Basketball team owner Robert Sarver, suspended after a recent independent investigation found he engaged in hostile, racially insensitive and inappropriate behavior, announced Wednesday that he will sell the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Mercury.
The NBA last week suspended Sarver for a year and fined him $10 million as a result of the investigation.
“Words that I now deeply regret overlook nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together — and strengthened the Phoenix area — through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball,” said Sarver, the managing partner of both teams, in a statement.
Sarver had hoped the suspension would “provide time for me to focus, improve and remove my personal controversy,” the statement continued.
“But in our current unforgiving climate, it’s become painfully clear that that’s no longer possible — that any good I’ve done, or could do, is trumped by things I’ve said in the past,” he said. “For these reasons I am starting the process of looking for buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he fully supported the decision.
“This is the right next step for the organization and community,” said the commissioner.
A report detailing the investigation, commissioned by the NBA last fall after an ESPN report on Sarver’s alleged conduct, found that he “on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization, the N- word repeated when he recounts the statements of others.”
In addition, according to the report, Sarver “engaged in instances of unfair behavior toward female employees, made numerous sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical behavior towards male employees.
Sarver apologized after the report’s release, though he noted that he disagreed with “some of the details.”
Suns Legacy Partners, which operates the NBA and WNBA teams, said the decision to sell is best for the organization and community.
“We also know that today’s news does not change the work that remains for us to create, maintain and protect a best-in-class experience for our staff, players, fans, partners and community,” the group said in a statement. “While we are proud of our progress and the culture of respect and integrity we are building, we know there is still work to be done and relationships to be built.”
NBA players such as LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, Suns guard Chris Paul and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green criticized the league, saying they felt the sanctions fell far short of what should have been imposed.
Sarver could no longer represent the NBA, Green said on his podcast Tuesday, adding that the conduct described in the report “went against everything the NBA stands for.”
“The NBA stands for inclusion. The NBA stands for diversity. The NBA definitely stands against bigotry and racism … This report that came out last week is the total opposite of everything the NBA stands for,” Green said on “The Draymond Green Show.”
Suns vice president Jahm Najafi had also called on Sarver to resign, and the team’s jersey sponsor, PayPal, threatened not to renew its deal with the team if Sarver remained as owner.
After Sarver’s announcement was released Wednesday, James said in a tweet he was “so proud to be part of a league committed to progress!”
National Basketball Players Association President CJ McCollum, who plays for New Orleans, said: “We thank Mr. Sarver for making a quick decision that was in the best interest of our sports community.”