’s 17-year tenure describe a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace under Sarver. Some told ESPN that he has used racially insensitive language repeatedly in the office. Employees recounted conduct they felt was inappropriate and misogynistic, including Sarver once passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees and speaking about times his wife performed oral sex on him. Some said the longtime owner fostered an environment in which employees felt they were his property, even once asking one woman whether he “owned” her to determine whether she worked for the Suns. “The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” one Suns co-owner said about Sarver. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said the league has not “received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence.” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said she was not aware of any reports from players of misconduct by Sarver or the Suns. “Apart from [point guard Chris Paul] and James Jones, we have not had much official contact with the team and none that I can think of with Sarver.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Current and former Suns employees told ESPN that Sarver is known to say he is “brutal to work for,” a line he has repeated over the years, even in job interviews. Sarver has told executives they were “paid a lot of money to put up with my s—.” “If the commissioner comes in and investigates to see what the f— is going on in Phoenix,” one current business operations employee told ESPN, “[he] would be appalled.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

The Warriors took control in the fourth quarter and cemented a 106-100 win, dropping the Suns to 0-3. After the loss, Suns majority owner Robert Sarver entered the coaches locker room, Watson told ESPN. “You know, why does Draymond Green get to run up the court and say [N-word],” Sarver, who is white, allegedly said, repeating the N-word several times in a row. “You can’t say that,” Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, told Sarver. “Why?” Sarver replied. “Draymond Green says [N-word].” “You can’t f—ing say that,” Watson said again. – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Sarver denied Watson’s characterization of the incident: “This is absolutely untrue. I remember the game and topic clearly. I of course never used the word myself. During this conversation, I said ‘N-word’ without saying the full word. The word itself never crossed my lips. “Let me be crystal clear: I never once suggested on that night (or ever) that I should be able to say the N-word because a player or a Black person uses it.” The player, through his agent, told ESPN that he thinks using the N-word might have contributed to the technical foul but does not recall speaking to Sarver that night. Watson told ESPN there was no player in the room when Sarver made the comment. – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Said a former Suns basketball executive: “There’s literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me.” Through his legal team, Sarver denied using racially insensitive language. “I’ve never called anyone or any group of people the N-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by the N-word, either verbally or in writing. I don’t use that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

A Black basketball operations staffer told ESPN he has heard Sarver say the N-word multiple times. Sarver once used the N-word when trying to explain to a staffer why he preferred hiring Lindsey Hunter over Dan Majerle as head coach in 2013, according to a high-level executive who heard the remark. Hunter was a first-year Suns player development coordinator while Majerle was in his fifth year as a Suns associate head coach. “These [N-words] need a [N-word],” Sarver told the staffer of his largely Black team, according to the executive. – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Watson said he explained to Sarver the optics of a white owner asking a Black coach to fire an agency led by a Black agent, Paul. “Yeah, I understand what race you two are,” Sarver replied, according to Watson. “So I’m asking you, How bad do you want your job?” Watson said he told Sarver that he wasn’t going to fire Klutch. “You can do whatever you want,” Watson said he told Sarver. “You own this team, but my culture is not for sale. And I’m not for sale.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

In Watson’s first year leading the bench in Phoenix, Sarver asked about the state of the organization and where Watson thought it could improve. Watson told Sarver that it suffered from a lack of diversity. “I don’t like diversity,” Sarver replied, according to Watson and a basketball operations staffer with knowledge of the interaction. – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

More than a dozen employees recalled Sarver making lewd comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him. Four former employees said that in several all-staff meetings Sarver claimed he needed to wear Magnum or extra-large condoms. Former employees said he asked players about their sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others. “Women have very little value,” one female former staffer said she felt. “Women are possessions. And I think we’re nowhere close to where he thinks men are.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Current and former employees said women often did not feel valued and were ignored when they said so, a sentiment that led to frequent departures. “Especially with the younger girls, I felt like I was abandoning them,” said one female former employee. “I felt bad for leaving. It was hard. And so I was happy when [I learned] all of them are out of there.” “It breaks you,” said another female former employee. “I’m hard to break, and it broke me.” “It wrecked my life,” said a third female former employee. “I was contemplating suicide.” – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Sarver’s habit of second-guessing coaches included working with then-rookie Ayton on shooting 3-pointers, an element of Ayton’s game the coaches didn’t believe should be his focus, then-members of the coaching staff said. In another instance that season, Sarver went into the training room to talk X’s and O’s with rookie guard Elie Okobo. Veteran guard Jamal Crawford left the room. “He actually got up off the table and walked out of the room and said, ‘I can’t f—ing listen to this s—. I gotta get out of here,’” a second former staffer said. The former longtime staffer in the room confirmed the scene to ESPN. Crawford declined to comment. – via Baxter Holmes @ ESPN

Gerald Bourguet: New statements from Suns president/CEO Jason Rowley and owner Robert Sarver: – via Twitter GeraldBourguet

Kevin Chouinard: Vince Carter, on ESPN, said that he heard from two NBA players that he trusted that when he came back to PHX after playing there a season, he was having a good game and Robert Sarver told them to “take him out”. – via Twitter KLChouinard

Tim Bontemps: Here’s the NBA’s statement announcing an investigation into the Suns in the wake of @Baxter Holmes’s story:

Two current Suns employees said there is considerable internal support throughout the organization for an independent investigation into the franchise’s culture and that many employees would, as one said, be “more than willing to talk” to investigators. Said the second employee, “A lot of people view this as their chance to right this ship.”
 – via Baxter Holmes, Adrian Wojnarowski @ ESPN

Both employees noted, however, that a looming concern voiced among the organization’s rank and file is whether sensitive information, as well as their identities, would remain confidential to ward off any potential retaliation from Suns’ leadership. Said the first Suns employee, “We have to be protected.” – via Baxter Holmes, Adrian Wojnarowski @ ESPN

Michael McCannThe NBA used Wachtell Lipton, which is an elite law firm, to investigate the Los Angeles Lakers for tampering in 2017. The firm also represented the group headlined by Alex Rodriguez that recently purchased the Minnesota Timberwolves. – via Twitter

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