Phoenix Suns players and coaches expressed disbelief at Monday’s media day over the NBA investigation findings that led to owner Robert Sarver’s one-year suspension and $10 million fine, with head coach Monty Williams admitting that he was ‘disgusted’ over the claims.
Sarver announced his plan to sell the club and the WNBA’s Mercury last week after the NBA probe found he had used the N-word around employees, bullied workers, and committed several other misogynistic acts. In one instance, Sarver is accused of asking a pregnant employee if she would be able to perform her duties after giving birth.
‘I was in disbelief,’ Williams said Monday. ‘When you see the bullet points and then when you go through it, you start to think about how these things impact the people.’
‘I would say just a state of shock,’ general manager James Jones said. ‘You don’t want that around the organization. You don’t want that to be the issue.’
Veteran Suns guard Chris Paul said he was concerned about what Suns employees have been dealing with.
‘It was tough, just like anybody, reading all the different things,’ said Paul, admitting that he had been in touch with NBA commissioner Adam Silver over the allegations. ‘It was more so also the things that people have to endure in the workplace.’
Devin Booker, the Suns’ longest-tenured player, said the accusations against Sarver came as a shock, particularly because he had a positive relationship with the outgoing team owner.
‘That’s tough for me because that’s not the Robert Sarver that I know, it’s not the Robert that welcomed me to Phoenix with open arms,’ said Booker. ‘But at the same time, I’m not insensitive to everybody that’s involved in the situation. I understand everybody’s personal experience with other people are always going to be different.’
Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams (left) and point guard Chris Paul (right) both had strong reactions to Robert Sarver’s yearlong suspension and $10 million fine over claims of racism
Robert Sarver announced his plan to sell the club and the WNBA’s Mercury last week after the NBA probe found he had used the N-word around employees, bullied workers, and committed several other misogynistic acts. In one instance, Sarver is accused of asking a pregnant employee if she would be able to perform her duties after giving birth
No fewer than six people informed NBA investigators that they heard Sarver use the N-word while quoting, or purporting to quote, others.
But as Williams stressed Monday, the context of his use of the N-word is irrelevant.
‘That word, I don’t like it, never have,’ Williams said. ‘Especially when I was younger and I learned what that word meant. I learned how demeaning it was toward humanity, not just black folks.
‘And when I saw the report, I was not happy about it, quite frankly, disgusted. It’s not a word you repeat anytime. And when you read the report, you read the bullet points and you see it over and over again in that way, it bothers you.’
Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi and jersey sponsor PayPal have both urged Sarver to sell the team after the allegations surfaced. PayPal threatened to end its sponsorship agreement with the team if he refused.
Sarver was specifically accused of mistreating pregnant women who worked for the Suns
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has been in touch with Chris Paul over the allegations
Sarver’s case bears some resemblance to that of Donald Sterling, the former Los Angeles Clippers owner, who was banned for life and fined $2.5 million for racist comments in 2014.
The NBA had the option of giving Sarver a longer ban than the one-year suspension. The $10 million fine was the maximum allowable, as was the case with Sterling’s $2.5 million fine eight years ago.
However, the league did not have discussions about removing Sarver as owner during the Board of Governors meetings.
One difference between the Sterling and Sarver cases is this: Sarver cooperated with the league’s investigation and Sterling, in many ways, did not. Sterling wound up suing the NBA for $1 billion in federal court after his lifetime ban was announced, saying his constitutional rights were violated.
The report said Sarver ‘repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns.’
Silver said there were key distinctions between Sarver’s case and the one surrounding then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling (left) in 2014
‘However, the investigation does not find that Sarver’s conduct in any of these instances was motivated by racial animus,’ the report read, adding that investigators made ‘no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.’
The Sterling investigation – from when the audio tapes of him making racist remarks to a girlfriend were released, to Silver’s announcement of the lifetime ban – took three days. The Sarver probe took 100 times longer, involved more than 320 interviews and the review of more than 80,000 documents and other materials.
Both investigations were handled by the same New York-based firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz. Attorney David Anders led both probes.
Sarver’s punishment is also similar to others levied in past high-profile examples of wrongdoing, either words, actions or both.
In 1993, then-Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was fined $25,000 and suspended one year for making ‘racially and ethnically offensive remarks.’ And last year, the NFL fined the Washington Commanders $10 million, plus investigative fees, after a probe found the team’s workplace environment for women was, in the words of Commissioner Roger Goodell, ‘highly unprofessional’ – but stopped short of suspending owner Daniel Snyder.
In 1993, then-Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott (left, with former manager Jack McKeon) was fined $25,000 and suspended one year for ‘racially and ethnically offensive remarks’
It was ESPN’s reporting in October that initially led to the league investigation.
The league had specific concerns about the Suns’ Human Resources department, which was criticized for its ‘ineffectiveness and failure to garner the respect and confidence of Suns employees,’ according to the league report, obtained by DailyMail.com.
The Suns’ HR department allegedly ‘broke employee confidences’ and had deficient record-keeping practices, which impeded the handling of complaints, according to the report.
There were also accusations of unwanted touching, not against Sarver, but against team employees who were working under the real estate developer.
Two incidents involved male employees rubbing the backs of female co-workers, one of whom allegedly had her hair sniffed during the incident. Furthermore, a female employee allegedly touched male and female co-workers on their thighs, and one male team sponsor was accused of grabbing the buttocks of a team employee during a business trip.
In addition to saying the N-word, Sarver is also accused of using language and engaging in conduct demeaning to female employees, according to the NBA statement (pictured)
In addition to saying the N-word, Sarver is also accused of using language and engaging in conduct demeaning to female employees, according to the NBA statement (pictured)
Following the latter incident, the female team employee reported the allegations to team executives, but no action was taken against the sponsor, who continued to work around the woman at team events.
Sarver made misogynistic comments to female subordinates — once asking ‘do I own you?’ — and frequently used the N-word, according to a bombshell report released last year that detailed allegations of racism and sexism from more than 70 current and former employees.
‘The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,’ one Suns co-owner told ESPN about Sarver in the October piece. ‘It’s embarrassing as an owner.’
‘If the commissioner comes in and investigates to see what the f*** is going on in Phoenix,’ a current employee told ESPN, ‘[he] would be appalled.’
‘There’s literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me,’ said a former Suns executive.
In 2013, Sarver allegedly used the N-word to explain why he filled a head-coaching vacancy with Lindsey Hunter (right), who is black, over Dan Majerle, who is white
Of those who spoke to ESPN, mostly on the condition of anonymity, nearly a dozen say they’ve sought professional help for issues such as anxiety and sleep loss due to the working conditions, which were exacerbated by Sarver’s frequent verbal abuse. One person said they contemplated suicide.
The ESPN report had been anticipated since October 22, 2021, when podcaster Jordan Schultz teased its publication on Twitter. Sarver has denied or disputed nearly all of the claims, both before the article’s publication, and in the article itself.
Sarver, 60, was accused by former Suns coach Earl Watson of using the N-word to complain in 2016 that Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green had used the term on the court.
‘You can’t say that,’ said Watson, who is Hispanic and black.
‘Why?’ Sarver asked. ‘Draymond Green says [N-word].’
‘You can’t f****ing say that,’ Watson repeated.
Sarver only admits to using the N-word once, years earlier.
‘On one occasion a player used the N-word to describe the importance of having each others’ back,’ the NBA team owner told ESPN through his attorneys. ‘I responded by saying, ”I wouldn’t say n***a, I would say that we’re in the foxhole together.”
‘An assistant coach approached me a short time after and told me that I shouldn’t say the word, even if I were quoting someone else. I immediately apologized and haven’t said it ever again. The N-word has never been a part of my vocabulary.’
PayPal CEO and president Dan Schulman announced that the brand will not be renewing its jersey sponsorship agreement with the Suns after it expires at the end of the season, that is, unless Sarver resigns. ‘PayPal’s sponsorship with the Suns is set to expire at the end of the current season,’ read the statement. ‘In light of the findings of the NBA’s investigation, we will not renew our sponsorship should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns organization, after serving his suspension
Sarver also disputed having that alleged conversation with Watson, who now works as a Toronto Raptors assistant coach after being fired from Phoenix in 2017.
‘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,’ Saver said through his attorneys.
At least six Suns employees accused Sarver of using the N-word while quoting African Americans.
‘You’re like, ”Whoa! Robert, you can’t do that,”’ said a former executive.
Another African-American basketball operations staffer said he’s heard Sarver use the N-word several times.
In 2013, Sarver allegedly used the N-word to explain why he filled a head-coaching vacancy with Lindsey Hunter, who is black, over Dan Majerle, who is white.
‘These [N-word] need a [N-word],’ Sarver told the staffer.
The NBA investigation could not corroborate that specific allegation, but did speak to witnesses who claimed Sarver used the N-word while claiming to repeat African Americans, who had said it.
Rich Paul (seated next to Adele) owns the agency, Klutch Sports, that represents former Suns coach Earl Watson. Sarver allegedly told Watson to fire Paul if he wanted to keep his job
Watson also claimed Sarver threatened to fire him unless he replaced his agency, Klutch Sports, the Rich Paul-owned firm that also represents LeBron James.
‘Yeah, I will f***ing fire you,’ Sarver allegedly told Watson. ‘You have 10 days to think about it. Don’t wait too long.’
Paul, who recently made news for dating singer Adele, also represents now-former Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe. As his attorneys told ESPN, Sarver felt that it was a conflict of interest to have one agency representing a player and the coach, which is what he found objectionable.
Watson was fired after the Suns lost their first three games of the 2017-18 season.
The former Suns coach also claims that Sarver complained that diversity was a bad thing.
‘I don’t like diversity,’ Sarver allegedly told Watson, arguing that it led to too many disagreements among staff.
Sarver’s attorneys disputed this claim as well, saying the club ‘has a long history of prioritizing racial diversity since Mr. Sarver purchased an ownership interest in the team.’
According to ESPN, around a dozen current and former Suns employees are in treatment for issues such as anxiety and sleep loss due to frequent verbal abuse from Sarver.
‘When I went to the psychologist, I cried a bucket of tears,’ one executive told ESPN. ‘And it’s like that with a lot of us. It’s just sad.’
Phoenix Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi (right) called Thursday for team owner Robert Sarver (left) to resign, saying there should be ‘zero tolerance’ for lewd, misogynistic and racist conduct in any workplace. Sarver was suspended for one year and fined $10 million by the NBA on Tuesday, after a 10-month investigation showed the Suns owner had used racist language, made crude and sexually suggestive comments to employees, and had bullying tendencies
Employees were reportedly discouraged from filing complaints with human resources. Several were dismissed after submitting complaints and were told they no longer fit the organization, according to ESPN.
Women, in particular, have felt targeted by Sarver, who’s not only accused of making sexist statements, but condoning such boorish behavior from male employees.
‘It breaks you,’ said one female former employee. ‘I’m hard to break, and it broke me.’
‘It wrecked my life,’ said another. ‘I was contemplating suicide.’
‘I think as women, when we come into sports, unfortunately, we’re resigned to the fact that we’ll be sexually harassed at some point,’ a female former marketing employee told ESPN. ‘But the part that was the worst for me is the verbal abuse and feeling like I wasn’t human.’
After allegedly berating a female employee until she cried in 2011, Sarver is said to have asked: Why do all you women around here cry so much.’
Sarver’s attorneys denied this claim and said he does not ‘remember a single instance that an employee ever cried in front of’ him.
Devin Booker said Robert Sarver welcomed him to the club with open arms, but even he can’t ignore the allegations against the outgoing Suns owner
Following the alleged incident, Sarver asked female Suns employees to begin having lunch with workers at his bank, in what was perceived to be an effort to toughen up his female work force with the NBA club.
‘So humiliating,’ one female former employee said she felt about the arranged lunch.
Saver’s attorneys said that those networking lunches between the bank and team ‘have been encouraged for men and women.’
One female marketing employee told ESPN that Saver made strange, possessive comments about employees.
‘Do I own you?’ Sarver allegedly asked. ‘Are you one of mine?’
‘He makes you feel like you belong to him,’ the employee said.
The culture within the office wasn’t much better, according to the report.
Another female employee said she was assaulted by a male co-worker outside of the office, and when coworkers complained to HR, the club’s solution was to move her desk away from his by about 10 feet.
‘I couldn’t escape,’ she told ESPN. ‘It was a joke. An absolute joke.’
The male staffer was never investigated, but according to the Suns, that was because both employees declined to speak with HR.
Furthermore, the Suns denied telling ‘either employee to ‘move [their] desk’ to resolve the domestic issue they were having.’
Earl Watson (pictured) remembers Sarver trying to draw up plays, including one that violated the NBA’s three-second rule. ‘He was asking [players] to set up a pick-and-roll in the middle of the paint,’ Watson said. ‘How is that even possible with three seconds and no spacing?’
ESPN reports that three employees contradicted the team’s denial.
Another female former employee said a Suns executive drunkenly asked how many coworkers she had slept with and specifically inquired about one coworker’s penis.
‘It was terrible because I had not had sexual interactions with anybody on [the staff], so that was very weird,’ she told ESPN. ‘And [it] also made me uncomfortable because my VP is asking me about my sexual history with other co-workers? That kind of thing was almost normal.’
Most, but not all, of the former employees said they were too scared to take legal action.
‘Ultimately, I was too afraid and exhausted to pursue it,’ a female former marketing employee told ESPN. ‘I even had my attorney offer to do the whole pro bono thing, but I was broken down so badly by then. I wasn’t sleeping or eating or functioning well, so I felt it was easier to move on and take the offer. I regret not pursuing it.’
One African-American employee was repeatedly called ‘Carlton’ by a white executive in reference to the black ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ character. According to to former employees, their black co-worker told the executive to stop calling him that.
The employee was also asked, and refused, to do Carlton’s dance from the popular 90s TV show.
‘Super racist,’ a former employee told ESPN.
Speaking with ESPN, the executive denied asking the employee to dance like Carlton and said the two had a ‘jovial’ relationship: ‘one of friendship and respect.’
Sarver has also been accused of behaving as if he’s a member of the coaching staff.
Former NBA star Corliss Williamson (far left, with Deandre Ayton), who served as a Suns assistant coach until 2019, said he remembers Sarver became irate that first-overall pick Deandre Ayton had failed to record a block or a foul in a particular game, causing the owner to slam the stat sheet down on a table. ‘In all my years, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen an owner come in there and act like that with the coaching staff,’ Williamson told ESPN. In 2013, Sarver allegedly used the N-word to explain why he filled a head-coaching vacancy with Lindsey Hunter, who is black, over Dan Majerle (right), who is white
Former NBA star Corliss Williamson, who served as a Suns assistant coach until 2019, said he remembers Sarver became irate that first-overall pick Deandre Ayton had failed to record a block or a foul in a particular game, causing the owner to slam the stat sheet down on a table.
‘In all my years, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen an owner come in there and act like that with the coaching staff,’ Williamson told ESPN.
Watson remembers Sarver trying to draw up plays, including one that violated the NBA’s three-second rule.
‘He was asking [players] to set up a pick-and-roll in the middle of the paint,’ Watson said. ‘How is that even possible with three seconds and no spacing?’
Assistant coach Joe Prunty, who did not speak to ESPN, reportedly became the target of Sarver’s rage for explaining why the team had struggled to make defensive adjustments against Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas in a 2019 game. Prunty, a veteran NBA assistant coach, gave a complex answer, which witnesses believed was too technical for Sarver.
‘Joe starts throwing all the s*** at him, [and] the guy has no idea what any of that means,’ said one former coach.
Sarver walked out of the room, yelling ‘no adjustments,’ on the way out, according to the report.
Owner Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns poses with the Suns Gorilla during ‘Retro Night’ as the Suns host the Seattle SuperSonics in an NBA game played on January 3, 2008 in Phoenix
A month later, then-head coach Igor Kokoskov and his staff, including Prunty, were fired.
‘He was constantly meddling and trying to coach himself or go into the coaches’ office and start drawing X’s and O’s on the board at halftime and tell them they need to do this, they need to do that,’ one staffer told ESPN.
Former Suns guard Jamal Crawford reportedly left the locker room once when he heard Sarver talking strategy with rookie guard Elie Okobo.
‘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 staffer said.
Crawford, who is now retired, declined to comment to ESPN.
Another basketball operations staffer said Sarver began calling at all hours of the night to deliver a verbal attack about the Suns’ play.
‘I never felt comfortable there,’ the staffer told ESPN. ‘And I was there for a long time. … I didn’t even get fired. If that gives you any context — I left on my own. There’s no reason to be miserable every day anymore.’
Since rumors of the ESPN report’s anticipated release began circulating in 2021, several Suns employees have come out in favor of Sarver. ‘None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like — it just doesn’t,’ said Suns GM James Jones (pictured). However, on Monday, Jones admitting to being blindsided by the claims: ‘You don’t want that around the organization. You don’t want that to be the issue’
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